In gambling circles they say the house always wins. If so, then with all of its chips on the table-a charming historic center, unique Portuguese influence, and a new generation of mega-gaming resort developments rapidly rising on reclaimed land-it seems a sure bet that once-sleepy Macau is poised to hit the tourism jackpot.
8am: Start at Macau's old Portuguese heart, Senado Square. The surrounding neoclassical facades in faded tones of lemon and apricot include the Leal Senado municipal chambers, Holy House of Mercy, and glorious St. Dominic's Church. Follow the aroma of roasting coffee beans to Cafe Ou Mon where a gleaming espresso machine and freshly-baked pastries in baskets on the counter recall European caf¨¦ traditions.
9am: Trace the cobblestones through the Historic Center of Macau which was inscribed as China's 31st World Cultural Heritage site in 2005. These charismatic alleys-marked by porcelain street signs in Portuguese and Chinese characters-contain the oldest and most complete array of Western architectural legacy on Chinese soil today, a rich tapestry of peeling pastel facades, green wooden shutters and lacy stuccos. Head up Rua da Sao Paulo to the Ruins of St. Paul's which stands like a cardboard pop-up on the hilltop. The stone facade, which features carvings relating the story of the Catholic Church in Asia (complete with the odd dragon and sailing ship), is all that remains of the Jesuit church after a fire ripped through it in 1835. Glass walkways provide a glimpse at the stone foundations, and a restored crypt contains a Museum of Sacred Art. Running behind the ruins is an intact section of the Old City Wall, dating back to 1569, formed from a mixture of clay, soil, sand, glutinous rice, crushed rocks and oyster shells.
10:30am: Across the road from St. Paul's, visit Mount Fortress, constructed in 1617 as the city's principal military defense structure. Built into the Fortress is the excellent Museum of Macau, well worth an hour or two.
1pm: Take a bus or taxi to Coloane, bordering the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone on the Chinese mainland (you can dial Shanghai for the cost of a local call here). Head through wooded trails to Hac Sa Beach (meaning black sand) where another Macanese icon stands-Fernando's. Beneath the straggly vines, this beach-side bungalow serves hearty Portuguese fare on red and white checkered tablecloths. Portuguese wines are displayed on a shelf and taste especially good when drunk under the big tree in the courtyard.
4pm: Stop off at Lord Stow's Bakery for Macau's best egg tarts before heading across the Cotai Strip, a swathe of reclaimed land linking the former islands of Coloane and Taipa (extensive land reclamation projects since the 17th century have doubled Macau's original land mass). Currently covered in cranes and scaffolding, this will soon be the new casino mecca, anchored by the USD 1.8 billion Venetian set to open later this month. The Venetian will be followed by the Four Seasons, Shangri-La, St. Regis, Raffles and so on, with a combined capacity of 19,000 rooms. From here, continue along Avenida da Praia, which offers great views across the bay to the emerging new Macau. Amid banyans and flowered bowers, linger by a row of five 1920s mint-green villas, now home to museums illustrating Macanese life, art and culture of the time.
7pm: Dine at one of Wynn Macau's extravagant restaurants. Especially fun is Il Teatro Ristorante where southern Italian fare is accompanied by performances of the dancing water fountain right outside the second-floor windows.
9pm: Retire to the opulent red and gold gaming hall downstairs, where baccarat is the game of choice. Exit through the luxury shopping arcade right outside-Louis Vuitton stays open until 3am in case you're feeling flush.
Cafe Ou Mun
12 Travessa Sao Domingos
(853 2837 2207)
Praia Hac Sa 9, Coloane
(853 882 264)
Lord Stow's Bakery
Colane Village Square
(853 882 534)
Museum of Macau
(853 2835 7911)
Rua Cidade de Sintra, Nape
(853 2888 9966, wynnmacau.com)
(That's Shanghai by Amy Fabris-Shi February 15, 2007)