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Your Ideal Escape from Beijing: Cuandixia

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Cuandixia. Photo:

Living in Beijing can get a bit much at times. Maybe it's the traffic jams that get to you, maybe it's the crowds; but no matter the cause, the cure is the same; head for the mountains!

If you need a break from fast-paced city life, no place is better than Cuandixia for really winding down and regaining your energy. Cuandixia is a very small village in the mountains of Mentougou District about 90 km northwest of central Beijing. The village’s main claim to fame is its very well preserved collection of courtyard homes dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties which has even earned it the status of “National level historical and cultural village.”

Photo: Philip Jägenstedt

A Fortified Village on the Road to Mongolia
The village itself is situated in a narrow valley where ancient village houses cling to the mountainside, making the village resemble a fan when seen from above. At the highest point in the village you’ll find a spacious courtyard home that once belonged to the local landlord, from where one can enjoy a magnificent view over all of Cuandixia as well as the surrounding mountains. The upper part of the village looks very much like a fortified stronghold. It better look so! In the old days this was one of the major routes from Mongolia into Beijing!

While this land route linking the Chinese capital with Mongolia and surrounding provinces could bring marauding Mongolian nomads, it also brought great wealth, evident in the beautiful, large courtyard homes making up the village. The village was actually a flourishing trading town during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and it is recorded that during the reign of the Qianlong emperor there were eight trading posts and four inns.

It is isn’t all dynastic history in Cuandixia, however; Cultural Revolution buffs will have a field day in spotting well preserved graffiti and murals from those heady days in the 60’s.

Good Treks in the Vicinity
Since the village lies at the bottom of a valley surrounded on all sides by mountains, it is an ideal starting or ending point for trekking excursions in the surrounding countryside. For beginners, there is the option of taking a stroll up the terraced fields on the opposite side of the valley to enjoy a splendid view of the village. Another easy walk of around 20 min. will take you to the other big sight in the area: Yi Xian Tian Gorge (一线天). The name literally means one strip of heaven, and that is also exactly what you will see while walking through this gorge where cliff walls tower up on both sides and leave virtually nothing but a strip of heaven visible above your head. Taking a walk here is absolutely one of the most Indiana-Jones-like moments to be had in the Beijing area!

For Chinese movies connoisseurs it might be interesting to know that Cuandixia and the Yi Xian Tian Gorge played a major role in the 2007 Jet Li movie Warlords.

More serious trekkers can also use Cuandixia as a starting point for treks to Huangcaoliang Mountain(黄草梁)or even to Lingshan Mountain (灵山) further away. However, if you want to try trekking in these mountains it is important to keep in mind that this is NOT Europe, and there are no marked trails, so a good map and proper equipment is a must.

Stay in a Farmhouse

If you decide to go to Cuandixia you will probably need to stay overnight since the trip there from the city centre of Beijing is likely to take around 4 hours. Staying in Cuandixia is also an interesting experience in itself, offering you the chance to try something totally different from normal tourist hotels. Nongjiayuan (农家院) or farm house B&B in English is the name of the game in Cuandixia. Virtually every house in Cuandixia is open for tourists to stay overnight. The prices are reasonable at 15-20 RMB per person or around 50 RMB for a full room.

Most of the B&B also serve up breakfast and dinner at prices slightly higher than in Beijing for similar fare. Since most of the B&B are located in old courtyards, you will normally be offered a kang to sleep on. The kang is a large elevated bed made of bricks, normally big enough to accommodate 4-5 people. The trick here is that the kang is actually hollow so that in the winter months it is possible to light up a fire underneath, keeping the people sleeping on it warm and comfortable. 

Add: Cuandixia Village, Mentougou District, Beijing
Tel: 010 6981 8988; 010 6981 9036
Getting there: Take metro line 1 to Pinguoyuan station (苹果园站). From Pingguoyuan station walk west 150 metres to the bus stop. There are two buses a day from here to Cuandixia, one at 07.30 and one at 12.40. There are return buses from Cuandixia to Pingguoyuan at 10.30 and 15.30.

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Keywords: Cuandixia Beijing beijing mountain villages beijing mountain trips

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