What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but experience the delicious East-meets-West fusion in Macau and you’ll be telling anyone who’ll listen. It’s the unique culture, not Lady Luck, that makes this former Portuguese colony a winner
Visiting the city dubbed ‘the Las Vegas of Asia’, the last thing you’d expect is to turn down a cobbled street and wonder whether you have been miraculously transported to residential Lisbon. But Macau – just a short hop from the bustle of Hong Kong – is a captivating and inimitable recharge destination that, aside from outlandish shows and gargantuan casinos, has rather more in common with Portugal, which colonised it in the 16th century, than Sin City. Macau has a beautifully authentic East-meets-West culture that is truly one of a kind.
The rate at which my tensions had been mounting of late meant any break would have been a welcome one, but stepping off the turbojet shuttle ferry and onto the docks of Macau induced a wave of pleasant amnesia, as if my brain were ridding itself of stress, and allowing me the first moment of tranquillity in months.
My transition to harmony continued at check-in, having zoomed up to the 51st-floor lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Macau, an all-suite hotel situated within the Cotai Strip’s colossal Galaxy resort where guests can enjoy every amenity imaginable, including a lazy river that curls gracefully through the architecture in a ribbon of cerulean blue. The hotel itself is impeccable, and gave me the first taste of the rich Portuguese culture that has permeated Macau since traders settled there. In true European fashion, the décor is unrestrained elegance: Calacatta Oro marble bathrooms, glistening chandeliers, and soft, sophisticated colour schemes that soothe the cluttered mind.
With time the city’s Iberian influence becomes ever more apparent, but I didn’t fully appreciate the beauty of the unique European-Asian fusion until I sampled the authentic Portuguese cuisine that is as ubiquitous in Macau as in its mother country. António, the restaurant of renowned chef António Coelho, provided the first in a long line of deliciously indulgent meals, and while I gorged on goat’s cheese drizzled with acacia honey and Portuguese olive oil, and revelled in the unexpectedness of finding such European delights in south-east Asia, I felt the last of my work-related stress ebb away.
While I was seeking a light-itinerary holiday of rest and relaxation, I couldn’t resist a few pulse-raising activities. So I took to the skies via the 338-metre Macau Tower to witness the dizzying heights and breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. Not wishing to go the extra mile and join the daredevil bungee jumpers I saw plummeting past the windows, I settled down to watch The House of Dancing Water, a remarkable Cirque du Soleil-on-water-style show, performed in a gigantic purpose-built theatre, embracing everything from motorcycle stunts and contortionists to pyrotechnics and live music. While somewhat bewildering, the show is a must-see that surpasses any garish Vegas cabaret.
Despite its misleading nickname, Macau is an ideal retreat for the worn-out traveller. This is no overwhelming metropolis that will have your head spinning and stress levels rising. The atmosphere is invigorating, and the fusion culture makes for a welcome change to the seasoned traveller for whom Las Vegas is too stimulating and the Algarve not rousing enough.
Macau: Getting there
Director flew from Heathrow to Hong Kong with Virgin Atlantic. Economy-class returns cost from £454.45. For more information, go to virgin-atlantic.com
Ferries run throughout the day and night from Hong Kong to Macau, and take around 60 minutes. Services are available from Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal and Hong Kong International Airport.
Director stayed at the five-star Ritz-Carlton in Macau, which offers suites from HKD3,088 (£273) per night based on two people sharing
For more information, go to ritzcarlton.com/macau