Tracing History and Modernity in Ningbo

The Coastal City of Ningbo is an up-and-coming destination By: Gary Bowerman & Janet Martin
Ningbo is less than 150 miles from Shanghai. // (C) 2012 Shutterstock
Ningbo is less than 150 miles from Shanghai. // (C) 2012 Shutterstock

The Details

The Westin Ningbo

Park Hyatt Ningbo Resort & Spa

Shangri-La Ningbo

Ningbo Focus

New and Noteworthy:

Finnair Offers Flights to Chongqing
Starting in May, Finnair will become the first European airline to open a direct route to Chongqing, a city located in the upper regions of the Yangtze River. This new route will run four times a week using Finnair’s Airbus A340 aircraft. If you are travelling from the U.S., Finnair flies from JFK Airport in New York to Helsinki, where it offers connecting flights to 10 destinations in Asia including Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The Peninsula Hong Kong Takes to the Air
From Jan. 8 to June 24, The Peninsula Hong Kong will be pairing up with its sister company, Heliservices, to provide the Sky High Champagne Breakfast. Guests will start in aviation-themed lounge, The China Clipper, before hopping on an Aerospatiale twin-engine Squirrel AS355N helicopter from one of the hotel’s two helipads. Prices start at $1,388 per person and include a glass of champagne.

Starwood to Open New Hotels in China
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Wordlwide, Inc. will be opening 12 new Sheraton hotels across China in 2012. The company plans to reach 80 Sheraton hotels by 2015 and 100 Starwood hotels by the end of this year. One of these hotels will be the Sheraton Macau, the largest Sheraton and Starwood hotel in the world.

Local Favorites:

The Mountain Resort, Chengde
Built between 1703 and 1792 during the Qing Dynasty, the Mountain Resort served as the summer palace for emperors in feudal China. Today, it is still the largest extant imperial palace and temple complex in China and offers guests more than 5 million square meters of lakes, temples, and mountains to explore. With eight lakes and four ravines, the Mountain Resort offers great opportunities for nature lovers, while the traditional Chinese Palace Area and outlying temples offers a taste of culture for the history buffs.

Mount Tai, Shandong Province
Located in central Shandong Province, Mount Tai is a national tourist area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mount Tai provides guests with 156 peaks, 138 cliffs, 72 caves, 130 streams, 64 waterfalls, 13 ancient tombs, 1,239 steles and 1,277 sites of cliff carvings. Tourists can also visit Daimiao Temple, which was built during the Han Dynasty and was home to sacrificial ceremonies performed for the emperors. While there, be sure to try the battercake, a famous representative food of Shandong Province.

Leshan Giant Buddha, Leshan
The Leshan Giant Buddha stands more than 233 feet high, making it one of the largest Buddhas in the world. The statue began to be carved in 713 during the first year of the Kaiyuan reign of the Tang Dynasty. Rather than standing completely alone and exposed on all sides, the Leshan Buddha was carved out of the hillside and looks down on the meeting of the Dongmin, Qingyi and Dadu river. While visiting the Leshan Buddha, guests can also visit cliff tombs as well as towers, temples and other Buddha statues.

Old Town of Lijiang, Yunnan Province
Lijiang, also known as Dayan Town, is one of the four major old Chinese towns still in a state of good preservation. It is home to 354 bridges and residential homes that have been around for almost 100 years. The town also shows the influences of the Naxi people, including regular performances of Ancient Naxi music. While there, guests can also experience traditional Dongba sacrificial rites as well as paper making and wine brewing. The local school will even teach tourists to write Dongba hieroglyphics.

Classic Gardens of Suzhou, Suzhou City
First laid out as far back as the 6th century B.C., the Classic Gardens of Suzhou illustrate classical Chinese garden design with their ponds, rockeries and man-made hills. Dozens of gardens still remain today, including the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Lingering Garden, the Master-of-Nets Garden and the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty. The site also features halls, steles, inscribed stone slabs, carvings and even residential houses that allow guests to get a feel of traditional Chinese gardens.

Where to Stay:

Huangshan/Jinling Yixian Hotel Anhui
If you plan on visiting Xidi Village, Hong Village or Yellow Mountain, then try the Jinling Yixian Hotel Anhui. Jinling Yixian Hotel offers 198 newly designed guestrooms, spa facilities, chess rooms and karaoke and is only eight minutes by car to Xidi and Hong villages and 35 minutes to Yellow Mountain. The hotel also boasts both Chinese and Western restaurants to satisfy every type of palate.

Pingyao/Yide Hotel
Within the ancient city of Pingyao lies the Yide Hotel. The hotel is a renovated courtyard house built in 1736 by a wealthy merchant during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. Although the hotel provides modern conveniences such as 24-hour hot water, air conditioning, table lamps, telephones and wireless Internet, some traditional touches remain such as furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties and large kang beds.

Beijing/Beijing Friendship Hotel
The Beijing Friendship Hotel is the largest garden hotel in Asia. It is an ideal spot for guests hoping to visit the Summer and Winter Palaces or Xianshan as well as universities such as Beijing University and Tsinghua University. Rooms in the Grand Building of the hotel come in up to 188 styles and available service facilities include a restaurant, a business center, a bar and meeting rooms.

