THE famous Venetian explorer and writer Marco Polo described Hangzhou – the capital of China’s Zhejiang province – as “the most splendid and luxurious city in the world” in the 13th century.
Such a portrayal holds true hundreds of years later with Hangzhou proudly establishing itself among globetrotters as “Paradise on Earth.”
Despite the challenging times, the city has been able to sustain the pace of development without sacrificing its natural splendor that has drawn tourists from all over the world.
Data from the China National Tourism Administration showed Hangzhou is among the top 10 favorite tourist destinations of foreigners in the country.
“Ecological environment is Hangzhou’s most charming and competitive advantage. Its poetic scenery and perfect harmony of mountains and waters give Hangzhou its distinct charm and wonder,” Hangzhou Mayor Zhang Hongming said in an interview published by China Today in January.
In September 2016, Hangzhou hosted the G-20 Summit, an international forum comprising the world’s largest and emerging economies, further boosting the city’s reputation as one of the premier tourist and leisure destinations in the world.
One of the eight ancient capitals of China, Hangzhou is consistently drawing foreign travelers – 2.68 million in 2016 – seeking ecotourism adventures while still enjoying a modern urban lifestyle, thanks to the presence of global tech firms and international consumer brands.
Hangzhou’s civilization dates back to 4,700 years ago yet it was able to preserve its magnificent natural blessings with the efforts not only of the local government but also the residents and other stakeholders.
Surrounded by the natural beauty of mountains and lakes, Hangzhou is not only soulfully charming but also offers historical and cultural treasures that visitors can cherish in their lifetime.
Topping the ecotourism destination in Hangzhou is the 559ha West Lake, China’s “finest example of man and nature coexisting in harmony.”
West Lake was once a shallow bay connected to the Qiantang River but years of siltation from the Yangtze and Qiantang rivers had turned it into an ugly lagoon 2,600 years ago.
Gradually, over time, and aided by countless dredging efforts, it has evolved into one of China’s most beautiful freshwater lakes.
In June 2011, Unesco inscribed the West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou, comprising the West Lake and the hills surrounding its three sides, as a World Heritage site.
“The inscribed landscape has inspired famous poets, scholars and artists since the ninth century. It comprises numerous temples, pagodas, pavilions, gardens and ornamental trees, as well as causeways and artificial islands,” Unesco said.
The UN agency noted that West Lake “has influenced garden design in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries and bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of improving landscapes to create a series of vistas reflecting an idealised fusion between humans and nature.”
The city also hosts The Xixi National Wetland Park, where at least 180 bird species, such as herons, egrets and brown hawk-owls, are known to thrive. Twice a year, birds migrating between Siberia and Australia make Hangzhou their stopover.
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It also takes pride on its fragrant and colorful osmanthus, the “King of Flowers” in Hangzhou, to draw in foreign tourists seeking refreshing ecotourism sights. In full-bloom now through November, 67 of the 100 varieties of osmanthus can be found in Hangzhou.
Plum blossoms also abound during winter in Hangzhou, which tourists like to marvel especially from January to February as they stroll Gushan Hill and Lingfeng Peak.
The city is connected to the rest of the world through the Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport where nationals from 53 countries can avail of its 144-hour (six days) visa-free transit. The locality is 50 minutes from Shanghai through a high-speed train.
A highly-urbanised city with a population of over six million, Hangzhou is a perfect illustration that man and nature can go along with its various well-preserved ecotourism destinations that local and foreign tourists continue to flock to.