Lay of the Land
Hangzhou, located some 100 miles south of Shanghai, has long been renowned as one of China’s most prosperous cities, beloved and sought out by many for its memorable natural scenery, as well as well-preserved pagodas, temples and pavilions. (Marco Polo reportedly described it as “without doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world.”) The city itself is fast expanding and, like any major Chinese metropolis, parts of it can be overwhelming, fast-paced and noisy. A short way out of town, however, lies the 16-acre West Lake, an enormous, beautiful fresh water lake framed on three sides by rolling hills and mountains and the inspiration of countless poems, paintings and calligraphy.
When to Go
Avoid peak tourist seasons, like Chinese New Year’s, as Hangzhou is a popular destination for local tourism and quite busy throughout the year. The Spring is the time to go for tea connoisseurs (first flush in Longjing is a big deal); in the Fall, the forests turn a myriad of colors, and the weather is refreshingly brisk in the morning and evening, and mostly sunny during the day. The peak of Winter (January February) can get down to 32F while summers can be oppressively hot. During the summertime, mosquitoes can be prevalent.
With a high-speed train, Hangzhou can also be reached in 45 minutes from Shanghai. Be sure to book one of eight first-class pod seats (only minimally more expansive than second class) and ask your guide or concierge to verify train times as the schedules sometimes change. Note that the train station in Shanghai makes Grand Central look like that of a small village; it’s not impossible to navigate as a non-Chinese-speaker but most travelers should plan ahead with a local specialist who can arrange for porters and ground service.