Last weekend (23rd-24th April), I was invited to join students from the Graduate School of Education at Peking University on their spring trip to the area around Miyun, about 100 kilometres to the north-east of Beijing. It was an amazing experience, and a real opportunity not only to visit places that I would never otherwise have seen, but also a chance to learn more about student life in China.
We began at Chateau Changyu – a winery built to look like a French château, with a hotel complex in the form of a French-style village, replete with church, nearby. I was amazed by the scale of the enterprise, as well as the rather surreal experience of visiting somewhere that was meant to be like France, but was very definitely not. The nearest I came to feeling ‘at home’ was touching and smelling the Seguin Moreau barrels in the cellar! The wines were most certainly not cheap, with the most expensive one I could see being priced at around £1000! They also had a fascinating wine museum that told the history of the company from its roots in the 19th century to the present day. My favourite moment was when I came across a banner with the English translation “Oak barrel – Tim fragrance of wines”!
After spending a couple of hours walking around the winery and estate, we then headed northwards to the little village of Shitanglu, which describes itself as Beijing’s most beautiful village. This is a place that is developing rural tourism on a considerable scale, with lots of properties having smart new buildings constructed to host visitors. Eighty of us were dispersed into a couple of these properties, each of which had a series of rooms surrounding a central courtyard. Kindly, or perhaps because they did not want to suffer my snoring, they felt that I should not share one of the large beds where they were sleeping, and I was given the privilege of having my own room. After dinner, we walked down to a nearby lake at dusk, and my training as a geographer with an eye for place came in handy as we found our way back beneath the startlit sky to our rooms. And then the card games and mahjong began!
The next morning we headed off for the Taoyuan Immortals’ Valley, where I was promised a walk. What a walk it turned out to be! All in all, we spent about five hours climbing up to the head of a ravine, and then coming back along a ridge and very steep, slippery descent. Alongside waterfalls, beautiful areas of woodland, steep cliffs etched by ancient rivers, and small lakes, I was amazed to find patches of snow and ice still surviving from the winter. We had our picnic lunches at the summit, and the views stretched away across the valley and lakes towards range upon range of mountains in the far distance.
It was a really excellent trip, and I’m most grateful to all the students who made me feel so welcome!