Xian/Shangri-La Golden Flower Hotel
Not far from the famous Terra-cotta warriors lies the Golden Flower Hotel by Shangri-La. The hotel offers 416 rooms and suites located within the South Wing and the newly renovated North Wing. At up to 42 square meters, these rooms are the largest in Xian. Guests will also enjoy complimentary wireless Internet, 24-hour room service, airport transfer, babysitting and child care, complimentary shoeshine service and facilities for the physically challenged, along with many other services.

Located 135 miles south of Shanghai, the coastal city of Ningbo may seem slightly off the radar for China-bound clients. Although its name translates as ‘Calm Wave,’ Ningbo is more noted as a shipping and industrial center, rather than a tourism destination. But two recent events have helped raise its emerging profile. Firstly, Park Hyatt opened its debut resort in China beside nearby Dongqian Lake. Then, in early 2012, Chinese architect Wang Shu, who designed two of Ningbo’s finest modern buildings, won the prestigious Pritzker Architectural Prize.

Both events could represent tourism gold for Ningbo, an attractive city spliced by three rivers that offers easy access to the Zhoushan archipelago of islands, including the Buddhist retreat of Putuoshan. Situated on the southern shore of Hangzhou Bay, Ningbo is also surrounded by historic mountainside villages and ancient ruins, and its seafood cuisine is highly cherished by Chinese tourists.

Ningbo’s infrastructure is also developing fast. In late summer, a new high-speed train will slash the travel time to/from Shanghai to just one hour. By 2015, the expanded Ningbo Lishe International Airport — which welcomed 4.6 million passengers in 2011 — will have three terminals and three runways. Slated to open in 2014, a national ocean wetlands park is being created around the deserted beach lands of Ninghai, just outside Ningbo.

The first Park Hyatt Resort & Spa in China occupies the site of a traditional fishing village on the shores of picturesque Dongqian Lake — around 30 minutes from downtown Ningbo. Inspired by the original village, the design of the 236-room resort features whitewashed pavilions with steep shingled roofs dotted around landscaped grounds planted with willow and bamboo. Interiors are contemporary interpretations of classic Chinese styling, with steep thatched roofs, long palatial corridors, Chinese art and antiques and period-style furnishings.

A real highlight, however, is the Tea House, which is set in a beautifully preserved 500-year-old pavilion that was once the village hall. It serves fine local teas, cocktails and light food in the carved-wood rooms and atmospheric courtyard. A spa featuring 10 private villas will open in April, plus a cigar lounge in a converted ancient red temple. Clients can also take a dip in the outdoor infinity pool, which overflows into the misty expanse of the lake.

Back in the city, Ningbo’s history is inextricably linked to water. It boasts one of China’s deepest natural ports, and the original settlement was built around the confluence of three meandering rivers: the Yong, Fenghua and Yuyao, which flow into the sea. Now called Sanjiang Kou (Mouth of Three Rivers), this area is the heart of modern Ningbo and is landscaped with attractive gardens and riverside promenades that are popular with evening and weekend walkers.

Near here is my favorite part of the city, the Ningbo Bund overlooking the Yong River. The Bund dates back to the end of the Opium War in the 1840s, when the British navy forced China to open up five Treaty Ports — Ningbo, Shanghai, Xiamen, Fuzhou and Guangzhou. Unlike the Bund in Shanghai, Ningbo’s version has been largely redeveloped, although there are some vestiges of history — notably a Catholic church built by Portuguese traders in the 17th century and the old post office whose arched frontage has been converted into a restaurant.

Also located on the Bund is the eye-catching Ningbo Museum of Art, which fuses history and modernity. Opened in 2005, the wood-fronted “Ark of Art” occupies a converted port authority building and was designed by 2012 Pritzker Architectural Prize winning architect, Wang Shu. Inside, it showcases art and photography from emerging local artists and established names from across Asia and around the world.

Ningbo’s other Wang Shu building has gained global acclaim, both for the city and the architect. The Ningbo History Museum was described by the 2012 Pritzker Prize jury as “one of those unique buildings that, while striking in photos, is even more moving when experienced. The museum is an urban icon.”

From a distance, it resembles an ancient hillside fortress but, up close, it reveals a more contemporary design — built using salvaged gray stones, tiles and bricks with sharp angles and lines and countless windows inset at irregular levels. It is a magnificent work of modern architectural art.

At the end of my trip, I decided to step back in time. Tracing a path inland from the Bund, I headed down bustling Gongyuan Lu — where the malls and skyscrapers mark out Ningbo as a prosperous emerging city — towards Zhongshan Lu. Here is one of Ningbo’s most photogenic spots — a 26-foot-high stone archway, which houses the impressive yellow Drum Tower. A tower has existed here for more than 1,000 years, and the current version features three levels of upturned Chinese roof eaves, plus — rather unusually — a redbrick Western-style clock tower.

From the Drum Tower, a short walk delivered me to Ningbo’s cultural pride and joy, Tianyi Pavilion. Located near Moon Lake, China’s oldest private library occupies small pavilions set in traditional gardens. The extensive collection of ancient books, stone tablets, printing tools and calligraphy works were accumulated by celebrated Ningbo scholar Fan Qin, who built the property.

Passing time here, surrounded by moon gates, stone sculptures and sunken ponds, affords a sense of timelessness that defines Ningbo. Although ambitiously modern, Ningbo retains a sense of history, which enhances its appeal as an emerging destination.

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