Hangzhou is one of very few cities in eastern China that is genuinely beautiful, and is well worth a day trip. The city revolves around the West Lake, and while it’s the go-to point for tourists, there are plenty of quiet, pretty spots around the six-square-kilometre lake. We’d recommend taking a boat and asking to be taken to quiet corners of the lake. The lake is also surrounded by wooded hills, temples and pagodas, many of which are well worth a visit.
We’d recommend Guo’s Villa (Guo Zhuang 郭庄, 15 Xishan Lu. Open 8am-5pm daily. Entry 10RMB), a gorgeous private garden with adjoining teahouses that’s oddly peaceful and far more pleasant than the Yu Gardens in Shanghai.
If you want to combine yoga with peaceful pagodas in the hills, we love Yoga Summit (3 Wushan, Shan, 0571 8792 1011/8792 1022; Open 10am-6.30pm weekdays, 10am-4.15pm weekends. 杭州市上城区吴山3号), a peaceful yoga centre at the top of Wu Hill, part of the Huang Temple and Pagoda Scenic Area. After a yoga class (100RMB/first class, 150RMB/second class, 200RMB thereafter), you can stroll around the pretty wooded area dotted with pagodas, seeing the panoramic views from the top the Cheng Huang Temple itself (30RMB entry).
For more temples and solitude, head to the Lingyin Temple (1 Fayun Alley, Lingyin Lu, 0571 8796 8665; Open 6am-6pm daily. Entry 50RMB, includes access to whole temple complex. 浙江省杭州市西湖区灵隐路法云弄1号), one of the largest Buddhist temples in China. The main temple itself is often crowded, but you can escape the crowds by climbing up the steps into the hills and towards the other, smaller temples and pagodas – the highest point, the Guangyin Meditation Courtyard, is magical, especially close to sunrise or dusk.
You might want to check out Zhang Yimou’s ‘Impressions of the West Lake’, which may be short on storyline (it’s based on a Hangzhou legend), but which uses hundreds of actors on a stage built on the lake, and is supposed to be spectacular (Zhang directed the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics). The hour-long show happens daily at 7.45pm and 9.15pm at 82 Beishan Lu, opposite the Shangri-la Hotel – you can get tickets at the venue or through www.gotohangzhou.com.
For dinner, one of our favourite Hangzhou restaurants is the buzzing Green Tea restaurant (83 Longjing Lu, near Meiling Lu, 0571 8788 8022. Open 11am-10pm daily) in Longjing village. This always-packed restaurant, surrounded by water, feels like a trendy log cabin, and serves hearty homestyle food – think crispy-skinned (fried) baked baby potatoes (15RMB) and popular homemade bread topped with ice cream (28RMB).
Our two favourite places in and around Hangzhou are at opposite ends of the price spectrum. If you want to splurge, Amanfayun (Rooms from 3,750RMB/night, call 571 8732 9999) is one of the most beautiful resorts in China – the resort has taken over an old tea farming village by the Lingyin Temple, and restored 16 rooms, 21 suites and five villas to their stunning original Song Dynasty style. The rooms are beautiful, with beam ceilings and beautiful freestanding furniture, and the whole place is supremely relaxing, from the round wooden hot tubs to the elegant restaurant, all set in the original village buildings.
For a cheap option, 4 Eyes Hostel (Dorm rooms from 20RMB/night, single rooms from 100RMB/night. 66 Hupao Lu, near Lianhua Feng Lu, 0571 8643 5731. 杭州四眼井国际青年旅舍 虎跑路66号, 近莲花峰路) is set on a hilltop in the Four Eyes Well area of Hangzhou, surrounded by rolling hills and tea plantations. Rooms in a series of beautifully refurbished traditional timber-framed houses.
Hour-long bullet trains to Hangzhou leave the Hongqiao Railway Station around every 30 minutes, costing 82RMB each way (first train 6.32am, last train from Hangzhou 9pm).