Great Wall Getaways
To truly experience China’s “stone dragon,” consider a stay at one of these dramatically different retreats in Beijing’s northern mountains. By TOM O’MALLEY
Published on Sep 16, 2010
+ THE BRICKYARD
Fashioned from a Cultural Revolution–era glazed tile factory, this eco-conscious boutique hotel is a model of sympathetic reclamation. The antique firing kilns now house the hotel reception and meeting rooms, and shards of turquoise and terracotta tiles are set, mosaic-like, into paths that wind through manicured grounds. Sixteen rooms each boast private gardens, slate flooring, crisp white linen and a floor-to-ceiling frontage of insulated glass, meaning guests wake early to a glorious panorama of mountains crested with watchtowers. Much of the staff at The Brickyard is drawn from local farming families, their pigs providing the sausages and bacon at breakfast. Maps indicating a variety of hikes up to the Great Wall are available at reception, and bicycles can be rented nearby to explore the surrounding villages.
Doubles from RMB1,200 per night; Yingbeigou Village, Huairou District, Beijing, China; +86 10 6162 6506; brickyardatmutianyu.com
+ THE COMMUNE BY THE GREAT WALL KEMPINSKI
This conclave of luxury villas represents the collective vision of a dozen contemporary Asian architects, reportedly banking a million dollars each to imagine their dream living space beside the Great Wall. Each villa has a personality to reflect its design: “Bamboo Wall” is Japanese in form and function with futon-style beds and a tea room boasting views of a distant beacon tower, whilst “Forest House” is a good all-rounder – roomy and comfortable in a woodland setting. Though a must for those with an interest in modern architecture, the interiors, now several years old, are overdue some attention. From The Commune it’s a 20- minute slog to a ramshackle stretch of Wall the hotel claims stewardship over. If you’re content to gaze from afar, be sure to request a room with a view in advance.
Doubles from RMB2,700 per night; Shuiguan exit, Badaling Highway, Beijing, China; +86 10 8118 1888; communebythegreatwall.com
+ THE GREAT WALL COURTYARD HOSTEL
Back in the days when barbarian raids were an incessant nuisance, up to one million Chinese soldiers and laborers are said to have lived and worked along the Great Wall. At touristy Badaling it can seem like they’ve never left. The shutter-happy throng jostling for space on the narrow battlements is a spectacle in itself, but if you prefer to avoid the crowds, nothing beats staying the night. The Great Wall Courtyard Hostel is a converted village home with decent en-suite doubles and four small dorms adjoining a bright, covered courtyard. Comfy sofas, Italian coffee and rustic fare like Mongolian-style hot pot are welcome comforts after a long day walking the watchtowers. Dong Hao, the personable owner, also rents out tents, sleeping bags, and gas-powered stoves for a night on the “wild wall,” an evocative, un-restored section 10km to the south.
Doubles from RMB450 per night; 5 Chadaogucheng, Badalingzhen, Yanqing District, Beijing, China; +86 10 6912 1156; courtyard.cc
+ SHAMBHALA AT THE GREAT WALL
An eccentric fusion of Manchu hunting lodge and Tibetan temple, this retreat comprises 10 rustic stone cottages hidden amongst mulberry trees in a steep-sided valley north of Beijing. Admittedly, development in the adjacent village means it’s no longer the escape it once was, but you still get a lot for your money: hand-carved four poster beds, luscious organic soaps and a hearty al fresco breakfast on a terrace overhanging a gurgling river. But the big draw is its private access to a spur of Great Wall that scythes right through the hotel grounds. A crumbling, perilously steep stairway takes guests on the same breathless ascent Ming soldiers once undertook to gain speedy access to the battlements high above. Cresting the ridge affords sublime views of the surrounding hills, and a fine spot for a picnic amid wild flowers and dragonflies.
Doubles from RMB850 per night; 28, Xiaguandi Village, Yanxi Township, Huairou District, Beijing, China; +86 10 6402 7150; shambhalaserai.com