Great Wall of China, Mutianyu ©Solange Hando
Most visitors to Beijing head to Badaling to see the Great Wall but Mutianyu is worth the slightly longer drive (70 km) to soak in the atmosphere in quiet surroundings. There are fewer tourists around and less hassle in the string of the souvenir shops down in the valley.
It took four dynasties and 2000 years to build the Great Wall which protected the Middle Kingdom but most of what you see today dates back to the Ming who also built the Forbidden City. They ruled from 1367 to 1644 when taking advantage of a peasants' rebellion, the Manchus from the north seized their chance and breached the defences.
Ready to Go ©Solange Hando
There are two ways to reach the Great Wall in Mutianyu. Easiest and quickest is the cable car that will whiz you up to the ridge in minutes. When you get there, head first for the steeper section, then if time allows, walk along the other side of the cable car for plunging views over the valley.
The other way is to walk up the path, a long hot climb which, for some, is the 'proper' way to do it. Unless you are super fit however, it means you will have less time and energy to explore when you reach the top.
Great Wall near Beijing ©Solange Hando
Stretching over 6000 km along the border of Inner Mongolia, much longer if you count all the offshoots, the Great Wall actually got longer in 2009 when sections long buried in the sand were discovered.
The Beijing province claims an impressive 630 km dotted with 827 fortifications. But whether the wall can be seen from space is still debatable since even the first Chinese astronaut failed to spot it in 2003.
Still Climbing ©Solange Hando
The further you go, the steeper and quieter it gets, with challenging upwards sections and knee-jerking dips before you climb again. Just keep your eyes on the next gate and finally the top of the ridge but bear in mind that you'll have to turn round at some point and it can be a long hard slog back to the cable car.
Views from the Great Wall ©Solange Hando
The key to a memorable visit to Mutianyu is to allow plenty of time to marvel at the world's largest defensive structure and enjoy the views, from the valley covered in orchards far below to the mountains all around, rugged ridges and steep green slopes where wild blossom adds a delightful touch of romance in the spring.