Clockwise from top: The Commune villas are dispersed across the mountainside; an evening meal against an idyllic Great Wall scene, the living room of Bamboo Wall villa; guests enjoy a lunchtime meal; this stretch of the wall remains in its untouched form. Photos provided to China Daily
Are you tired of being part of the madding crowd when visiting the Great Wall? Do you dream of seeing it in a quiet and private way, just a short stroll from your luxury accommodation? Well, so you can.
Commune by the Great Wall, managed by Kempinski, a private collection of contemporary architecture designed by 12 Asian architects, is part five-star hotel and part Asian architectural showcase. It claims to be the only such retreat in world and provides guests with a private path leading to a wild and untouched section of the Great Wall.
After a one-hour bus journey from the center of the city, we arrive at the entrance to the Shuiguan section of the Great Wall. The coach stops and we all wonder if we have arrived at our destination. But no, we drive on to a quiet path lined with screen scrubs and worn-out bungalows. A dozen local villagers are busy with farm work, feeding chickens and sifting rice. They lift their heads to stare at us.
Can this really be the exclusive resort managed by the European luxury hotel group Kempinski?
The answer of course is no, for about five minutes later, the bus arrives at a large man-made haven and enters another world. The tranquil complex covers a wide area and lies in two valleys surrounded by hills over which the Great Wall twists and turns.
A receptionist wearing a black uniform adorned with a red star welcomes us and we enter the clubhouse with its scenic-view restaurant, avant-garde bar and spacious karaoke room.
Outside the clubhouse, winding paths stretch up the hillsides to 42 villas, ranging in size from four to six bedrooms, providing a total of 236 rooms. The 11 presidential villas are located in Walnut Valley, while the other 31 are in Stone Valley. It was a hot summer morning in the city but the day feels cooler here.
The Commune is the pet project of Zhang Xin, wife and business partner of China's real estate tycoon Pan Shiyi. The Commune won Zhang a special prize, the Silver Lion, for her role as a "patron of architecture" at the 2002 architectural Biennale in Venice.
Guided by the hotel's staff, our group heads toward the Great Wall. Along the way, we see a handful of handsomely designed villas, including "Forest House", "Bamboo Wall", and the terminal-like "Airport". On a vast red wall of "Cantilever House" rest nearly one hundred butterflies. They are not like common butterflies, most of which are dazzling colorful and pretty. They look like dry and yellow leaves dropping from trees that have happened to fall onto the wall.
A Dutch insect scientist we bump into later tells us the variety of insects in the Commune means that the natural environment is healthy, as "insects are normally more sensitive to pollution than human beings".
Anticipating more attractions we continue climbing the steep hillside. It is almost noon, the sun high overhead. However, thanks to the lush trees along the path, the heat doesn't feel too over-powering. About 20 minutes later, we ascend to the end of the path and see the Great Wall, which is almost dazzling in the noon-sunshine.
It's a really amazing view. Without flag-waving tourist guides and noisy visitors, we can appreciate the beauty and majesty of the Great Wall in a quiet way. A section of the Wall lies in ruins and imparts a strong feeling of history.
And so it is that the trip ends with a simple acknowledgement that while exclusivity might come with a heavy tag, the experience is certainly a unique one.