One of my favorite spots in Beijing was the Summer Palace (Yíhé Yuán, 颐和园), former royal residence surrounded by a breathtaking landscape mainly constituted by the Kunming Lake and the Longevity Hill.
Of course, its name evokes the fact that former Emperors and their entourage liked to indulge here during the hottest months of the year, but the Summer Palace’s original purpose, when it was started in 1750, was being a luxurious royal garden. It was destroyed by a fire during the Anglo-French occupation, re-built in 1888 and finally open to the public in 1924.
Today it’s the largest and best-preserved royal park in China, so it’s heaven for those who want to explore the Chinese gardening style that widely employs rocks in their natural shape.
It’s while visiting the Summer Palace that our guide told us that ancient Chinese culture considers stones a gift from Nature.
Needless to say, I did try to picture myself walking along the peaceful and quiet corridors, enjoying the breeze coming from the lake, imagining some tiny, skinny, silk-clad women swan around finely decorated pavilions and halls, but I couldn’t manage to.
In Beijing, in August, there is absolutely no lake breeze, and none of the royal gardens, residences, or pavilions are peaceful and quiet, but simply crammed with tourists, both foreigners and Chinese.
However, I must admit, I loved it.
After the due explanation, our guide gave us 30 minutes of free time to explore the Summer Palace by ourselves and a hint on how we would enjoy spending it: “If you want you can climb your way up to the Tower of Buddhist Incense, it’s very beautiful and from the top, you will have a stunning view. But I wait for you here.”
“Why not”, I thought, “I’m not going to let a couple of stairs scare me off such an occasion.” This is how I spent my 30 minutes of relaxation, sweating like never before while reaching the Tower, and taking pictures of the gorgeous panorama that step by step unfolded before my eyes.
My guide was right, the buildings are absolutely beautiful, even the smallest detail was looked after, the view on the lake was stunning and once on top I did enjoy stopping to admire it, and starting breathing again before undertaking the descent towards the real world.