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Located just southwest of Shanghai in Zhejiang province, Hangzhou is an important city in be one of China’s smallest provinces, a province that is filled with some of the most stunning scenery in the country. Approximately 70% of Zhejiang province is hilly and mountainous, with altitudes ranging from 700 to 1,500 metres.

The downtown area is very typically Chinese: high-rise buildings compete for space, shopping malls throng with shoppers. At street-level vendors sell everything as commuters rush by and the traffic moves slowly through gridlocked streets. But what makes all the difference is that Hangzhou is centred around the vast West Lake. This creates a serene, charming atmosphere, that gives it an edge over Chinese cities of similar size. The West Lake is where many of the hotels lie. Here, you are transported to the kind of China you dream about. The flat waters stretch out in the distance, overlooked by classically designed Chinese pavilions and gardens, elaborately decorated by those who have learnt from generations gone by. Some days, the mist adds to the atmosphere, with mountains forming the backdrop, added by local elders elegantly performing tai chi on the lake side. Hangzhou’s West Lake has been praised by poets for centuries.

Spending time in the city, especially around the West Lake is a must. Visit Yongfu Temple, a fine example of Zen Buddhist architecture, and Lingyin, a serene and peaceful temple. One must also explore beyond the city. Longjiang tea, a favourite of former emperors has been grown for over a thousand years in the mountainous terrain surrounding the city. Head out to Dragon Well tea plantation and see the spring that supplies what is widely believed to be the best water possible for tea cultivation. Meet local farmers experienced in growing this special type of tea, and of courses try at source, a cup of the tea sought after by merchants from around the world.

Hangzhou is located on the ancient Grand Canal, which was one of the great engineering feats of Imperial China, a 2,250 km (1,400 mile) waterway linking Beijing and Zhejiang’s Hangzhou, as well as some of the most beautiful and prosperous cities that sprung up along its course. It was considered to be the finest city on earth by Marco Polo with classical gardens and exquisite architecture that still hold the essence of China’s Imperial Past. Take part in a tea ceremony, practice Tai Chi with a master on the lake side or take a peaceful gondola glide on the lake whilst a boat of musicians serenade you.

Hangzhou is easily accessible by air from many Chinese cities and can also be reached by rail: Shanghai is only one hour away by bullet train, an exhilarating way to travel, and the two cities combine marvelously.

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