Crystal Liu, communications manager at the Mandarin Oriental in Macau, is a bit like the hotel, and the former Portuguese colony, itself: energetic, welcoming and engaging.

“Macau is a beautiful experience,” says Crystal, whose enthusiasm for the city and hotel is matched by that of her colleagues. “It’s older than Hong Kong, and really easy to get around. It’s also foreigner-friendly; I know because I was born and raised in Taiwan and love it here.”

Spider crab wrapped in lobster jelly, avocado and mango sauce with Sturia caviarThe smallness of Macau, one of two “special administrative areas” of the People’s Republic of China, is an asset, she says. The exotic city is just 29.5 kilometres in area, so you can easily see the main attractions in two or three days – and that helps events organisers focus on the activities they’d like business visitors to embrace while they’re there, and absorb everything the place has to offer.

With 213 rooms and suites, the four-year-old, five-star Mandarin Oriental is also tiny by the standards of the city, some of whose massive casino hotels have 3,000 to 4,000 rooms. (Five of the world’s 10 largest casino resorts are here). Classy, luxurious and understated, it’s more like a hostelry you’d expect to find in Europe. “If you have thousands of rooms it’s difficult to provide personal service,” says Crystal. “We differentiate ourselves by being small, and handling smaller MICE groups of up to 200, so we can provide personal service which makes guests’ experience more pleasant.”

This includes the best attentions of a team of smiling, obliging staff, in-room check-ins, treatments at a spa that’s won a “Grand Jury” award in one of China’s top spa recognition programs, and meals at a splendid French restaurant (Vida Rica). The latter is a place of shimmering glass and elegant furnishings and design that’s rated as the number-one eatery in Macau on TripAdvisor, and recently won a top service award from the Macau Government Tourist Office.

IMG_8923At lunch at the Vida Rica one day, I tantalised my tongue with one of French chef Dominique Bugnand’s signature dishes – onion soup (below) – and fresh rolls baked on site, along with lobster-, caviar- and truffle-filled dim sims. It was sensationally good. His signature dishes include “spider crab wrapped in lobster jelly, avocado and mango sauce with Sturia caviar” (above) and “carrot mashed with orange dust and grilled shallot banana”.

An epicurean sensation

The breakfast buffets, also served here, are an epicurean sensation, an eclectic fusion of East and West, with fabulous fresh fruit – all imported – and omelettes to order jostling with noodles prepared at a buffet, sticky rice, fresh sole fillets, dim sim, salads, delicate sausage tarts, quiches, and much else.

Guests can choose to sit in the main dining area or in one of the four semi-private rooms, useful for gatherings of up to 16. For those requiring yet more intimacy, the chef’s table provides a fully private option.

Onion soup with Gruyere cheese espuma and onion jam on toastAs you’d expect from a marque like the Mandarin Oriental’s, the food is just one highlight of a stay at the property, set in a narrow, black glass structure at the end of a point of reclaimed land, and linked to a swish shopping mall and MGM casino. My sprawling room is serene, spacious and comfortable with cream wallpaper and blonde wood panelling. I have my own coffee machine, the bedding is of goosedown and there’s a twice-daily housekeeping service. The window gives a panoramic view of a slice of the continental coastline and South China Sea, where ships of all sizes chug to and fro.

From the hotel it’s a ten-minute walk to the centre of town, with a swag of World Heritage Sites like the A-Ma Temple, a Taoist shrine built in 1488, the Dom Pedro V, one of the first Western-style theatres in China, and St Augustine’s Church, built in 1591. Macau became a Portuguese colony in 1557 and was eventually handed back to China in 1999. But the Portuguese influence remains widely evident – in the multilingual signage and street names (like “Avenida da Ponte da Amizade”), and smatterings of the language you hear being spoken by passers-by.

Macau International Airport and the China border are 10 minutes away by car, and the Hong Kong-Macau ferry terminal is a five-minute drive. You can directly access Hong Kong airport by ferry in 45 minutes and central Hong Kong in an hour. Cost: about AUD25.

Photo-Mandarin Oriental, Macau-Vida Rica Bar3Gambling hiatus

“Macau is the only place in the world where you get a mix of Portuguese and Chinese style,” says Crystal Liu, pictured above. “Around 70% of our visitors are from mainland China. We also get visitors from Australia, a key target market, the US, Europe and Taiwan, which is one hour and twenty minutes’ flying time away.”

Many visitors obviously come to Macau to gamble. Interestingly, the gambling sector’s winning run came to an abrupt halt recently when growth in its annual, USD44 billion earnings fell as a result of the Chinese government’s drive to cut corruption and over-the-top spending by public-sector employees. But this hiatus is widely expected to last a year at most.

In many ways Macau is a “weekend city”, says Crystal, with a huge influx of visitors coming across the border from the mainland and from Hong Kong on Fridays. A road link to Hong Kong in a year or two will make access easier still.

Photo-Mandarin Oriental, Macau-Ocean RoomThat’s why, she adds, if your schedule allows it’s better to organise conferences and events at the Mandarin Oriental during the week: you get a better rate. There’s also less traffic and the attractions like the temples and churches have fewer visitors.

“The number of hotels here is growing all the time, and with more new properties coming on stream and more competition, it can only be good for visitors.”

When to go

In addition to considering weekdays to get the best deals, some events planners may want to avoid September, when people crowd into the city for fireworks displays, and November when the Formula 1 grand prix is happening and rates are higher. But at any time there’s plenty to do, from bungy jumping to museum visits. “The cultural scene is very enjoyable, but it’s more than that,” says Crystal. “It’s a unique place; there’s nothing else quite like it.”

As the only non-gaming five-star hotel on the Macau Peninsula, the Mandarin Oriental Macau promotes itself as a useful venue for quiet, focused meetings and conferences. It has four dedicated event spaces including a 320-square-metre ballroom which can be separated into two smaller function rooms. These have large sea-view windows and a spacious pre-function area.

From HKD 2,288 (AUD 370) year-round, based on availability

The hotel’s website advertises “the best and most flexible rates” along with complimentary transfers for guests booking a suite, and a variety of other special deals. The “Ultimate Spa Escape Package,” for example, starts from around USD570 and includes a night’s accommodation in a guestroom or suite, buffet breakfast for two, a two-hour signature treatment for two at the spa and more. Another “Macau Cultural Discovery Package” deal offers tours of the city.

To find out more email

The Siteseer was a guest of Mandarin Oriental Macau.

Photo-Mandarin Oriental, Macau-Swimming Pool1