In Thames Town, visitors can take photos with guards in red coats and walk along a man-made River Thames. // © 2014 Alan Dana
Those who have fantasized about visiting England, Italy and France all in one day might come close in China: Since 2001, Chinese developers have been building high-end residential communities modeled after famous European cities. Despite their elegant chateaus, lavish villas, man-made rivers and life-size national monuments, these cities remain relatively unoccupied due to lack of infrastructure. They have become, in effect, modern-day ghost towns.
China’s replica towns have proven to be popular daytime destinations for visitors, in addition to being commonly used as locations for wedding photo shoots. While riding in a horse-drawn carriage or cruising the canals in a gondola, visitors might just forget that they are in mainland China.
Venice Water Town
With Italian villas featuring ochre-colored walls and ornate balconies that overlook the manmade canals, Venice Water Town in Hangzhou is easily accessible by subway. Visitors should look for the bell tower of Saint Mark’s Basilica, the ornately tiled Doge’s Palace and gilded statues of the lion of Saint Mark and Saint Theodore of Amasea, the patrons of Venice.
As the afternoon draws to a close, clients can hop into a traditional gondola and cruise under the stone bridges of the canals, taking in the splendor of Venetian townhouses that are painted in warm shades of orange, red and white. Once the sun goes down, elegant lampposts light up the city, a perfect time for a long stroll along the canals.
Inspired by England and featuring streets with names such as Oxford, Queen and High, this picturesque city is located 19 miles outside of Shanghai in the Songjiang District. Guards in red coats inspired by the Queen’s foot guard will greet guests at the entrance, where they can proceed on foot along a man-made River Thames.
Cobblestone streets are decorated with red telephone booths. At Nightingale Square, a statue of British social reformer Florence Nightingale sits proudly in the center. Guests can also pose with other statues of famous Brits, including Princess Diana, Winston Churchill and Harry Potter on his flying broom. Also of note in the neighborhood are cozy English cottages, Tudor-style storefronts, pubs and a brick-for-brick replica of Bristol’s gothic cathedral.
Also known as Tianducheng, this gated France-themed city is located in the suburbs of Hangzhou and features Parisian-style apartment buildings surrounded by extensive gardens, European villas, a Champs Elysees Square and a 300-foot-tall Eiffel Tower. A replica of the Palace of Versailles’ Bassin de Latone fountain is just a short distance away from an amphitheater designed in the spirit of the Arena of Nimes, which can either be reached on foot or via a horse-drawn carriage complete with a driver in a top hat.
Every year, Tianducheng hosts “French Culture Week” sessions, which feature various activities dedicated to French culture, such as wine tastings and an introduction to French cinema. For those looking to extend their stay, accommodations in the 182-suite, French chateau-themed Tianducheng Resort offers views of the Eiffel Tower and the mountains.