weekend away - Suzhou
Written by Fiona Reilly
Often called the ‘Venice of the East’, Suzhou is full of traditional charm with elegant Chinese gardens, stone bridges arching over tree-lined canals, and ancient city walls. Words by Fiona Reilly
The famed beauty of ancient Suzhou was immortalised in the words of an ancient Chinese proverb: ‘In the sky there is heaven, and on earth Suzhou and Hangzhou’; and it’s not difficult to see why as you walk through the tranquil Ming Dynasty Humble Administrator’s Garden. The administrator himself would be humbled by the knowledge that this harmonious combination of lotus-filled reflection pools, ambling stone paths, zigzag bridges, and traditional pavilions, continues to be enjoyed every day.
Nearby is the iconic Suzhou Museum, housing treasures from the Song Dynasty onwards. With its clean lines it is a modern tribute to the ancient whitewashed and black-tiled architecture of Suzhou designed by one of the city’s most famous sons – IM Pei, the architect behind the glass pyramids of The Louvre, and Doha’s waterfront museum.
An unforgettable alternative to Suzhou’s more famous gardens, the Pan Gate and surrounding gardens are part of Suzhou’s ancient city walls – built in 500 BC – with the historic Wumen Bridge spanning the original city moat. Within the gardens, climbing the 2,200-year-old Ruiguang Pagoda offers panoramic views.
Suzhou was the centre of China’s silk industry, and the Suzhou Silk Museum gives a historical perspective and a hands-on look at the processing of cocoons and spinning of silk. Luxury silk items such as Suzhou’s famed light-as-air silk quilts are made in the museum’s workroom.
Efficient, sleek, smooth, and fast, the new high-speed trains running between Shanghai and Suzhou leave every half-hour from both Shanghai and Hongqiao stations. With the journey taking exactly 24 minutes, you’ll barely have time to relax into your seat before arriving. First class seats are CNY60 one way.
Where to stay
The Pan Pacific Hotel Suzhou offers traditional elegance with contemporary design and 5-star luxury overlooking the stunning Pan Gate Gardens. Guests have direct garden access through a moon-shaped gate.
After enjoying Suzhou’s traditional scenes, enjoy some local cuisine, which tends to be fresh-flavoured and light on spice. Enjoy the signature Mandarin fish with sweet-and-sour sauce at Song He Lou, or traditional Suzhou dishes such as stir-fried river shrimp or silky smooth crab meat tofu.