Commune by the Great Wall Kempinski, Beijing
Tel: 86 10 8118 1888
Concierge.com's insider take:
In 2001, 12 Asian architects were asked to design their dream homes right at the base of the Badaling section of the Great Wall, an hour's drive from Beijing. The result is this multi-building complex: part boutique hotel; part rural retreat; part showcase of contemporary, high-concept architecture. Kengo Kuma's Bamboo Wall House has an expansive bamboo-framed tearoom hanging over water. Kanika R'kul's Shared House was designed around the theme of communication—even the bathroom has two separate tubs, so friends can bathe together. Great concept—but one, unfortunately, trumped by reality. Many of the 375-square-foot-and-up rooms have been poorly maintained, with paint chipping, floors scuffed, and exteriors sorely in need of pressure cleaning. The sparseness of the furnishings—a mix of Ikea-style modernism with the occasional Chinese antique—does nothing to hide these flaws or to muffle the sound that travels through the thin walls. Moreover, the hotel ill-advisedly mass-reproduced four of the most popular designs, undermining their architectural integrity by chopping up the rooms in awkward ways (you can still rent the originals in their entirety, albeit at a very high rate). Such missteps are all the more frustrating since the Commune gets nearly everything else right, from the friendly service to the elegant Chinese dishes served in the restaurant. The serene common areas, in honey-colored wood designed by Seung H-Sang, also include a screening room, bar, and spa. The Commune also has the ultimate Great Wall location: You can awake to see the mist hugging the Wall's ancient form, take a five-minute shuttle to the most famous restored section, and then retreat from the tourist hordes to a hotel-arranged picnic atop the Wild Wall, an unrestored stretch open only to Commune guests. The view of the lush sloping valley from your perch in a crumbling watchtower just might make the scrappy rooms and hefty rates worth it. The Wall is close enough to Beijing that you can easily tackle it in a day trip, but if you're set on staying out by the Wall and want an alternative to the Commune, you could consider the rustic Red Capital Ranch or hire a company to take you camping on an unrestored section.