Magical Macau

A TurboJet ride away from Hong Kong, Macau feels like a different world. The Macau peninsula and its two islands, Taipa and Coloane, have attracted many different inhabitants for thousands of years, and they have all helped shape the city: travelling merchants in the fifth century, Chinese fishermen in the 14th, Portuguese colonists from the mid-16th century until just 11 years ago and gambling tycoons in the last half-century. The rocky shores of Coloane Island even hosted bands of pirates until the early 20th century, plundering ships as they came into the busy Macau and Hong Kong harbours. 

Today the sandy beaches, clear water, leafy climbs and granite hills that drew Macau's occupants are just the beginning. Culture – from the earliest Buddhist temples to the latest resort hotels – is king.

The city boasts 26 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – that's one for nearly every square kilometre – including A Ma Temple, the Old Protestant Cemetery, the Guia and Mount Fortresses and Dom Pedro V Theatre. Pro race car drivers call the Guia Circuit – host of the hotly anticipated Macau Grand Prix every fall – one of the best street circuits in the world. In 2008, Cirque du Soleil launched ZAIA, the company's first resident show in Asia, in a purpose-built 1,800-seat theatre in the Venetian. A wave of new shopping centres opened in the last few years has brought in luxury flagships, one stop shopping and a 10,000sqm duty free shop.

Recent development has literally changed the landscape, connecting the islands of Coloane and Taipa with a strip of reclaimed land dubbed Cotai, which hosts many of the new (and in progress) casino-hotels. The new strip makes up about a quarter of Macau's total area, its mammoth constructions dwarfing the surrounding landscape.

The old city has accepted this development gracefully, and local life continues to thrive quietly in back streets just blocks from Saint Paul's Cathedral, in the shadows of the big casinos on Avenida Amizade and in residential Coloane and Taipa. The big casinos may hog the spotlight, but Macau's one of a kind mix of history, contemporary culture and natural beauty make it an all around amazing destination.