When I was growing up, my parents took me to one of these tourism fairs in Cleveland, Ohio, which introduced me to a slogan I just couldn’t understand: Virginia is for lovers. I’d been to the state of Virginia. The Blue Ridge Mountains were pretty enough, and so were the beaches. But to say that this state was for lovers? It didn’t seem right to me.
In hindsight, my hesitation could have had another explanation. That I was destined to discover and eventually settle in a city that, in my mind, truly was for lovers (and truly deserved such a slogan). Hangzhou, China!
Yes, Hangzhou really is the ideal place for people in love. And if you’ve never visited before, here are four reasons why it could be the perfect place to spend your Valentine’s Day – or, for that matter, any romantic holiday or getaway:
1. It’s the setting of one of the greatest love stories in Chinese history (The White Snake or 白蛇传)
The forbidden love story of the Madame White Snake – a magical snake who turns into a lovely young woman and captures the heart of Xu Xian – is considered one of China’s most beloved folktales. And it all happened right here in beautiful Hangzhou (supposedly, at least!).
You could bring your own sweetheart here to have your own personal re-enactment of Madame White Snake.
Why not flirt at the Broken Bridge (断桥) on Bai Causeway, where the white snake and Xu Xian first fell in love? You could also buy yourselves a little tangyuan there just as Xu Xian did, the sweet and tart candied fruits on a stick that first entwined Xu Xian’s fate together with the white snake in the story.
On the opposite side of the lake, climb to the top of the reconstructed Leifeng Pagoda, where the white snake was imprisoned for loving and marrying Xu Xian. As you and your lover admire the view from the top – the glistening surface of the lake fringed by the endless emerald gardens – you can feel grateful that you’re both free to love one another in that moment.
2. The West Lake is the perfect place for lovers to stroll and relax
Hangzhou’s West Lake has been famous for thousands of years and inspired countless works of art, poems and even replicas of the lake itself (including Kunming Lake at Beijing’s Summer Palace). It’s a breathtaking destination – and, not surprisingly, one with many perfect places for lovers to stroll and relax.
One of the easiest – and low cost – ways for couples to bask in the beauty of the West Lake is through a stroll around one of the many gardens surrounding the West Lake. My favorite romantic spots include Orioles Singing in the Willows (柳浪聞鶯) and Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer (曲院風荷) during the daytime, as well as Su Causeway itself (either early in the morning or late at night).
You can also hire boats to glide across the lake and get away from the crowds; it’s most picturesque just a little before sunset.
In the Beishan area and Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer (曲院風荷), lighting makes the gardens bloom with stunning shades of salmon pink, cerulean blue and jade green – colors as brilliant as the love in your own heart.
Even the city lights take on a romantic glow when viewed from Su Causeway.
And of course, if the moment is just right, you might find yourself settling into one of the many benches around the lake to share a kiss, just as John and I once did years ago.
3. There’s nothing sexier than a private tea for two in a Hangzhou teahouse
As much as I love my soy lattes from Starbucks, that coffeehouse – or really, any coffeehouse for that matter – has nothing on some of the best Hangzhou teahouses. Picture slipping behind a sliding tatami door into the private decadence of a tea for two, from the aromatic delights of Hangzhou’s famous Dragonwell tea to an exquisite spread of all-you-can-eat snacks, hot food and even dessert. Some private rooms even allow you to sit on the floor, making the whole atmosphere that much more romantic.
Best of all, the unhurried pace of a teahouse – where the servers are simply there to serve instead of herding you in and out – means you can linger over the meal, taking your time to savor the moment together…and perhaps steal a kiss or two behind closed doors.
While there are many teahouses in Hangzhou, I highly recommend Qingteng Teahouse (青藤茶楼), especially the branch in the Wyndham Hotel which offers private rooms and unforgettably delectable set meals – the perfect combination for any pair of lovers.
4. You can enjoy flowers every season of the year
From red roses on Valentine’s Day to bridal bouquets, flowers have long been synonymous with love and romance. But flowers are best enjoyed in the outdoors – and what better place to appreciate them than Hangzhou, where the flowers enchant us every season of the year.
In wintertime, you’ll find plum blossoms beside the West Lake, reminding us all that even in harsh conditions, the most delicate beauty can flourish and prevail.
You know it’s spring when sweet white peach blossoms surround the West Lake like a dusting of late-season snow in the treetops.
Summertime welcomes the lotus blossoms in the West Lake, each as pink as a blushing bride, a jewel to behold.
But best of all is the osmanthus bloom, the smallest and most intoxicating of all with an aroma that might just be the closest thing to passionate young love in a fragrance.
Do you think Hangzhou is a romantic destination? Why or why not?