Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Former Bela Vista Hotel, Macau

Yes, the former Bela Vista Hotel, because these days this building is used as the residence of the Portuguese Consul in Macau. My initial post was spurred on after reading a very interesting book called Macao by Phillipe Pons (written in the late 90′s and translated from the original French print). He provides such a great summary of its colourful history that I felt the need to share. Understandably, Pons spends a lot of time lamenting over the fact that the modern Macao is now like a Disney Theme park. When you consider that he wrote that in the 90's before the current phase of Disneyfication (i.e. Grand Lisboa, reclamation of the Cotai strip etc), then I dread to think how depressed he must be feeling right now :-(

Anyway, Pons has a great summary of the building’s history, which I shall unashamedly summarise even more for your reading pleasure. In case you wish to read this information first hand here is a link to the book at the publishers Hong Kong University Press.

Built in 1870, originally as a residence for Edward and Catherine Clarke, a British Captain and his wife, they decided in 1890 to turn it into a hotel and named it the “Boa Vista”. Unfortunately their fortunes weren’t so great and they were forced to put it on the market after only a few years. They were about to sell it to the French, who wanted to turn it into a hospital for French soldiers wounded in Indo-China but the sale was opposed by the British who feared a French expansion in China. And so it went on with several owners, including the Santa Casa De Misericordia (an age-old Catholic charitable organisation that administers various hospitals and clinics and which has an eponymous building on Senado Square). In an unspecified year it was once again turned into a hotel with initially a French, then British manager (the latter was deported due to running illegal roulette games in the building – perhaps providing the inspiration to turn Macau into its current status as the worlds biggest gambling town?) before then being used as a Secondary school. All this happened before 1936.

In 1936 it once again became a hotel, this time under its most famous name as the “Bela Vista” and was unfortunate enough to have its new opening coincide with the invasion of China, by Japan. As a result the place was taken over by the Govt to house Portuguese refugees from China – in particular those from Shanghai.

It’s not too clear what happened post-war. Pons mentions that the building wasn’t turned back into a hotel again until 1958 when it was bought by three Chinese women. The Macau Heritage website claims this actually happened in 1948 – perhaps someone out there knows the correct date?

Anyway, 1958 or 1948, it seems that the hotels fortunes still had yet to pick up and was hit by more misfortune when its manager, Paulo Chung, suddenly disappeared during the cultural revolution in 1965. Perhaps a victim of Red Guard fervour? His replacement, Adriano Pinto Marques, was luckier (or perhaps just more business savvy) staying at the hotel for twenty years until his death – in a chair on the verandah – in 1985. Pinto Marques was a big fan of Napolean and decked the hotel with souvenirs from that era, and was credited with restoring the hotel’s fortunes.

His son, Adrian, picked up where he left off but soon after Excelsior Hotels took out a 25 year lease out on the hotel, from the Govt. The Excelsior decided a renovation was in order and a couple of local architects were taken on board to see the project through during 1990-92. When it reopened its capacity was drastically reduced (to just 4 suites and 4 rooms!) and its financial ruin was more or less secured. It finally closed as a hotel on March 31 1999, and, fittingly, was taken over by the Portuguese Consul when Macau was handed back to China in December 1999.

Now, since I first posted this I have received a whole bunch of very informative and nostalgic comments from former guests as well as Mr Pinto Marques himself who left the following comment:
Hello Phil, what would you like to know? …that Austin Coates’ favorite room was 209, on the upper right corner facing the governor’s mansion? …that his favorite drink was Casal Garcia? ..or Tiziano Terzani frequented it and happily enjoyed his sunset drinks before storming town? Or that a Donald Sutherland’s movie that was shot there? Or Paulo Chung’s secret hideout, in the event that Macau is overrun by the Red Guards? Or how the Portuguese colonial government engineered a plan to ensure they maintain a presence after 1999, that symbolizes their old Colonial glories? – APM

Some food for thought from Mr Pinto Marques. Austin Coates will be a name familiar to anyone with a grasp of HK history. He was the British Civil servant who worked for the HK govt and has written some great books on both Hong Kong and Macau. Myself a Mandarin is on my recommended books page. Tiziano Terzani was an Italian writer who worked extensively in various parts of Asia, including Hong Kong and China.

Hmm, a Macau-set film starring Donald Sutherland? I'm no expert, but I reckon this may be referring to a 1990 film called Bethune: The Making of a Hero. I haven't seen it so can't confirm and IMDB just lists the filming location as "China" which isn't much help. But for now it's the only one I can think of. If anyone knows any differently, please leave a comment and I shall add the film to my ever growing list of HK/Macau-shot movies.

