ON a cold December morning it feels as if the Great Wall is mine alone.
The gentle silence of a snow-draped landscape has replaced the jostling crowds of summer and snowflakes are tumbling through the air, wrapping the wall in a soft white cloak and creating a winter wonderland.
Snow at this time of year is almost a given, but watching it fall on this ancient structure is a rare privilege.
Four sections of the wall can be easily reached from Beijing but savvy visitors favour Mutianyu which is located 90 km from the capital.
This segment was restored in the 1980s and is renowned for the visual drama of its tightly packed guard towers and knife-edged mountain peaks.
Surrounded by towering pine trees and stunning scenery, it offers a compromise between the slightly closer yet tourist-packed Badaling and the physically challenging sections at Juyongguan and Simatai.
In summer visitors huddle in the towers to escape Beijing’s searing heat but in winter these magnificent fortifications are pleasantly snug.
Tower 14 is the highest point at Mutianya and the ideal spot to view the long line of imposing towers and parapets stretching into the distance.
It is a visually dramatic introduction to Beijing and highlights why visiting in winter can be so rewarding.
Not only is the landscape especially beautiful but the crowds of the summer months are nowhere to be seen and there are plenty of travel bargains to be found.
During low season it is possible to stay at a five star hotel for next to nothing and secure a table at the city’s best restaurants without a hitch.
Popular tourist sites can also be enjoyed in relative solitude.
It is easy to see three of Beijing’s most famous sights – the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square – in a day if you take a tour.
Intrepid Urban Adventures include popular ‘must see’ tourist attractions and the chance to interact with locals in an authentic way.
As we watched a group practising qigong (which is similar to tai chi) in the park adjoining the Temple of Heaven, one of the ladies broke away from the class and came over to talk to our guide.
I thought my husband and I might be in strife for taking photos but she was delighted to see overseas visitors watching the class and asked if we would like to join in.
We were welcomed with warm smiles and the music began to play once more as we followed the movements of the qigong masters at the front of the class, marvelling at their grace and control. When the song finished, we were rewarded with clapping and more smiles as we left the class and continued on our tour.
After lunch at an authentic local restaurant renowned for its tasty dumplings we explored Tiananmen Square and passed through the Gate of Heavenly Peace with its famous Mao portrait to enter the Forbidden City.
This is the largest and best-preserved group of palaces in China and includes 720,000 square meters of courtyards, pavilions, great halls, flourishing gardens and nearly 10,000 rooms.
Our guide strolled around the site with us, sharing tales of betrayal, spies and intrigue that were worthy of a Game of Thrones’ plot. While the site itself is impressive, it is the stories which bring this place to life.
With so many things to see and do, it doesn’t take long to work up an appetite.
Beijing is a prime dining destination with restaurants to satisfy every taste and budget. Red Bowl at the Rosewood Beijing is the place to come for upmarket and affordable Chinese hot pot.
Order your choice of simmering, flavoursome stock which is used for cooking seafood, meat and vegetables at your table. Friendly staff delight in giving ‘hot pot lessons’ to novice diners and the lively atmosphere makes for a fun night out.
Some of the city’s best Peking duck can be found upstairs at Country Kitchen where an open show kitchen and wood-roasting oven provide a fascinating insight into how this traditional dish is prepared. Don’t forget to reserve a table and pre-order your duck to avoid disappointment.
If you do a tour, your guide can also help with dining recommendations.
There are hotels to suit every budget but it is best to book somewhere central to the places on your itinerary as Beijing’s traffic is notorious.
Staying at a hotel on the opposite side of town to the areas you want to explore can add up to an hour to your itinerary – and that is each way.
Rosewood Beijing is a 15-minute taxi ride from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and is ideally located for exploring the Great Wall as the hotel is on the way to Mutianyu.
It also has a heated swimming pool for winter dips and one of Asia’s best club lounges which is a comforting haven after a day spent exploring the hustle and bustle of Beijing.
During winter the city is imbued with an almost surreal beauty with every scene pulled into soft focus by the snow. It is a magical time to visit.
The writer explored Beijing with assistance from Intrepid Urban Adventures and the Rosewood Beijing.