Late March is generally the time when Beijing begins to blossom. But this year's lingering chill seems to have kept budding greenery at bay.
The perfect way to shake off winter's remains is to hop in the car, buckle up and put the pedal to the metal. A short road trip may be just the trick to cruising into spring at full throttle.
The locations listed below feature more historical and cultural sites.
All of the places are at low elevations and are located on well-maintained roads, so you need not rent an off-road vehicle to reach these weekend getaways.
Yunmeng Mountain Forest
This location is worth two days of exploring.
Different shaped peaks, waterfalls, streams and ponds, as well as clouds weaving through the mountains, natural forests and historical relics are the main attractions here.
The area became a national park around 1998. It covers a vast area of dense tree-lined mountains.
The park contains a wild botanical garden on the western shores of the Miyun Reservoir. The mountain covers 2,208 hectares and includes more than 100 varieties of trees. Its tallest peak is 1,414 metres and is home to both roe and common deer.
White birch trees are rare in Beijing, so handicrafts and ornaments made of the white bark are considered very elegant. In early spring, if you peel a piece of bark from a white birch tree, you can see the refreshing sweet juice flow from the tree.
Guiguzi Fort in the Yunmeng Mountains is said to be the place where the military strategist Master Sun Bin learned his craft. The village contains ancient-style log cabins. The summit of the mountain resembles an arm chair and legend has it that this chair was the throne of the commander of the fort.
To date, no one has ever ascended this throne.
The log cabins at the Guiguzi Fort are a great place to rest your head.
Driving route: First drive along Jingshun (Beijing-Shunyi) Road, entering from either the Third or Fourth Ring roads. After about 30 kilometres, you will reach the Kuliushu Traffic Circle. Drive towards Miyun along the Jingmi (Beijing-Miyun) Road to Yingbin Traffic Circle. Then go along State Road 111. The total journey is about 82 kilometres.
Accommodation and dining: Yunmeng Mountain Village, a modern hotel, offers standard rooms at 300 yuan (US$43) a day. The hotel serves unique dishes that include stewed fish and edible wild herbs grown on the mountain. Raised in pure mountain water, the fish from the nearby Miyun Reservoir are very tasty. Other small hotels also offer cheap rooms with prices ranging from 20 yuan (US$2.50) to 160 yuan (US$19) per night.
Park entrance: 36 yuan (US$4.30) for adults and 18 yuan (US$2.10) for children.
Simatai Great Wall
A hiking trip to this section of the Wall will only take you a day.
What to see: This part of the Wall is situated northeast of Beijing near Gubeikou Town in Miyun County. It is 19 kilometres long with 35 watch towers and is definitely not for those feeling out-of-shape or unadventurous.
Simatai is considered by many to be a very authentic and fascinating part of the Wall.
Simatai Great Wall is divided by a pretty valley. The western part of the Wall is relatively flat and the 20 watch towers atop the Wall are all in good condition.
This is the part of the wall which is most photographed, and is said to resemble a golden dragon stretched out across the slope.
The eastern part of the wall is even more spectacular but a little more steep and can (especially in the winter months) get quite slippery and dangerous. So, be careful and be prepared!
Along this stretch are 15 watch towers and a beautiful marble gate engraved with lotus flowers. From the top of this stretch there are fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and the city.
Simatai Great Wall also has a cable car for those who wish to avoid the demanding hike up the wall. Some may call this laziness, but others would say they just want more time to enjoy the view!
Driving routes: The distance between Simatai and downtown Beijing is about 130 kilometres. It usually takes two hours. But if you drive along Jingcheng (Biejing-Chengde) Expressway, you will save yourself half an hour.
First get on the Jingcheng Expressway from the Fourth Ring Road. The starting point is located where the North Fourth Ring Road and the East Fourth Ring Road meet. Drive forward until you reach Tanghe Bridge (about 120 km from Beijing). Then get off the expressway and turn right. Drive another eight kilometres.
Dining: You can pack a lunch or go to Simatai Restaurant at the foot of the mountain which offers simple local dishes.
Entrance: 20 yuan (US$2.50).