When snow falls on the Great Wall of China, the scenery looks like a page from a picture book. I’ve visited the Great Wall twice in the past, during peak tourist seasons, and have never thought of the attraction as a romantic spot. Until now. If you’re looking for places to visit in China read on.
China winter – Picture book Beijing
It’s winter and I can count the number of tourists on my frozen fingers. The paths are icy and most of the souvenir stalls are shut.
I’m rugged up in a warm padded jacket, gazing at snowflakes dancing in the frost-bitten air.
The Great Wall of China snakes past tree branches laden with snow and disappears into a distant white wintery landscape.
Beijing’s attractions draw people from all over the world but few choose to visit in winter, when the historic side of the city is at its most romantic.
A tour of the Forbidden City is a step back into a grand era of emperors and concubines.
Couples wander hand in hand through courtyards, pavilions and halls with beguiling names like Hall of Supreme Harmony and Palace of Earthly Tranquillity.
The Forbidden City, which was home to Ming Dynasty Emperors from 1421, is the size of a small suburb.
There’s a romantic spot atop the hill nearby at Jingshan Park nearby, where you can view the rooftops of the 72ha imperial city and its 980 buildings.
Although Beijing is rapidly becoming a 21st-century metropolis, the romance of old Beijing can still be found in the city’s historic hutongs, where old structures have been restored and renovated.
A favourite spot for a candle-lit dinner is the Temple Restaurant and Bar (or TRB), which is set in a 600-year-old Chinese temple that was converted into factory during the communist reign.
These days, inside the temple is an uber-contemporary European-style restaurant and bar with slick service and food that looks as beautifully as it tastes.
French chef Yannick Alléno’s S.T.A.Y is another romantic dining spot offering French bling and fine food.
The restaurant is located in Beijing’s five-star Shangri-La Hotel. It has a glittering interior design and a unique Pastry Library, in the centre of the restaurant, where you can watch the chefs prepare mouth-watering French pastries and desserts.
A room in the sky at China World Summit Wing is perfect for couples. The hotel occupies the 64th to the 80th floors of the China World Trade Centre and rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows with birds-eye views of the city.
The hotel also has the city’s highest fine-dining restaurant, Grill 79, and the city’s highest bar, Atmosphere, which is on the 80th floor.
Snow castles and Russian dolls
A two-hour flight from Beijing, I arrive in Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia where the temperature hovers around -26 degrees Celcius.
Although it’s freezing, I’m immediately charmed by the snow-covered Russian-style architecture and the vast white winter landscape that looks like a scene from a Tolstoy novel.
As the city is eight kilometres from the Russian border and a two-hour drive to Mongolia, Russian and Mongolian influences in the architecture, culture and cuisine are strong.
One of the most popular souvenirs is the Russian matryoshka nesting doll, which the colourful Matryoshka Square is named after.
The square’s main landmark is a 30-meter-tall matryoshka doll, painted with a Chinese, Russian and Mongolian woman on three sides. It houses a restaurant and towers over the many life-size statues and painted dolls around it.
The other eye-catching building is a bright blue Russian-style structure with fairy-tale onion domes. And the snow-covered ground gives the square a magical aura.
The region around Manzhouli is almost a desert and there’s not a tree in sight. But surprisingly, most of the buildings in the city are majestic.
If you can handle the cold, the most romantic time to visit is in winter, especially during the Manzhouli Ice and Snow Festival, when couples can wander hand in hand among giant ice carvings of castles, cathedrals, animals and massive ice panels etched with landscapes.
Unlike Dubai, Manzhouli is relatively undiscovered. There is one international luxury hotel in the city, Shangri-La Manzhouli, which has eye-catching winter views over the frozen Hulun Lake and the city.
It’s a warm luxurious haven to snuggle up in. And you don’t need to leave the hotel to experience local culture and cuisine as there’s Salt and Bread Russian Restaurant and authentic Mongolian and Chinese cuisine is on the menu in Shang Palace.
A two-hour road trip to the Ewenke Automous Banner (District) takes me through the ethereal landscape of the Hulunbuir grasslands, which is Genghis Khan territory, the warrior who united the Mongolian tribes.
We stop by the side of the snow-covered road and I gaze at open plains of blue-white snow and a smear of mauve in the pink sky.
More places to visit in China
Yangtze River – For centuries, the Three Gorges region has inspired poets and painters. A multi-day river cruise is great for couples offering scenic stretches with spectacular limestone ridges straight out of a classical Chinese painting.
Shanghai – In the 1930s, Shanghai was the “Paris of the Orient” for its grand European architecture and cosmopolitan vibe. In recent times, Shanghai’s rising city skyline, new precincts and hip bars has earned it the nickname “Berlin of the East”. Visit the French Concession for a romantic stroll down memory lane.
Xian – The mausoleum where Emperor Qin Shi Huang was laid to rest over 2,000 years ago is a sight to behold. Thousands of life-sized terra cotta warriors, archers and infantrymen were buried with him.
Hainan Island – China’s answer to Hawaii is a tranquil tropical palm-swaying paradise with 1500km of coastline on the South China Sea. It’s a fast-growing hotspot with luxury resorts and pleasurable diversions such as hot springs, forests and temples.
Lijiang – Cobblestone laneways, slanting roof lines and thousand-year-old canals add to the intrigue of China’s Venice. Lijiang was the capital of the Naxi kingdom, the largest of the 26 minority groups who live along the plains beneath the snow-covered mountains.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Shangri-La Hotels
Winter is not only a romantic time to visit China but it’s also low season and a good time to keep expenditure low. Shangri-La Hotel Manzhouli has rooms from as low as $100 a night in winter.
When in Beijing, stay at China World Summit Wing, which is Beijing’s highest hotel and Shangri-La Hotel Beijing.
While travelling in China, you can avoid international data roaming charges by logging into free WiFi offered at many hotels and restaurants.
Don’t miss the Manzhouli Ice and Snow Festival in Manzhouli from December to February, which has over 200 impressive ice carvings.
If you’re looking for a scenic destination in Fujian you’ll be interested to discover these Xiamen attractions.