GREAT WALL GET­AWAYS

With a host of in­ti­mate, lux­ury op­tions, there’s no ex­cuse for not vis­it­ing China’s pre­mier at­trac­tion next time you’re in Bei­jing

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

It’s a source of amaze­ment to me that peo­ple come to Bei­jing and don’t go to the Great Wall. It's a bit like go­ing to Hong Kong and not see­ing the har­bour, or Syd­ney and not see­ing the bridge.

A lot has changed since the old days when you were forced to go on a bus tour and stop at the aw­ful Ming tombs on the way. A num­ber of bou­tique ex­pe­ri­ences have emerged to of­fer “offthe-beaten-track” ad­ven­tures – the ul­ti­mate way to ex­pe­ri­ence China’s most iconic at­trac­tion.

Bri­tish explorer Wil­liam Lin­de­say (who once ran the en­tire length of the Great Wall alone and un­aided), or­gan­ises week­end walk­ing tours from his farm­house home. The kind of in­sight Lin­de­say is able to of­fer comes from three decades of study­ing, ex­plor­ing, pho­tograph­ing and doc­u­ment­ing the Great Wall, a project that earned of­fi­cial hon­ours from the Chinese and Bri­tish gov­ern­ments.

“It is the largest build­ing project in his­tory,” says Lin­de­say. “So huge that it is the only man-made struc­ture that shows up on world maps.

“It took more time to build than any other project in his­tory and, in ad­di­tion, most of it goes through moun­tain ter­rain, re­ally hos­tile ter­ri­tory, but the Chinese were pre­pared to go to any lengths to de­fend their civil­i­sa­tion. It is the ul­ti­mate won­der of the world and it will never be sur­passed.”

The Wild Wall Week­ends are not for ev­ery­one: ac­com­mo­da­tion is ba­sic, the food sim­ple and the ter­rain of­ten tricky. But the hik­ing-and-his­tory com­bi­na­tion is with­out a doubt the most ex­tra­or­di­nary way to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the mag­nif­i­cent struc­ture.

The stretch near Lin­de­say’s ru­ral re­treat has not been re­stored; parts have been re­claimed by na­ture, other bits have crum­bled. Nonethe­less, its ma­jes­tic grandeur and monumental scale are barely di­min­ished.

“I like it with all its warts and de­fects,” says Lin­de­say. “The wall was built to dif­fer­ent lev­els of qual­ity – first, sec­ond or third class – de­pend­ing on the threat of in­va­sion. The bits that are geared for mass tourism I liken to hav­ing had plas­tic surgery, they are not real or gen­uine.”

The get-to­geth­ers take place in the warmer months at the farm­house lo­ca­tion, fondly nick­named The Bar­racks, af­ter the Bri­tish term for sim­ple mil­i­tary-style ac­com­mo­da­tion (wild­wall.com, price for week­end stay US$550 per per­son). In­cluded in the cost are sev­eral ex­ten­sive hikes along the wall – at dawn and dusk – all meals and an end­less string of fas­ci­nat­ing anec­dotes from the host.

An­other long-term ex­pat res­i­dent of­fers a sig­nif­i­cantly more lux­u­ri­ous way to ex­pe­ri­ence the wall close up. American Jim Spear quit the cor­po­rate world to fo­cus on restor­ing tra­di­tional vil­lage houses around the Mu­tianyu area of the Great Wall.

The re­fur­bished homes were snapped up by well-off Bei­jingers seek­ing a rus­tic re­treat with mod­ern plumb­ing and ap­pli­ances. Spear rea­soned that a bou­tique ho­tel

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