A destination of contrasts, modern-day Macao is both a glittering metropolis of casinos, skyscrapers and malls - earning itself a reputation as the Las Vegas of Asia - and a historic center that maintains its fascinating cross-cultural roots. Located about 40 miles across from Hong Kong on the western side of the Pearl River delta, Macao was granted to the Portuguese by Ming China in the mid-16th century as a colony and traders' enclave. A prominent trading post, the area quickly became a thriving cultural center, with three official languages: English, Portuguese and Chinese. In addition to the linguistic mix, Macao became known for its unique fusion cuisine, combining Portuguese and Chinese flavors and cooking techniques. The last European colony in Asia, Macao was returned to China in 1999, when it was designated a "Special Administrative Region" (SAR), under which it operates its own legal system, and customs and immigration policy - all independently of China, which handles military and foreign affairs. Since then, it has established itself as one of the world’s richest regions, and since 2006 it has become the world’s largest gambling center - with a number of high-end casinos, many of which are housed in world-class hotels. Despite rapid development, though, Macao still retains its colonial and cultural charms, with historic churches and temples to discover, mosaic-tiled boulevards to explore, and delicious, diverse food to sample.