Living in the capital, you get used to thick traffic jams and thicker smog. So it was a drastic change this past summer to be standing on a windy mountaintop looking at a field of green. There were no crowds, and no one was trying to sell us anything. On the walk down, four horses galloped past. The best part was, technically, we were still in Beijing. Beijing municipality is a lot larger than the city of the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. It actually covers 16,810 sq km. All of Hong Kong is 1,092 sq km. The municipality is bordered by mountains to the west and north. There are also plains, rivers and lots of open road. What this means, of course, is that there is plenty to do on a weekend trip to get away from the city. It is certainly cheaper and easier than flying. Plus, of course, there are innumerable tour companies offering an array of options. That summer day, I was hiking on Lingshan Mountain, the tallest peak in the municipality. I was there with the Chinese Culture Club, which designs everything from tai chi classes to long hikes and boasts of being geared towards visitors and foreigners 'including Hongkongers'. While tours can be a hassle, the low-key set-up of the club was a good way to hitch a ride to a place with a vista free of buildings, where we could breathe fresh(er) air - and eat a heaped plate of steamed grass. Beijing's natural beauty has drawn plenty of entrepreneurs. The Cycle China group takes people on rides around hutongs and on 'secret Great Wall hikes'. China Adventure Tours specialises in wine-tasting trips, and Beijing Hikers organises walking tours. Tony Chen, who recently started Stretch-A-Leg tours, has been a tour guide and group leader for adventure travel companies since 2000. He recently returned from a six-month stint in New Zealand, where he was inspired by the creative tour industry. He said Beijing's beauty was often overlooked by tourists. 'It's very beautiful in the countryside,' he said. 'There are a lot of farmers that live there, only 100km from the city.' Mr Chen, a Beijing native, enjoys talking to the locals when outside central Beijing. 'You ask people in their 70s what their impression is of the city and they say that the last time they visited was 30 years ago ... they have a completely different lifestyle,' he said. Other Stretch-A-leg options include 'wild' Great Wall tours and visiting some of the less popular attractions, such as the Museum of Agriculture. Then there's the always-exciting cricket fighting, in which people gamble on battling insects. 'It's really amazing how they do it,' said Mr Chen. 'They even weigh them, so they have a heavyweight division.' It's amazing what you can find if you venture past the usual sites.