The great wall of China in Chenjiapu village, in North China's Hebei province. [Photo/IC]
As the full force of summer hits Beijing, locals and expatriates escape the city swelter by fleeing to the hills. Luckily, Beijing is surrounded by some spectacular natural scenery, and the Great Wall not only provides a photogenic weekend destination, but some excellent hiking. While many people flock to the ticketed (and crowded) restored sections, such as Badaling and Mutianyu, there are many unrestored parts of the Great Wall where you can not only escape the crowds but, after a tough day of hiking, also retreat to a country home for some great food and campfire singalongs－and only a few hours from the city. One such spot is the Chen family's home in Chenjiapu village, where basic accommodation, great food and cold beer make for a perfect weekend.
After a tortuous bus journey from Beijing, we shake off the trip by enthusiastically greeting the Chen family's friendly pets and admiring the beautiful garden. It is their guesthouse－and home－that we are spending the night in. Rows of vegetables are planted in the courtyard－they will soon be picked for that night's dinner. After putting our bags in our room, we get back on the bus to be dropped at the start of the ascent to the wall.
The first part of the climb is pretty much vertical - a shock to the system scrambling up loose stones. We reach the second watchtower and figure this is as good as place as any to stop for our picnic lunch; the view of the valley laid out before us is spectacular. We each find a good rock to perch on, our group of 1 produces sandwiches, seemingl from nowhere, and we chat and eat.
We keep walking, soaking in the lush, rolling scenery. This unrestored section of the wall in the Chenjiapu valley rarely sees tourists, and it feels like we are the only people for miles. The bricks are loose, crumbling, and many parts have been almost entirely overtaken by the thick shrubbery. It's been a wet summer and everything is green, lush and beautiful - snakes hiss in the thick undergrowth as we trudge past.