West Lake, 5.66sq.km/2.2sq.mi in area and with an average depth of 1.5m (5ft), lies west of the Old Town of Hangzhou and is surrounded by hills on three sides. It is divided into five sections by the Sudi and Baidi Causeways; these sections are known as Outer Lake (Wai Hu), the largest of all, North Inner Lake (Beili Hu), West Inner Lake (Xili Hu), South Lake (Xiaonan Hu) and Lake Yue (Yue Hu). There are also four islands in West Lake - Gushan, Xiaoyingzhou, Ruangongdun and Huxinting (Mid-Lake Pavilion).
Known also as ''Mr Su's Dike'' (Sugongdi), the 2.8km/1.75mi long Sudi Causeway was built in 1089 by order of the famous poet Su Shi, who was then prefect of Hangzhou. It lies in the west part of West Lake and links the north bank with the south. To build the causeway mud was dredged from the lake, dried in the sun and then reinforced by adding algae.There are few experiences more pleasurable than an early morning stroll across the causeway in spring, past beautiful flower-beds, peach trees in blossom and weeping willows casting their shadows on the six arched stone bridges. Watching the sunrise in spring from the Sudi Causeway is one of Hangzhou's most wonderful experiences.
Broken Bridge (Duanqiao) links the Baidi Causeway with the shore. It is particularly beautiful in winter when covered with snow. A well-known Chinese love story relates how on this bridge many hundreds of years ago the White Snake, in the shape of a beautiful woman, met the academic Xu Xian for the first time. They fell passionately in love, but a malicious monk forced them to part.
In the north of West Lake lies the 1km/.75mi long Baidi Causeway; it is also known as ''Mr Bai's Dike'' (Baigong Di), after Bai Juyi, a famous poet from the Tang period (618-907). It begins near Broken Bridge (Duanqiao) and ends on the Isle of the Hill of Solitude (Gushan).
Three Pools Mirroring the Moon
These three round stone pagodas, each little more than 2m/6.5ft high and known as The Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, rise up out of the lake near the south bank of The Island in the Little Ocean.They were erected in 1621 on the spot where the prefect Su Shi had built three older pagodas which were soon destroyed. The original intention was that the buildings would serve to prevent the local people from growing aquatic plants there and thus avoid mud collecting around them.Today the pagodas serve quite a different purpose - they entertain tourists with subtle illuminated displays. In the twilight of the evening a burning candle is placed behind one of the five round windows which is covered with tissue paper. When the moonlight falls on the pagodas charming lighting effects are then mirrored on the surface of the water.
Pavilion of the Autumn Moon
Built in 1699, the Pavilion of the Autumn Moon (Pinghu Qiuyue) on the Calm Lake stands at the end of the Baidi Causeway, at the eastern end of Gushan Isle. Anyone staying in this region in autumn would do well to spend an evening here watching the moonlight spread its mystery and magic over the whole lake.The Pavilion was built for the Qianlong Emperor Pinghu (reigned 1735-96), who also used to enjoy the moonlit view over the lake from here in autumn; an inscribed column bears his description of these magical moments, and this is why this spot bears his name.In the north of the island is the Pavilion of the Cranes (Fanghe Ting), built in the Yuan period (1279-1368) in honor of the poet Lin Hejing (967-1028). Disenchanted with corrupt officialdom he retired here to lead a quiet life. His grave is situated near the pavilion.
Isle of the Hill of Solitude
Isle of the Hill of Solitude (Gushan): This island gets its name from the 38m/125ft high hill which stands in the middle of it; from the top of the hill there is a fine view of the surrounding scenery. The following buildings are scattered over an area of 20ha/50acres - Sun-Yat-sen Park (Zhongshan Gongyuan), the Provincial Museum, the provincial library, and the headquarters of the Society of Punch Cutters (Xiling Yinshe) founded in 1903. The Provincial Museum documents the history of the town and has an expansive art collection.In the buildings of the Xiling Society, calligraphies and paintings are exhibited, amongst them the oldest stone tablet in Zhejiang province, the Sanlao Stele (Sanlao Bei) dating from the Eastern Han period (25-220) and rediscovered in 1852.
Little Paradise Island
7ha/17.5acres in area, Little Paradise Island (Xiaoyingzhou) was made in 1607 from mud dredged from the lake. It contains four ''mini-lakes'', linked by a zig-zag bridge, the Bridge of the Nine Arches (1727), and with lotus blossom and water lilies floating on their surface. The pavilions, terraces and plants combine to produce the magic atmosphere of West Lake.
Bay of Flowers (Huagang Park)
The Bay of Flowers (Huagang), or Huagang Park, on the south bank of West Lake, covers 20ha/50acres and is filled with flower beds, containing mainly peonies, and lawns. This was a popular excursion spot back in the times of the Song dynasty (1127-1279), and thousands of multi-colored fish can be seen at play in a small lake which was laid out at that time.
Park of the Song of the Nightingale of the Willow Branch
The Park of the Song of the Nightingale of the Willow Branch (Liulang Wenying Gonyuan) is 17ha/42.5acres in size and covered with willow and cherry trees. Under the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) it was the Imperial Garden. In the middle stands a monument commemorating the peace treaty signed between Japan and China.
Dedicated to General Yue Fei, this temple was constructed in 1221. Of particular note is a 10th C stone celestial globe displaying constellations.
Yellow Dragon Cave
Yellow Dragon Cave (Huanglong Dong) lies some 500m/550yd west of Baochu Ta Pagoda, at the foot of Qixia Ling hill. In the first half of the 13th C a monk lived here; he built a hut in front of the cave, and towards the end of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) this was extended into a Taoist monastery.Note the spring gushing forth from the jaws of a dragon. There is a bamboo grove near the cave.
Baochu Ta Pagoda
The Baochu Ta Pagoda was built in 1933 on the north bank of West Lake, on the foundations of an older pagoda built in the second half of the 10th C for a high-ranking state official who sought the protection of Buddha for Qiang Hong Chu, ruler of the Wu kingdom. This led to the pagoda being given the name ''Baochu'', which means ''Protector of Chu''. It stands 45m/148ft high and is one of the town's landmarks.
The market, held each evening, is an experience in itself. Everything imaginable is on sale and a vast range of culinary delights can be savored. Craftsmen of all kinds also ply their trades.