A Snail’s Pace
Take a walk in the gardens and savour the unhurried lifestyle of picturesque Suzhou.
At the height of its fame, Suzhou could boast more than 200 grand gardens; today, only a handful of them survive, listed as part of the world’s cultural heritage.
Suzhou is great for casting aside the busy beat of the present and slipping into the slower rhythms of the past. As one repeat visitor to the city puts it, Suzhou offers “culture, calm and a more relaxed pace of life”. And, best of all, you can slow down and savour the respite in the lap of luxury, indulging in the modern comforts and attentive service provided by Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou, which offers all the temptations you need to unwind and indulge in some unabashed ‘me’ time.
“The city’s modern, yet it still retains much of its traditional character,” said Jeanny Hu, director of communications, summing up the city's appeal. The hotel epitomises the modern metropolis. It occupies the 24 upper-most floors of the highest tower in a new part of town, a little to the east of the historical heart of the city. This lofty vantage point means all the spacious and inviting rooms and suites have unobstructed views.
With a choice of excellent wining and dining options that cater to all tastes, including top-notch Japanese fare crafted by Chef Takanori Hirayama at Nishimura, as well as a spa where ancient techniques and modern wisdom combine to soothe away stress, it’s easy to become so cocooned in comfort that you lose track of time. However, be sure to save at least a little during your stay to explore the old-world charm of the canal side streets and classical gardens that are synonymous with Suzhou.
Seen and Heard
At the height of its fame, Suzhou could boast more than 200 grand gardens; today, only a handful of them survive, listed as part of the world’s cultural heritage. In many ways, they define the city – visiting Suzhou and not wandering round a garden or two would be like going to New York and not seeing Central Park. The most famous of the gardens is the Humble Administrator’s Garden, but be warned: it can get very busy, especially on public holidays. The nearby Lion Grove Garden is quieter, and one local garden lover recommended the Lingering Garden as nicer.
Perhaps one of the reasons the Humble Administrator’s Garden is so celebrated is because of its location. It’s part of a nexus of nearby attractions – which, if you are on a tight schedule, represent the essence of Suzhou on a stroll-worthy day that includes the I. M. Pei-designed Suzhou Museum and the picture-postcard photogenic canal scenes along Pingjiang Lu, a street lined with arts and crafts shops, where you can stock up on souvenirs and gifts (Suzhou is known for its silk), and boutique cafes where you can settle back and listen to the boatwomen sing. If that merely whets your appetite for traditional Suzhou entertainment, check out a live Pingtan show at the museum on Zhongzhangjia Alley.
Suzhou owes its prosperity, which can still be sensed within its high-walled garden retreats, to its fortuitous location on the Grand Canal. Wealth flowed into the city along its waterways, and taking a boat ride around the Old Town is an enjoyable way to experience the old Suzhou. While the years and the modern city have dimmed some of the splendour that wowed visitors such as Marco Polo in the past, the Old Town can still turn on the charm. On a daytime or nighttime cruise around the canals circling the old city, one can listen to a live Pingtan singer and appreciate something of the impression that visitors in those days must have had when arriving in the city for the first time.
Tastes of Tradition
While Suzhou’s prosperity nourished the performing arts, the wealthy families that patronised the performances were being nourished by teams of chefs who served them the finest fare, developing a distinct culinary tradition using local ingredients.
As Roger Xu, Chinese Executive Chef at Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou explains, “Suzhou cuisine emphasises fresh seasonal ingredients and it is characterised by light, sweet flavours that don’t overpower the original taste of the ingredients.”
Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou’s Chinese restaurant Shang Palace offers a variety of delicious local dishes using ingredients sourced from the nearby Taihu and Yangcheng lakes, including stir-fried lake shrimp with euryale seeds, deep-fried Mandarin fish with sweet and sour sauce, and water shield and silver fish soup. If you are planning to visit Suzhou, best arrange your trip in autumn – you will be able to enjoy what are considered to be the best hairy crabs in the country.
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Planing to visit next month October. Keep me posted.