Retreat to Yanqing calms both body and soul

With the temperature heating up, it is time to look for a cooler hideout. Those living in Beijing do not have to travel too far out to cool down.
Right outside the Great Wall at the northeast of Beijing, lies Yanqing, a place where the temperature is average three degrees lower compared to downtown Beijing. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Yanqing, which is also known as Xiadu, meaning Beijing’s summer capital.
The Guihe river, which flows from the east to the west of Yanqing before entering the Guanting Reservoir, adds a cooling feel and enhances the county’s scenery.
A riding path along the river leads to the countryside, where the hustle and bustle of city streets is replaced with the whisper of dense forests of northern pagoda trees and white poplars on either side of the route.
Blazing sunshine filters through multihued leaves and makes them more appealing. The air, mixed with the scent of earth, smells so fresh that one would be eager to breathe in more deeply.
Those of us with a sensitive nose could smell a hint of burning hay in the air. It comes from nearby farmlands where farmers spread hay ashes onto the soil, a traditional way of fertilization.
On the other side of the road, wooden fishing boats punctuate the water with Yanshan hills in the backdrop, resembling a scene in south China.
A stone bridge leads us to a zigzagging boardwalk, which takes us away from the main lane into a forest of apricot trees. Every branch is loaded with small heart-shaped green fruits, promising a good harvest in the autumn. At the end of the forest, a sea of small, royal blue flowers, welcomes us.
Jingxin Yuan and Qingfeng Yuan, which means Tranquil Garden and Breeze Garden respectively, are our last two stops.
As their names imply, the two gardens are quiet and secluded. They offer a gentle symphony of birds’ ensemble joined by soft sounds of waves breaking against the riverbank. The sight and sound also provide a calming and cooling effect.
Those who want to explore farther could go on the 25 km cycling course, which will take cyclists along the river, fringed by groves of trees, grassland and landscaped parks.
After the energy-consuming excursion, we complete our Yanqing trip with a tofu banquet, a popular specialty at nearby Liugou village. It features a hotpot atop burning charcoal with different kinds of tofu – fresh, frozen and deep fried – added to streaky bacon and Chinese cabbage.
Accompanying the cauldron is a spectacular spread of more than 30 main and side dishes, the ingredients freshly harvested from the farms. The delightful banquet perfectly wraps up the trip