Macau is an hour by ferry from its sister SAR Hong Kong, and many visitors to Hong Kong include it on their travel itineraries as a day trip.  With a little more time up our sleeves we opted to spend a weekend in the ex-Portuguese colony to experience the culture the casinos and the cuisine.

Macau is made up of the Macau Peninsular and Taipa and Coloane Islands. The ferry deposited us on the Macau Peninsular and we headed to its Portuguese heart, Largo de Senoda (Senoda Square), where we strolled along the waves of black and white paving stones lined by pastel brick colonial style buildings. We ducked down a side street to the Portuguese Ou Mun Café where we tried the first of many pasteis de nata or egg-custard tarts. We were surprised to discover that Nando’s Pastel de Natas do not differ much from their Portuguese origins, however the elegant simplicity of egg-custard and pastry needs no improvement. Another Macanese specialty is the pork chop bun, a deep fried pork chop overflowing from a crusty bread roll; these make for a delicious snack but do remember to look out for the bone. 

Largo do SenadoImage courtesy of eGuide Travel @ Flickr

We wove our way through the paved streets past the bakkwa (Chinese beef jerky) vendors to the ruins of the Church of St Paul (Ruinas de Igreja de Sao Paulo). At the top of a wide flight of steps stands the towering stone façade – all that is left of the church after a fine consumed it in 1835. We gaze up at the statures and carvings before passing through the door to walk down what would have been the church aisle to see the small museum and crypt at the rear.

Ruins of the Church of St Paul

Just east of the ruins is Monte Forte and we pass through gardens and climb steep stone steps to wander around the battlements taking in the views of Macau and over the border into China. Parents strolled along while their children raced about burning off energy and little old men silently performed their morning tai chi. The seldom-used cannons (fired only once in battle) now point harmlessly at the giant golden onion that is the Grand Lisboa casino. In the Monte Fort is the Macau Museum where we while away a pleasant hour learning about the history and traditions of Macau. 

View from Monte Fort

As in Hong Kong the taxis are cheap so we hail one to take us to Coloane Island to the much recommended Fernando, a Portuguese restaurant located on Hac Sa (black sand) Beach. There were already many pairs and groups waiting for tables when we arrived, so we sipped on sangria at the outdoor bar while we waited for our name to be called. Finally we were taken to a table and the red and white checked cloth was soon crowded with tender charcoal grilled chicken, charcoal grilled pork ribs, Portuguese chorizo, and a basket of enormous fresh baked rolls which came in handy for mopping up the delicious sauce from a platter of clams and garlic prawns. Fernando’s website may be a little dated but clearly this is because their time is dedicated to serving the crowds who show up for their great food.

No trip to Macau would be complete without visiting a casino or two. Not being big gamblers, or keen to spend much time on the smoky casino floor, we changed a modest amount of cash for chips and tried out luck at a roulette table at City of Dreams. A few wins increased our confidence and we joined a crowded craps table where chips slid about on the table, dice flew through the air and bounced off the table walls and people gasped and cheered. Despite having no idea what was going on we managed to win regularly enough to keep us at the table a little longer than we anticipated. Realizing that the show we had come to the casino to see was about to start, we hastily gathered our chips and left. On our way out we passed a roulette table calling for last bets and Nato impulsively put our remaining chips on red. The ball spun round and round and skittered about before finally landing on black and that was the end of our gambling. The show, House of Dancing Water, was incredible. It could be best described as an aquatic Cirque de Soleil, with a little Crusty Demons of Dirt thrown in for good measure – odd but spectacular.

At the Wynn Macau casino we stopped to watch the hourly Dragon of Fortune show in the rotunda. A golden dome parted releasing a cloud of smoke, from which rose a golden dragon coiled around a lotus flower. The dragon shook its head ferociously, smoke trailing from its nostrils while flames, lightning and fireworks exploded across the ceiling and then sunk back into the smoky depths from whence it came – it was gloriously cheesy.

We got lost in the Venetian, the casino floor seemingly stretching for miles in every direction. We wandered around the ground floor looking for the gondolas, only to discover they were in the top floor. We boarded a gondola, the attendants swiftly blocking any attempts to take photos as we boarded so that we would buy the overpriced framed photos they would have awaiting us on our return. It was an odd experience gliding around the sparkling clear canals through the mall under the surprisingly realistic artificial sky. Our gondolier chatted with us and engaged us in an operatic sing-along. It was a world away from a gondola ride in Venice, but it was fun all the same.

Gondola Rides at The Venetian – image courtesy of A Siu

We ventured out to Taipa village for dinner at another recommended Portuguese restaurant, Antonio. We didn’t get off to a great start as our reservation could not be found. We stood in the half-full restaurant while I combed my emails for the confirmation and as soon as I showed it to the waitress we were seated.  A fluffed-up drinks order later we were wondering why the restaurant had been recommended. Thank goodness we persisted as the food was incredible. We devoured African chicken with coconut milk sauce, a seafood stew and couldn’t resist ordering the flaming Portuguese sausage (and thinking of Alf Stewart). Our meal was accompanied by intentional entertainment, a gent on acoustic guitar and unintentional entertainment, we watched in amusement as a waiter set up a small table to decant wine in the doorway, then locked the door to stop it swinging open and disturbing the table, inadvertently locking out a patron who had stepped out for a cigarette. Another dining option in Taipa village is Casa de Tapas, there are plenty of good choices on the menu but their gazpacho soup and suckling pig in particular are excellent.

If you have a day or two to spare in Hong Kong, Macau is a pleasant mini-break, a chance to take in a show, gamble a little and dine on delicious Portuguese cuisine. Be sure to have an egg-custard tart for me!