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I was going through my pictures this evening, wrapped up in 5 layers of clothing and wishing I were somewhere warmer, when I came across a trip I did with 9 other friends on a lovely autumn weekend not so long ago – although it does feel like the days of being able to go outside without a coat and not freeze to death are a rather distant memory…(sigh).

I’d found this place randomly through listening to a Sinica podcast by Popup Chinese in which one of the presenters mentioned that his website Danwei advertises for these guys. They are called the Chen family, and they live out in Chenjia Pucun, a small village about 20 minutes drive from the Badaling section of the Great Wall. If you visit their website called Great Wall Fresh, you can see that the village is conveniently located right at the foothill of a section of mountain which carries an unrestored section of the Great Wall.

Other than being able to visit an absolutely deserted section of the Wall and enjoy the fresh air and great views, what was special about this trip was that I had a friend – Stevie – visiting from the UK, and it was really great to be able to show her a different type of China experience, completely off the beaten path.

I highly recommend this place, probably best in spring or autumn, for a weekend getaway. The prices are very decent, obviously accommodation is also quite basic but some of the rooms do have kang beds which worked surprisingly well (traditional Chinese beds with can be heated from below). The food is local and delicious, and there are several options for getting there. Because there were so many of us, we opted for a private van to drop us off Saturday morning and pick us up Sunday lunchtime. If you feel more adventurous you can take public transport and then ask the Chen family for a ride (for a fee) the rest of the way to the village. All the details are clearly outlined on the website, including phone numbers.

Once we arrived we had just enough time for a stroll to check out the area before a huge lunch was served up out in the courtyard. The food was all fresh and included dishes like chicken and potato, tomato and eggplant, quails eggs, pumpkin and greens. After lunch we decided to break out the water guns for a round of murder, or assassin, as it’s also known (a nerve-racking game that’s been know to last several days when we play it) and go for a hike up to the Wall. It took us about 30 minutes to get to the top and then we spent another half hour or so exploring. There are guided tours by Mr Chen along various sections of the Wall, which we later found out from other people also staying there are well worth the short drive.

After an afternoon of dodging assailants and clambering around we came back to an evening of eating, drinking and card games. There’s a small shop right next door that curiously seems to only stock Baijiu and other forms of Chinese alcohol… (Well, it would have been rude not to support the local economy.)

The next day we had the standard Chinese breakfast consisting of zhou (rice porridge), eggs and mantou (white fluffy chinese ‘bread’) and decided to leave a little earlier than planned as it had started to rain. It was a shame to not be able to do another hike, but on the upside this place is so close to Beijing and everyone had such fun the day before there’s already talk of us all coming back in spring!