For the best views of the Forbidden City head to Jingshan Park our Beijing guidebook advised. The wide-but-steep stone steps up the imperial park would have made for an easy climb if not for the last of the sauna-like heat that have been clinging to the capital since we arrived earlier that morning. I checked my iPhone for a weather update while trying to ignore the toxic air quality warning: 88F/31C.
Beijing was scorching and no amount of iced milk tea could peter out my jetlagged deliriousness. Relief only came when we made it to the top platform. I caught a glimpse of the Forbidden City and its glorious golden glazed tiled roofs and forgot to complain about the heat any further.
All roads lead to Beijing says the proverb but during the planning stages of our two week trip to China I focused on the roads that would lead me out of the city and into a more rural part of the country brushed with green landscapes and idyllic rice paddy fields, like majestic scenes from the movies. What I didn’t anticipate was how much I would enjoy this ancient city of history and politics that is also home to the most famous of imperial palace dishes, the Peking duck.
Style & substance at Rosewood Beijing
Sometimes a hotel is simply a comfortable place to rest your head after a day of sightseeing. Other times, if you’re lucky, the hotel can add to your travels in the design of its offerings & experiences to the destination. In the latter, the Rosewood Beijing, one of the curated luxury hotels on Mr & Mrs Smith, did not miss a beat. From a seamless airport pickup, in a Jaguar where we melted onto the butter toffee leather seats after a 10 hour flight, to in-room check in we glided through with full appreciation of the time saving measures especially since we only had two nights in Beijing to spare.
Country Kitchen at Rosewood Beijing: a tribute to Northern Chinese cuisine
At Country Kitchen we were seduced by the rustic fare of country cooking that paid particular tribute to northern Chinese cuisine. The startlingly orange crab and tofu soup arrived first, tasting as delicate on the tongue as it was bold in color. That dish caught our attention from the outset and heightened our anticipation for a great dining experience as more dishes arrived.
A dish of wok-fried okra, an effervescent green with a sturdy stock and a viscous center, demonstrated the quality of produce that the restaurant sources while the handmade noodles that was cut into wide ribbons and topped with chilli oil sauce provided a bounce to the bite with the thrill of fiery chilli. Around us diners filled the room each table brimming with assorted dishes. In a dark corner a chef propped open a foldable table and started to slice pieces off of the oven roasted peking duck. How I wished I was the one who placed that order (I decided earlier in the evening that I’d wait to experience Peking duck at the famous Da Dong restaurant only to regret the decision later on) but I didn’t dwell on it for too long because the roast pork belly prepared in Country Kitchen’s “Lost Recipe” series dating from the 1950s arrived with the accoutrements of soft white buns, hoisin sauce and green onions and I feasted to the very last drip of luxurious belly fat. For the rest of our two weeks in China our many meals were compared to our dinner at Country Kitchen, it still remains a culinary highlight.
The other highlights of our Beijing trip shouldn’t have been a surprise. The biggest tourism draws are the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. I expected it to be amazing but even with the grandest of expectations being there in person to take it all in surpassed my imagination. The trick to visiting the Great Wall is to have a late start (or an extremely early one). By the time we arrived at 1:30PM at Mutianyu, one of the restored sections of the wall, the throngs of tourists had already left for lunch and we took leisurely strides along the wall, as if we had it to ourselves.
There were times when I found it hard to reconcile the incredible beauty and grandness of classic structures such as the Great Wall and the palaces to the modern day industry of copy culture. The Chinese are guardians of such rich cultural heritage that I’m hopeful they’ll cease to play the imitation game soon as tastes change and their economy grows.
Two nights in Beijing was not enough time to get into the belly of the city. I would have loved an extra day to explore more of the hutongs and visit the famed art district. But based on the teaser of a stay we had I know there will be a return visit.
Note: I was a guest of the Rosewood Beijing hotel. All views are my own.