How To Do the Great Wall
The question isn't whether to see the Great Wall but how. This miracle of engineering is perhaps the most visited site in all of China—which is why it's essential to pick the right spot from which to absorb the grandeur. (Skip Badaling, the entry point closest to Beijing; it's swarming with tour buses.) Here, a few less-trampled vantage points—either for a day or a weekend visit.
THE HALF-DAY TRIP
At MUTIANYU, 90 minutes north of Beijing, cable cars take you up to a restored section of the wall. Walk along the top for 15 minutes and you'll most likely have the wall to yourself. Your tour operator can easily get you to Mutianyu; so can a car and driver arranged through your concierge, for about $100.
FOR STYLISH WEEKENDERS
RED CAPITAL RANCH ($190; 86-10/8401-8886; www.redcapitalclub.com.cn), owned by Lawrence Brahm of the Red Capital Club in Beijing, offers access to a tourist-free part of the wall. Ninety minutes north of Beijing (transportation is included in the reservation), the ranch's ten cottages sit on former Qing dynasty hunting grounds, right at the base of the wall. The interior—exposed beams, fireplaces, Tibetan textiles—are as chic as anything in the capital and the food is fantastic. COMMUNE BY THE GREAT WALL (from $915 to $1,320; 800-426-3135; www.commune.com.cn), ten minutes from Badaling, was a major opening in 2002. The collection of houses near the wall functions as both a hotel and a showcase for Asia's architectural vanguard. The property is now being managed by Kempinski Hotels.
Golf near the Wall
The PINE VALLEY GOLD resort sits on 1,000 acres of lush fairway 35 miles west of Beijing. From the two courses—a Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole layout and 27 holes done by his son—you can glimpse the wall rising above the goats grazing in the fields. In addition to a clubhouse and a hotel, there's a spa, an equestrian center, and a helipad. In April the resort hosted the Johnnie Walker Classic. Greens fees, $115-$180. In the Changpang district; 86-10/8979-6868.