For the sheer novelty of flashy and audacious excess, Macau's Cotai Strip is a trippy, electrifying experience for a few nights. Sands Resorts’ next planned tour de force is The Londoner, an integrated resort brimming with beloved London landmarks, slated to open in 2019. But if you find you need a breather from the blazing headrush of the Cotai Strip, a little pocket of yesteryear Macau is just a five minute walk away.
Dwarfed by the cloud-piercing hospitality developments of Cotai, Taipa Village beckons as a soulful little refuge, a world away from bling bling fantasyland. Brimming with peppermint green traditional Portuguese houses, Taipa is proud of its characterful heritage but is also trending with emerging artists, entrepreneurs, and independent specialist retailers. I started my exploratory at Taipa Houses, a glorious row of five seaside mansions, lustily sporting their proud Portuguese pedigree, that were built just under a century ago for the colonial administrators.
Repurposed as museums, these evocative residences have been faithfully preserved as living storehouses on Tapia’s living history. In a vivid reminder of Macau’s surging development, at the time they were built, they faced out on the shoreline. Now, they look out on a small lake, bracketed by major land reclamation. I met up with Pamela Chan, Taipa Village’s Marketing Manager, who introduced me to some of the neighbourhood’s diverse and compelling assortment of experiences, begging to be uncovered, in the quiet pastel-coloured lanes of this old fishing village.
It’s the walkability of the village, and that quaint small-town ambience, that makes the place so instantly agreeable. We met up outside Antonio, a Michelin-recommended beacon for authentic and unpretentious Portuguese food, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Antonio Coelho has stamped his culinary mark across the lane, with the opening of the sister venue, Tapas de Portugal, another buzzing go-to for contemporary Portuguese tapas, paired with superb beers, wines and cocktails.
Amid the mouth-watering array of bite-sized menu delights, a must-try is the roasted suckling pig with homemade potato chips and salad. The old-school and the new breed are seemingly happy bed pals all over Taipa. Sei Kee Café conveys a sure taste of history, with old-style clay pot coffee and tea, heated by charcoal. Then there is Blissful Carrot, a fiendishly popular on-trend vegetarian takeaway and bakery.
An essential stop is Pastelaria, Fong Kei’s almond cookies and peanut candies are sinfully good. Independent and creative retailers are another emerging stand-out in Taipa, with a multitude of inventive offerings to savour. A star specimen is Quarter Square Lifestyle Boutique & Espresso Bar, which combines sublime coffee with a showroom of superb designer homewares and gifts. From brass pencil holders to designer dinner mats – Quarter Square’s thoughtfully selected product range is distinctively different.
Rooftop Macau Lifestyle Store, Bare Nutrition and City Square are also highly recommended boutique retail offerings. From pastel-hued villas and cobblstoned lanes, lined with twinkling street lamps, to Taipa’s colonial churches and time-honoured temples, Tapia’s cultural heritage runs deep and true. Enriching that texture, is the proliferation of edgy new art galleries, installations and street art. Taipa Village Art Space has repurposed a traditional shop house as a dedicated art gallery, showcasing an engaging roster of exhibitions from local and international emerging artists.
There’s some cracking street art wrapped around Taipa’s venerable lanes. Stake out the wondrous wall carvings of acclaimed Portuguese visual artist, Alexandro Farto aka Vhils. The creative spirit and energy of the village is unmistakable. What I particularly loved about Taipa is its compact variety, whereby you can enjoy a restorative drink overlooking a pint-sized temple, or sip milk tea in a local teahouse as the hustle of a village market hits full-throttle.
Old trade customs, neighbourhood eateries, artisans and independent start-ups overlay each other in a colourful cauldron of human-scale commerce, endeavour and raw artisanal prowess. The heart of this village’s vitality is strong and sure-footed. And it’s just a five minute stroll from the fantasyland of the Cotai Strip. Grab a village map for a self-guided stroll of rolling discovery. www.taipavillagemacau.com
I zipped my way between Hong Kong International Airport and Macau with TurboJET, who operate direct high-speed jetfoil services. It’s the fast, efficient and hassle-free way to travel to Macau, with convenient baggage handling services, enabling you to check-in your luggage for your onward flight home to New Zealand, at their Macau Ferry Terminal. www.turbojet.com.hk
Check out the official Macau tourism website, to keep abreast with holiday deals, event and festival highlights looming on the calendar, and the full range of sightseeing, shopping and dining temptations. www.visitmacao.com.au
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.