Well, my arrival into Macau, on a racing yacht from Hong Kong, had set the weekend bar at a rather high level. One of the first boats over the finish line, we had plenty of time to glide up into the Macau marina (situated adjacent to one of the 34 ‘Inner Harbour’ piers), lazily enjoy some Champagne on deck, whilst nonchalantly waiting for immigration to clear the crew’s passports.
The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club’s bi-annual Macau race is something of a favourite on the Asian sailing calendar. Macau, a city basking in its vices, tends to generate a feisty joie de vivre. Think Vegas. Think über kitsch Chinese glamour. Think rowdy Hong Kong expats. It is a certain kind of place.
That said, Macau offers more than a ‘stamp in the passport’, and whilst a short sojourn is more than sufficient, Macau emanates an intriguing atmosphere. There is some very real history here, generating an obscure syncretistic dynamic; where imperial Catholicism meets the newly-monied mainlanders. You get the sense that Macau has always had its identity thrust upon it, for better or for worse. The ultimate window on China’s new wealth, juxtaposed with extreme poverty and real social demands: Macau’s morals remain rather mixed.
Administered by Portugal from the mid 16th Century to 1999, the city was once a bastion of Far Eastern trade, fuelled by the riches generated by tea, opium and slaves. Vestiges of this European heritage remain, where new China sits alongside old colonial frontages, urban squares, and religious outposts – including the ruins of St Paul’s, the former ‘Mater Dei’, a 17th Century cathedral. With UNESCO World Heritage status confirmed in 2005, restoration and preservation of this history are very much on the Executive’s agenda, buffered by the important funding which UNESCO status engenders.
We were to spend the weekend in the city, before sailing back to Hong Kong. With a number of crews in town, the days were to be spent in a blur of dinners, lunches, drinks and cocktail parties. Whilst a core group of hardier types unpacked into their berths in the marina, we checked into the poised and sophisticated Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16, overlooking the harbour, and towering above the addled streets of Macau – where shanty towns perch precariously next to skyscrapers.
18 floors would feel rather ‘lite’ in Hong Kong; however, in Macau, the Sofitel towers over the neighbouring walk-ups, presenting a sweeping view over downtown Macau on one side, and out over the entwining rivers of the harbour on the other.
In true Macau style, overstatement is key, and the Sofitel rises to the challenge with admirable aplomb. The capacious lobby, bedecked with sumptuous fittings, is filled with activity. The inherent fear of being swallowed up by such a place for days, months…decades, lingers. A glimpse inside the on-site casino proffers a number of poor souls, lost to its glutinous interior. The Sofitel is renowned to house one of the ‘nicest’ of hotel casinos in Macau. No doubt its peers are significantly less benevolent. Like I said; Macau is a certain type of place.
The Sofitel though, is an impeccably managed hotel. Well-appointed rooms are large and spacious, a luxury felt keenly by us Hong Kong dwellers. If you can talk your way into the Club Sofitel Lounge (well worth a gander), the panoramic view at your breakfast table will keep you captivated for hours. The outdoor swimming pool framing the marina, is acutely impressive.
With aching limbs from the grinding of winches, I checked into The So Spa, for a well-earned pummel and soak. Ready respite for those seeking composure in the madness, and an excuse to switch off the effervescent, white noise.
Without a doubt, the Sofitel stoically provides you with everything you are craving, when you walk in through that door, and showers you with promise, when you prance (homeward-bound) out of it. It had been a great weekend, but we were looking forward to jettisoning back to Hong Kong.
You must absolutely visit Macau once. Its profile on the international stage is undeniable, and there are few cities in the world which offer gambling, fried tofu and patent demonstrations of a complex political history, within a stone’s throw of your hotel room.
Read before you go, engage with all of Macau’s many dimensions and (ideally), try and secure that super-yacht. When in Rome, after all…