After all, the constant whirl of being in big cities meant we were all in serious need of some down time, and Colôane, mostly rural and largely undeveloped, would allow us to relax by pools, hang out at beaches, dine al fresco, explore tiny Colôane Village and maybe go on a hike or play golf. Yet if the urge to stroll Macau’s historic downtown or hit the casinos overtook us, we’d be ridiculously close enough to do those, too.
Colôane was once an island, home to Chinese fishermen and harvesters of sea salt. Even after Portuguese arrived in the 16th century and established a trading port on the small peninsula of Macau, Colôane remained off the radar, making it attractive to Chinese pirates hiding out in the island’s rugged interior and preying on rich cargo ships. The final straw came in 1910, when Colôane bandits kidnapped 18 children and demanded ransom, causing the Portuguese to rescue the children and eventually eradicate piracy.
Colôane remained isolated until a causeway was built in 1969 linking it to the nearby island of Taipa, followed by a bridge erected in 1974 between Taipa and the Macau mainland. Today, Colôane and Taipa are fused into one large island due to massive land reclamation of an area now called Cotai (a combination of the two islands’ names) and are connected to downtown Macau via three bridges.
Although the development of Cotai with its resorts, casinos and shopping malls is encroaching ever closer, Colôane remains Macau’s countryside, the place locals go to get away from it all. Measuring about 8 square kilometers of Macau’s total 30 square kilometers, yet with fewer than 5,000 of Macau’s some 640,000 residents, Colôane is mostly wooded hills, laced with hiking trails and winding roads and dotted with small villages and low-key lodgings.
The most popular destination is quaint Colôane Village on the island’s southwest end, so close to China across a narrow channel that it seems like you could reach out and touch it. Like most of Macau, the village is a blend of Portuguese and Chinese architecture and traditions, with businesses selling salted fish, stilted homes extending over the channel, narrow cobbled lanes and colonial-era architecture.
The focus of village life is Eduardo Marques Square, dominated by the pretty Chapel of St. Francis Xavier, built in 1928 in classic baroque Portuguese style. At the other end of the square, paved with a stone mosaic and shaded on its edges by banyan trees, is a memorial commemorating those who fought in the 1910 raid against the pirates and a promenade that runs along the channel.
Lord Stow’s Bakery
But it’s the open-air restaurants, cloistered along arcades flanking the square, that draw me to Colôane Village year after year. I love the camaraderie of being surrounded by extended families and watching children play in the square as I munch on salt-and-pepper prawns, barbecued chicken in a fresh coconut or one of the many other Cantonese, Macanese and Portuguese dishes served at Nga Tim Cafe. And what would a visit to Colôane Village be without stopping by Lord Stow’s Bakery for its famous Portuguese egg tarts?
Colôane’s other big draw is the Macau Giant Panda Pavilion, nestled against a hill in Seac Pai Van Park and built to simulate the panda’s natural environment. The park also contains an information center relating to all things panda, a small zoo and playground, as well as hiking trails leading into the interior (pick up trail maps at the park).
Macau’s nature trail
In fact, Colôane is Macau’s best place for a nature hike, with about a dozen well-marked trails, including the Long Chao Kok Coastal Trail, which departs from Hac Sa and takes about 45 minutes to walk, providing vistas of both mountains and the sea.
Hac Sa is also where you’ll find Macau’s most famous beach, noted for its black sand, lifeguards in summer, tennis courts and public swimming pool. But my main reason for coming to Hac Sa Beach is to eat—of course!—at Fernando’s, serving Portuguese fare and one of several beach shacks beside the beach. Cheoc Van Beach, also with life guards, swimming pool and tennis courts, is popular with families.
As for lodging, the Grand Coloane Resort (formerly a Westin) has long been my favorite escape due to its beautifully landscaped grounds, indoor and outdoor pools, adjoining golf course and rooms with expansive terraces overlooking the sea. Hac Sa Beach is within walking distance, as is Miramar, a well-known, laid-back family restaurant.
I’m also like the modest Pousada de Colôane, located on a hill above Cheoc Van Beach and also with a swimming pool and rooms with balconies facing the sea. Open since 1977, it reminds me of places my family stayed when I was young, which for fast-changing Macau, is almost a miracle.