Best known globally as the ‘Vegas of China’, the Macau Special Administrative Region is indeed a mecca of gambling and glitz. But the city is so much more than that. A Portuguese colony for more than 300 years, it is a city of blended cultures. Ancient Chinese temples sit on streets paved with traditional Portuguese tiles. The sound of Cantonese fills the air on streets with Portuguese names. You can eat Chinese congee for breakfast, enjoy a Portuguese lunch of caldo verde soup and bacalhau (cod) fritters, and dine on hybrid Macanese fare such as minchi (ground beef or pork, often served over rice).
Ruins of the Church
of St Paul
The most treasured icon in Macau, the towering facade and stairway are all that remain of this early-17th-century Jesuit church. With its statues, portals and engravings that effectively make up a ‘sermon in stone’ and a Biblia pauperum (Bible of the poor), the church was one of the greatest monuments to Christianity in Asia, intended to help the illiterate understand the Passion of Christ and the lives of the saints.
Sir Robert Ho
This charming building founded in the 19th century was the country retreat of the late tycoon Robert Ho Tung, who purchased it in 1918. The colonial edifice, featuring a dome, an arcaded facade, Ionic columns and Chinese-style gardens, was given a modern extension by architect Joy Choi Tin Tin not too long ago.
The new four-storey structure in glass and steel has Piranesi-inspired bridges connecting to the old house and a glass roof straddling the transitional space.
St Joseph’s Seminary & Church
St Joseph’s, which falls outside the tourist circuit, is one of Macau’s most beautiful models of tropicalised baroque architecture. Consecrated in 1758 as part of the Jesuit seminary (not open to the public), it features a white-and-yellow facade, a scalloped entrance canopy (European) and the oldest dome, albeit a shallow one, ever built in China. The most interesting feature, however, is the roof, which features Chinese materials and building styles.
Built around 1869, the Mandarin’s House, with over 60 rooms, was the ancestral home of Zheng Guanying, an influential author-merchant whose readers included emperors, Dr Sun Yatsen and Chairman Mao. The compound features a moon gate, tranquil courtyards, exquisite rooms and a main hall with French windows, all arranged in that labyrinthine style typical of certain Chinese period buildings. There are guided tours in Cantonese on weekend afternoons.
The historical part of Taipa is best preserved in this village in the south of the district. An intricate warren of alleys hold traditional Chinese shops and some excellent restaurants, while the broader main roads are punctuated by colonial villas, churches and temples.
Rua do Cunha, the main pedestrian drag, is lined with vendors hawking free samples of Macanese almond cookies and beef jerky, and tiny cafes selling egg tarts and serradura pudding. Avenida da Praia, a tree-lined esplanade with wrought-iron benches, is perfect for a leisurely stroll.