Magical Macao Rediscovered

Beneath the domed ceiling adorned in frescos, duelling violinists battle it out over Vivaldi. The expansive Renaissance-inspired dining hall suddenly becomes a little sexier as scantily clad fashion models strut between two long tables seating over 130 open-mouthed travel professionals, wondering how they got so lucky. While this candle-lit Venetian Gala Dinner is a rare treat for mere mortals such as myself, this kind of extravagance is a typical Tuesday night when staying at the Sands Resorts Macao, an integrated resort complex incorporating the Venetian, Parisian and Londoner hotels in Macao.

Reached by the longest open-sea bridge in the world at 55 kilometres off Hong Kong, Macao is an island of extremes with the likes of the Sands Resorts Macao glittering on the glitzy Cotai Strip alongside a grittier side resembling a mini Hong Kong boasting over 450 years of history. Consisting of the Macao Peninsula and the islands of Coloane and Taipa, the reclaimed land in between is where you’ll find Cotai – a name created in an amalgamation of the two islands. 

This isn’t my first time in Macao, kind of. I visited 20 years ago, arriving by ferry on a day trip from Hong Kong, leaving me longing to explore Macao’s UNESCO-listed old town further. Although almost unrecognisable now, I’m very pleased to report it is just as gorgeous as I left it all those years ago, perhaps even more so, thanks to the new developments on reclaimed land, preserving traditional Macao in all its Portuguese-meets-China glory. 

Casey Donovan

This time, I’ve joined the prestigious #ReDiscoverMacao 2023 campaign promoting Macao as a premier MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) and holiday destination. They’ve convinced me, thanks to the dazzling events like the party on the Eiffel Tower’s deck at the Parisian Macao and Casey Donavan popping up for a surprise performance at The Londoner for the London Jubilee night. Browsing the high-end boutiques lining The Venetian’s grand canal, complete with gondoliers navigating the watery corridors and the decadent day spas within the Sands Resorts Macao, helped further sweeten the deal. 

A special touch at The Londoner

I admit my bias may also have something to do with my Louis Suite at The Londoner, so luxurious I almost forgot my own postcode. David Beckham is the hotel’s ambassador and was involved in the design, where the luxe décor includes marble bathrooms with Victorian bathtubs and three-function showers, a pillow menu to accompany cloud-like mattresses and a bespoke concierge service that anticipates your desires before you even realise you have them. After flying overnight with Cathay Pacific in premium economy, where I managed to sleep thanks to the generous reclining seats with calf rests and footrests, I was greeted by a photo of myself in my suite (causing me no end of amusement) and extra Nespresso ristretto pods every day. That attention to detail is commendable to individual guests, but I soon discovered this standard of service is offered across the board whether you’re with the media or not. 

Regardless of where you stay, there’s plenty else to be enamoured with in Macao. You can easily lose days wandering among the grand architecture and swirly cobblestone lanes (which wouldn’t be out of place in Lisbon) at Senado Square, St Dominic’s Square and the Old City Wall, which once divided the Portuguese and Chinese communities. Brave the crowds for the obligatory selfie at the Ruins of St Paul’s, likened to the Acropolis in Athens, where only the façade of the original Church of Mater Dei built between 1602 and 1640 remains on top of an impressive staircase. For a more in-depth dive into the island’s history, visit the Macao Museum for a cultural lesson or the chapel, lighthouse and sweeping views at Guia Fortress. 

Ruins of St Paul’s from above

While in the Old Town, wander around the souvenir shops and sample sweet pork jerky and Portuguese egg tarts offered with abandon, often for free by generous store owners tempting you to enter. Many claim Macao is the first destination in the world to invent fusion food, a unique Macanese cuisine only found on the island with a mix of Portuguese and Chinese dishes. Deemed a UNESCO-listed Creative City of Gastronomy, local favourites include Portuguese Chicken (often called African Chicken), Portuguese sausage, suckling pig, molotof (crème caramel), pork chop bun and almond cookies.

One of the best spots to sample a wide variety of Macanese and international dishes is at Taipa Village, a convenient stroll and a ride on the travelator from The Venetian to save your feet.  This historic enclave about the size of Northbridge features vibrant street art, pastel-coloured villas, colonial churches, Chinese temples and windy cobblestone alleys teeming with vitality.

Macao’s year-round events are another drawcard, such as the annual Macau Grand Prix, Macau Food Festival, Dragon Boat Races, immersive Team Lab Super Nature and the upcoming Harry Potter Exhibition at the Londoner. 

Falling under a Special Administrative Region (SAR), Macao has governing and economic autonomy from mainland China, and was once a debaucherous playground offering all the vices you can imagine. The casinos still remain, and the SAR exemption allows duty-free shopping and social media to be used freely on the island.

Easily reached from Hong Kong, there’s really no excuse for me to take another 20 years to return to this eclectic island. 

Carmen Jenner indulged in unprecedented luxury as a guest of the Sands Resorts Macao, The Londoner and Cathay Pacific.