Yanqing near Beijing, a 2022 Winter Olympics venue, boasts natural beauty and a variety of attractions - we spent five days sampling them, and that wasn’t enough
- Yanqing boasts areas of unspoilt nature, a variety of attractions, the most visited section of China’s Great Wall, and several new luxury hotels
- A 40-minute high-speed train ride from central Beijing, it won’t be quiet for much longer – the district will host sports events of the 2022 Winter Olympics
Forty minutes by high-speed train from the centre of Beijing, quiet, sparsely populated Yanqing is a world away from the skyscrapers and rush-hour crush of the Chinese capital.
Despite its abundant greenery, craggy mountains and historical sites – not to mention Badaling, the most visited section of the Great Wall of China – Yanqing, with a permanent population of 320,000, flies under the radar of most Beijingers in the warmer months of the year. Instead, they flock to Huairou and Miyun for getaways on the fringes of the city.
However, thanks to its selection as one of the three competition venues for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics (the other two being the city centre and Zhangjiakou, in neighbouring Hebei province), Yanqing’s cachet is rising quickly.
The 1,992 square kilometres (769 square miles) of Yanqing district will host the alpine skiing, bobsleigh/skeleton and luge competitions at the games in February, as well as 20 non-sporting Olympics events.
Like Olympics planners, hotel chains have noticed the potential of the district: the Hyatt Regency Beijing Shiyuan opened in 2019, Crowne Plaza Beijing Badaling opened last year and DoubleTree by Hilton Beijing Badaling will open later this year. Marriott International opened two hotels – under the Marriott and the cheaper Element brands – there in late August.
All are among the 15 Yanqing hotels selected to house visitors to the Winter Olympics.
“The Winter Olympics is going to turn [Yanqing] into an international district,” says Ricky Liu Gang, general manager of Beijing Marriott Hotel Yanqing. He says the transport infrastructure built ahead of the event has made Yanqing easier to reach.
“It was only accessible by car before,” Liu adds.
Having begun operations in December 2020, the Yanqing branch of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed rail line has cut the travel time from the centre of the Chinese capital – previously two hours.
Liu says his hotel is in talks with tourism operators over the launch of travel packages. “We will also work with skiing and ice-skating stadiums, and ski slope operators,” he says.
“Our Element Hotel will collaborate with local farms to offer vegetable harvesting programmes. Element Hotel rooms are equipped with kitchens. Visitors can see cooking videos on our website in which our chefs teach them how to cook different dishes.”
Among the many spots of unspoilt nature in Yanqing are those around the Guanting Reservoir – completed in 1954 and the first large reservoir in China under communist rule – along the Guishui River, which flows into the reservoir, and in the Guishui River Forest Park.
“Newly popular destinations include Baili Landscape Painting Gallery, where visitors can drive along a 100km-long stretch of stunning scenery,” says Liu, who explains that Yanqing benefits from a lack of factories.
“People can taste a lifestyle here that is completely different from city life,” he says.
To test that claim, the Post spent five summer days in Yanqing.
Visitors to the Yudu Mountain Scenic Area (entrance fee 60 yuan [US$9]), which overlooks the Marriott hotels, must join a tour group or rent a car beforehand, as taxis are stopped at a roadblock at the foot of the mountain.
After getting out of our taxi, we are approached by a villager who, for 160 yuan, offers to take us on a round trip in his car.
After a meandering 15-minute ride uphill, we alight at a reservoir and rolling grassland reminiscent of Switzerland. Yapping dogs run around the tents of families camping, while kites fly high above. As in many capacious open-air spaces in China, the serenity is disturbed by karaoke songs being belted out of a loudspeaker.
A not-too-strenuous walk beyond the grassland are the burbling brooks and gushing waterfalls on the slopes of Yudu Mountain, whose summit is 800 metres (2,620 feet) above sea level. A hike of several hours leads to neighbouring peaks.
To the east of Yudu Mountain is the Longqingxia Scenic Area (entrance fee 20 yuan), a series of gorges through which tourist boats chug (120 yuan per ticket).
The entrance to the area leaves a lasting impression; a 10-minute walk past the ticket office is a high dam and the head of a meandering “dragon”: five escalators designed to look like that fearsome creature take visitors up the slope towards the departure point for the tourist boats.
Following a 15-minute ride, disembarking boat passengers are offered kayaking, bungee jumping and ziplining – the latter two from stations set up on ridges above the steep-sided valley. Instead, we take a tram (50 yuan per person) to where steep steps cut into the rock lead to the Yuhuang Temple – situated at 924 metres above sea level, the highest point within the scenic area.
The temple consists of two gazebos with red columns and orange-tiled roofs. Inside the larger gazebo is a miniature temple dedicated to guardian deity the Jade Emperor.
A “slideway” is the last attraction before visitors depart the scenic area. Visitors can choose to take a toboggan-like vehicle along a track back down to the entrance, or walk.
In the winter, all 200,000 square metres of the Longqingxia Scenic Area are given over to an ice sculpture festival.
Ideal for bird watchers, Yeya Lake Wetland Park is quiet and is largely devoid of other people on the weekday we visit. Expanses of calm water, blue skies and verdant grassland fill the horizon. To cover more of the park, family bikes (100 yuan per hour) and electric vehicles (120 yuan per hour) can be rented.
Next to the Hyatt Regency Beijing Shiyuan is the site of Expo 2019, a world horticultural exposition and the event that put Yanqing on the international tourism map. To take in all that the sprawling site has to offer, visitors must take one of the cars provided (10 yuan per person).
Although only skeletons of the pavilions built for various countries remain, the China pavilion has been maintained and is home to panoramic digital displays of plants and an exhibition on the history of Chinese horticulture.
The Botanic Garden is an imposing structure shaped like a cluster of dangling plants. The panoply in the hothouse is presented artistically – near the entrance is a miniature pond from which dry ice rises to form a fog that envelops the lower vegetation, and visitors must pass below interweaving climbing plants.
For the inquisitive, there are plenty of bilingual descriptions of the origin and characteristics of the plants on display.
Five days is too short a time to take in all the attractions Yanqing has to offer; it is certainly worth repeat visits, although it’s impossible to say whether we’ll ever find it this tranquil again.