Sunday 16 September 2007

China: Red Capital Ranch

With an hour to kill before we departed for the airport to Taiyuan, I explored one of the streets in Pingyao we had not had time to visit. Large numbers of tour parties with matching hats and screeching teenage guides mixed with electric tourist carts and Sunday morning town life to cause utter chaos. It all worked itself out with just a few toots of the car and bike horn. After I passed an outdoor snooker hall where the table surfaces looked like worn football pitches during a dry English summer, I noticed a Chinese chemist. Relieved that Mrs M was not with me, I headed back to make the most of the last bacon opportunity in the hotel.

Taiyuan airport was, once again, superbly efficient. The gate opened exactly on time and the 737 turned at the end of the runway to the minute. I investigated the snack box which contained a roll, a cube of corned beef in impossible-to-open vacuum-packed foil, a bag of prunes and a phial of health-giving vinegar. Very nice actually.

In Beijing we were met by a small team of staff to drive us to the hotel. The Red Capital Ranch is located in the mountains 60 km north-east of Beijing and was built by the person behind the Red Capital Residence where we stayed previously. Formerly a Qing Dynasty hunting lodge, the private estate contains ten rooms nestled along a lake in between steep mountains on an unrestored section of the Great Wall. As Beijing's first eco-tourism enterprise, the rooms were constructed from local stone, recycled materials and relics by craftsman involved in the restoration of the and Prince Gong's Mansion.

After freshening, we made our way along dimly lit paths to the restaurant to sample the Hunting Lodge cuisine. It did not disappoint. Although Mrs M's Manchurian venison satay was a little chewy, the wild fowl with almonds was quite sublime.

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