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Beijing: China’s capital is a beguiling balance of ancient and modern

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 07/11/2018 Susannah Butter
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WHERE TO STAY

In Sanlitun, where former factories have been given a new lease of life as galleries and bars. At the centre of it all is The Opposite House, which riffs on this emerging art scene — in March a 14m-high monkey powered by bikes was set up on the side of the building. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is behind the hotel, which is sleek and glassy but with warm touches, such as deep wooden baths. There’s a generously sized pool and gym, and gifts are provided every night, from anti-pollution face masks to the Szechuan peppercorns used in the restaurant to take home.

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WHERE TO DAY TRIP

Chairman Mao, whose name is spelt out in stones on the mountainside, said: ‘If you haven’t been to the Great Wall, you aren’t a real man.’ From Beijing, the Mutianyu section of the 10,000 mile long wall is the best — it’s an hour’s drive away and off the tourist trail. Take the orange cable car to the top (it looks like something out of a Wes Anderson film) and enjoy the magnolia-scented breeze while gazing out from these impeccably restored fortifications that date back to 7BC. We thought of Marina Abramović and her lover, Ulay, who ended their romance after walking from either end of the wall and meeting in the middle.

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WHERE TO EAT

Beijing offers a wealth of dishes from all over China. Baron Rozi serves plates from Xinjiang, in the north-west, where there is a Turkic influence — think homemade naan bread and skewers of aromatic cumin lamb. Back at The Opposite House, Jing Yaa Tang is designed by Alan Yau, the man who brought us Wagamama. The star dish is local chef Li Dong’s take on Peking duck cooked over a date-wood open flame to create a delicate, fruity flavour.

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WHAT TO SEE

Tiananmen Square is a monument of stark, communistic grandeur, where a huge queue patiently waits to pay tribute to Mao at his mausoleum. At the other end is the 15th-century Forbidden City. The seat of imperial power for almost 500 years, it’s a must-see for its sheer size — a town in itself. A guide is recommended: ours made a beeline to the highlights, so we didn’t lose days wandering between buildings with names Donald Trump would be proud to have coined (see the Belvedere of Prolonging Splendour). Other highlights include the Summer Palace, set on a lake with pretty ancient paintings of flowers and folklore, and a trip to the ancient Lama Temple, where the air is thick with incense.

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GETTING THERE

A 14-night escorted tour to China with Cox & Kings starts at £3,545, including flights and a two-night Yangtze river cruise (coxandkings.co.uk).

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