Speaking of movies, not so long ago a nice friendly chap called Neil left some interesting comments about his time at Salon Films in HK and this hotel was mentioned as the location used for the Pierce Brosnan/Peter Ustinov version of Around the World in 80 Days. Another one on my to-do list. And finally film-related was the appearance of the hotel in a scene from a home movie shot by Ahna Capri on the set of Enter the Dragon. This film is highly controversial because it is in the hands of a private collector, but every so often someone with a copy sneaks it out and it stays online for a few days before the owner starts sending out legal threats. Anyway, I did catch a glimpse a while back and saw the Bela Vista hotel featured. I can only assume that Capri visited Macau during her time off from filming and she must have stayed at the hotel.

Finally, Paulo Chung was mentioned previously as the owner/manager of the hotel before Mr Pinto Marques' father took over. I'm not sure anyone knew what happened to him but it sounds to me that his hidden room didn't work out too well for him, did it?

Another film-related comment came from Simon:
Stayed there in ’86, while I was an extra on “Taipan”. I think we pretty much took over the whole hotel. The movie paid for the room, but I recall it was cheap. I didn’t have quite the same old-characterful-hotel sensibility back then (I was 20) as I do now, but I did recognise the history of the building. I think “unrealised potential” was the best characterisation of what the BV was back then and I do remember a photocopy of a “Best 10 hotel bars in the world” stuck on a noticeboard in the hotel, which included the BV. My mate was the Aide-de-camp to the Portuguese Governor, and he (the ADC) was also an extra on the film. I’m a bit too scared to go back to Macau now – better to let it rest in memory I think.
I will get around to Taipan at some point because I do remember some Macau scenes in there. Simon also went on to remind me about Madonna and Sean Penn's Macau foray called Shanghai Surprise. I seem to remember the news about Penn hitting lots of people etc.

Virginia also popped by with, what sounds like, a decent book recommendation:
Hi. I was reading an autobiography by Kenneth Sly (Australian) who lived in Hong Kong from 1956 to 1965 and he visited Macau a few times during these dates and fondly recalls the Bela Vista Hotel. He mentions the excellent restaurant that served the best Portuguese food. He also has 2 photographs in the book. Published by Temple House in 2006. So 1958 sounds like it was definitely a Hotel. Cheers Virginia
Finally, Angus, long time contributor of useful and interesting info on my old blog, sent me a link of a few Macau photos in his collection, including some of the hotel. Enjoy:



  1. Bela Vista Hotel can be seen in the party scene towards the end of the 1990 HK movie "Dragon from Russia".

    1. Hi Jude, thanks for the info. I'll see if I can track down a copy. Many thanks, Phil

  2. As a child I lived in the Bela Vista during World War II. It was a refugee center for mostly Hong Kong refugees, Not Shanghai. Most were British subjects with Macao ancestors. Bela Vista was considered a preferred refugee center as it was less crowded, better run, and of course had spectacular views. We were permitted to raise chickens and ducks and cultivate "victory" gardens on the grounds.

    1. Hi Rosa - many thanks for leaving a comment.I think the Shanghaianese refugees were prior to the outbreak of WW2 and perhaps a product of the Japanese invasion in 1937? I don't know, I'm just guessing this may be why that information is there. But it's interesting that during the war (which in HK really only started at the end of 1941) the hotel housed refugees from HK. Many thanks, Phil

  3. I worked on Around the World in 80 Days 3 part TV movie.1988 We used the hotel
    and the ocean facing courtyard. I wandered around the old building and took video
    for the "company" behind the scenes. Some day I'll take the tapes and try to play them VHS

    1. hello Anon - I guess you must know Neil Macdonald then who was also involved in the production. He's given me some great anecdotes about lots of productions he was involved in...please feel free to share any of your memories with the blog :-)

    2. by the way, I do have a copy of Around the World in 80 Days here with me and will cover some of the locations on my film locations blog at a later time.

  4. After winning $100 gambling, I stayed for one night in the mid-eighties, after a friend from Esprit suggested the Bela Vista as a 'must see experience'. I included my thoughts in my memoir. Though the chairs were white plastic and the walls crumbling, I envisioned former times at this beautifully positioned hotel...and longed for a restoration when I feared a 'tear down' was more likely. Thankfully the Bela Vista was restored and now is a Portuguese diplomat's house, though I prefer my Somerset Maugham fantasies.

    1. Hi Betsey, thanks for the comment. has your memoir been published? Sounds intriguing.
      Regards Phil

  5. Thank you for this. I have a post on Facebook about the Bela Vista and you answer a lot of my questions, except I really wanted to know if Paolo Chung survived and what happened to the 3 Chinese women. You can find the post here. Best regards, Yolanda Christian https://www.facebook.com/groups/HK60s/permalink/10154972218106712/?comment_id=10155026556806712&reply_comment_id=10155026570811712&notif_id=1515682356798777&notif_t=group_comment_reply

    1. Hi Yolanda, thanks for the comment. Sorry I can't help with your queries though. Cheers, Phil