If you like the idea of a serene hideaway tucked into the mountains, Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake in eastern China is for you. Picture this: pagodas and temples. Chinese pavilions reflecting on the placid lake. The kids wandering secret pathways of the classically landscaped gardens with bridges, lagoons and waterfalls. All of you stretching out in spacious rooms, connected by private passageways, the city’s largest at 63 square metres (678 square feet). A boat trip, and wildlife spotting, around the lake.
Though new, the hotel (which opened in October, 2011) with its signature pagoda roofs feels authentic, even ancient—in traditional Jiang Nan style. Clearly special, this place was named a UNESCO World Heritage site last summer.
And despite its intentional out-of-the-way tranquility, Four Seasons Hangzhou is just a 10-minute drive to the city centre; 45 minutes from the metropolis Shanghai. With 78 rooms, plus three luxury villas (available this June), the place feels intimate and enveloped by nature.
Chinese New Year in January is an especially fun time to visit. In 2012, Chinese New Year begins Jan. 23 on the lunar calendar. Though it’s actually a 15-day festival—with parades, celebrations and parties through to February’s New Year Lantern Festival. Families clean house, put together special flower arrangements, make offerings to the Jade Emperor, decorate with red and host elaborate feasts featuring chicken and fish dishes. Though people are careful to put some fish aside, observing the Chinese proverb: “May there be surpluses every year” (which also sounds like, “May there be fish every year”).
One favourite dish is Nian gao, a New Year’s cake and one of the most popular treats in eastern China: Jiangsu, Shanghai and Zhejiang. The name mimics “a more prosperous year.”
Children look forward to getting Hong Bao, red envelopes filled with good luck coins. Many go to temple, then gather in a park to watch fireworks displays. Some dress up in vibrant colours and style their hair elaborately, accented with dazzling hair ornaments—because the New Year’s dragon is known to be a fan grandeur. Four Seasons Hangzhou hosts a special New Year’s Eve drawing for guests.
Some 4,000 species of plants at the Hangzhou Botanical Gardens — Yulan trees in spring; lotus and the hammock in summer; sweet-scented osmanthus in autumn; pines and bamboo in winter.
For parents – TripAdvisor reviewers call the Cantonese dishes at Four Seasons’ Jin Sha the “best in town.” The restaurant also serves Shanghai and Hangzhou cuisine. For Chinese New Year, the chef puts on a winter menu of dim sum, appetizers such as okra and jellyfish in scallion oil and a double-boiled pigeon soup with black truffles. There’s the Prosperous Claypot with chicken and seafood and the Shanghai-style, scarlet-hued braised pork with abalone in sweet soy sauce, a dish representing luck and prosperity. Open-air seating, weather permitting, plus 11 private dining pavilions around a lagoon.
The Lobby Lounge hosts traditional Chinese afternoon tea lakeside. Splurge on room service.
Read more on Hangzhou in Four Seasons Magazine.
*Kids For All Seasons (KFAS) is a Four Seasons complimentary recreational and educational program for children of resort guests. Most KFAS clubs are designed for youth four to 12 years old, and open daily from 9 to 5. (Younger children can often join KFAS with a nanny or parent, or resorts can arrange for babysitting.) But details vary from property to property, so check the resort’s website for more information.
Kids can go all day or just for an hour or two. Activities inside and out include games, sports, music, treasure hunts, swimming, arts and crafts, cultural education, environmental preservation work and yoga. Not your average camp, the VIP offerings are pretty extraordinary—for example, at Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, kids can help the resort’s marine biologist graft coral in the lagoon sanctuary.
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