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close to banks, many corporate head offices and
so on. It also offers high-end shopping while just
a short taxi drive from the major attractions. We
spent our first three nights here at the luxurious
Westin Hotel. Ideal for business travellers and
families alike, choose from the hotel or the
residences. Having kids with us, we chose the
residences. Beautifully appointed, very large
suites have every possible amenity: two large
bedrooms with ensuites, walk-in ’robes, a lounge
and dining area and a separate kitchenette make
it a comfortable few days. There’s even a kids’
club downstairs where they can stay while you
nip across the road for some luxury retail therapy.
The nightly buffet is worth a try, serving myriad
dishes from all corners of the globe, and the
Westin spa lives up to its reputation as a sanctuary
of rest and relaxation.
We spent our final three days at the Grand
Hyatt, a short walk from historical sites such
as the Forbidden City. A mix of Oriental and
Western architecture, it’s part of the Oriental
Plaza commercial complex, and with direct
access to the adjacent shopping mall, it’s well
situated. The club rooms are worth the extra
money, with breakfast and evening drinks
served daily, and impeccable service. Check out
the 55m jungle pool – with grottos, spas, palm
trees and waterfalls, it features a virtual sky that
will keep young and old entertained for hours.
Similarly, the adjoining spa offers hot and cold
pools, whirlpools and steam rooms.
No matter where you stay, your first stop
will probably be Tiananmen Square. Accessible
by metro, or on foot if you’re staying nearby,
its sheer magnitude is awesome, covering
440,000sqm. Visit at dawn or sunset and watch
the flag ceremonies, or just stroll through any
time up to 10.30pm. The omnipresent guards are
happy to pose for photos, and there are people
selling all manner of souvenirs. Across the road
is the Forbidden City. The former residence
of ancient emperors, it is said to contain 9999
rooms and spans 720,000sqm. You enter at
one end and can only exit at the other, so be
prepared to spend at least an hour or two in this
fascinating place of temples, ancient furniture
and artifacts, and exquisite architecture.
“The former residence of ancient emperors, the
Forbidden City is said to contain 9999 rooms”
Houhai Lake and its surrounds are definitely
worth a visit. Start at the historical Drum Tower
and, if your legs allow, take the 46.7m hike to
the top of the steepest stairs you’re ever likely
to see. It’s worth it to see the wonderful view
of Beijing. The Drum Tower is surrounded by
Beijing’s famous hutongs – while a great number
of these ancient alleys, lined with traditional
residences, were destroyed before the Beijing
Olympics, many remain and this is the best
place to see them. Close by is Houhai Lake itself,
and if you’re there in the winter months, it
freezes over, offering a wonderful opportunity to
ice-skate or sled. This is a magical place, and is
surrounded by a huge variety of restaurants and
local shops selling everything from high-end
fashion to jewellery, homewares and teas.
And then, there’s The Wall. At the risk of
sounding clichéd, it is truly awe-inspiring.
Built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and
running over 8852km, it pays homage to man’s
endeavour. Accessible at various locations or
gates, the most popular is Badaling, two to three
hours by car from Beijing. However, if you have
kids (or are a big kid yourself), go to Mutianyu
(about an hour away), where there’s a cable car
that will take you to one of the high points of
the wall. From there, walk in either direction,
up and down the huge steps, between the
centuries-old checkpoints. If you go right, you
will end up at a fun toboggan ride (for one or
two people) which goes down to the bottom.
The Club Oasis swimming pool at
the Grand Hyatt, Beijing, with its
spectacular artificial sky.
The Zen Garden at the Westin Hotel.
The lobby in Beijing’s Grand Hyatt hotel.
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