There are plenty of places around West Lake to sit some tea and soak in the scenery, but few possess the elegance and serenity of Guo's villa. While the crowds stick to Hubin and Beishan Roads, the connoisseur of West Lake knows that Yanggongdi is their best bet for an afternoon by the lake.
Just a hundred metres south of the Botanical Gardens, Guo's Villa (Guo Zhuang) is the best existing traditional private garden in Hangzhou. It is one of the garden masterpieces of Jiangnan (the lower region of the Yangtze River) thanks to its incomparable surroundings and the smartly managed garden space, and provides a very real glimpse of the opulent lifestyle of the Qing dynasty's filthy rich.Guo's Villa, (郭庄 Guo Zhuang ), is the best existing traditional private garden in Hangzhou. It is one of the garden masterpieces of Jiangnan (the lower region of the Yangtze River) thanks to its incomparable surroundings and the smartly managed garden space.
First built between 1851 and 1861, the villa is named after a certain Guo Shilin who took charge of the villa after its original owner, silk merchant Song Duanfdu. The villa was first opened to the public in October 1991 after a complete renovation, and it is renowned among West Lake's gardens for being most characteristic of classic gardens in Zhejiang.
The villa consists of two main sections. "Living in Quietness" is where the host used to live and meet guests. The rooms are tastefully furnished inside with antique wooden furniture, though these days people can rarely be seen sitting here. "The Sky in the Mirror" is a garden section. The sky-mirrored pond in the centre is surrounded by corridors, stone bridges, and rockeries as well as trees and flowers, a composition mirrored in the clear waters of the pond itself.
The garden develops as you enter further into it, switching regularly between tight, closed spaces and spacious, open ones. The key feature, or theme, is water. Cleverly juxtaposing shade and light, curved and straight, yin and yang, the garden of Guo Zhuang is a wonderful embodiment of the Chinese wisdom of Tao and the Way of Nature. The teahouse, Liang Yi Xuan sits in a prime viewing spot within the garden between two superb water "courtyards", one large and rectangular in shape and the other small and irregular. Don't miss the wonderfully colourful Japanese maple as you enter the villa. The most north-easterly point of the villa's grounds, past a rock garden, is the "Pavilion of riding the wind and inviting the moon", which, according to the descriptive plaque, is warm even in winter, and the cool breeze in autumn makes one wish they could fly away in the wind, towards the moon.
As you make your way through the garden, circular doorways and holes in the wall offer glimpses of the courtyards and compositions beyond. There are some geese who like to swim on the waters of the inner pond, and the outer pond has a variety of koi carp, of all different colours, that have become fat and bloated by being overfed by enthusiastic children.
While China certainly has no shortage of "old villas" to visit - and many are similar - this one has the natural advantage of being situated on the shore of the West Lake. The villa faces Spring Dawn at Su Causeway in the east,.with Twin Peaks Piercing the Cloud in the west, it commands a distant view of the green mountains to the south and the graceful Baochu Pagoda to the north. The views really are superlative, and their charm is only enhanced by not having to share them with others.
The ¥10 entry fee keeps many people away while not being prohibitively expensive, and you can have some tea (¥40) on the lakeside pavilions of the villa while avoiding the tourists. It really may be the most peaceful way of enjoying the splendour of West Lake.