The Great Wall of China really lives up to its name. Until you are there, huffing and puffing your way up the steps, you cannot imagine its magnificent scope. The part of the Great Wall that’s in Beijing, even its further-flung sections, is close enough for a day trip, but to watch the sun rise and set over this staggering architectural wonder, you’ll want to stay overnight. Here’s where to do that:
Much like its ancient neighbor, this hotel has some serious architectural cred — it was exhibited at the 2002 Venice Biennale. The list of designers reads like a who’s who of Asian architects and includes MIT professor Yung Ho Chang and Seung H-Sang, one of South Korea’s foremost contemporary architects. Indoors, you will find furniture and décor from the likes of Philippe Starck, Thierry Hoppe and Karim Rashid. Though you’ll get more than enough of a workout hiking the wall, the hotel also has well-kept tennis courts and an outdoor pool — the latter is definitely not used during Beijing’s sub-zero winter, but heavenly after a hot climb. The hotel’s chic environs are all but lost on rugrats, but there is a kids’ club and a children’s menu with standard fare like mac and cheese and burgers. Commune by the Great Wall boasts private access to a section of the wall, but as of this writing, it’s closed for renovations for the next 45 or so days.
This charming cluster of renovated farmhouses adjacent to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is run by a group of four who have been living in the area since 2005. The owners strive to be friendly not only to the environment but to the village in which they live, hiring local people, growing their own food, purchasing from area vendors and using recycled building materials. There are eight farmhouses that can be rented, some accommodating up to 10 people. While the buildings still have rustic exteriors and some interior stone walls remain, they’re certainly comfortable, with heated floors, Wi-Fi and, in some, full kitchens. A gussied-up former primary school now houses the restaurant and art studio.
For peace and quiet in the shadow of the Great Wall, try these houses, which accommodate singles up through large groups. The five courtyard houses, some in stone and others in brick, are built in traditional Chinese style, but their interiors have been modernized, with well-appointed kitchens as well as contemporary furniture and fixtures. There’s a cozy fireplace around which to curl up, but there’s also a large courtyard where you can watch the sun melt into the horizon over the Great Wall. House amenities include an espresso maker and outdoor grill.
This former glazed tile factory has been lovingly transformed into a 25-room hotel with direct views of the Great Wall. All guest rooms have large windows and private terraces so you can take in the wall day and night. Though there is Wi-Fi, you’ll be so busy hiking or playing mah-jongg in the lodge that you’ll forget you even have Internet access. Complimentary coffee, tea, and soft drinks are available all day in the lodge, as are housemade oatmeal raisin and sugar cookies. The staff is warm and welcoming, and with so much space to run around and plenty of activities, Brickyard is great for families.
While this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel is a bit farther away from the wall, it’s worth the 1.5-hour drive. Plus, it’s only a short walk from another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Summer Palace. But the hotel itself can be considered a historical attraction — it’s made up of pavilions, some of which are more than a century old. Palace guests would wait there before meeting with the Empress Dowager Cixi. Aman honors its history by decorating its rooms with Ming Dynasty-inspired furniture, wooden screens and clay-tile floors. Of course, luxe touches abound as well; there’s a library (check out the tomes on the Summer Palace), a screening room complete with leather seats, a spa, an indoor pool, a yoga and Pilates studio (equipped with reformers), a pavilion that hosts musical performances and three restaurants.
Photo Courtesy of Commune By The Great Wall