Red Capital Ranch - Expectations
I have to write a little bit about our expectations because it is due to expectations that our disappointment was so considerable. Well, let's say expectations coupled with the price. Like I mention above, I had heard great things about the Red Capital Ranch. It purports to be a boutique hotel "located in a private valley surrounded by mountains, with rivers weaving through the estate". Their website goes on to say that the ranch is "Beijing's first eco-tourism resort set on a private estate of 50 Chinese acres offering 360 degree vista views of the Great Wall of China from each of the resort's ten ancient restored luxury Chinese villas tucked along the foot of a mountain."
When it comes to dining, again I offer their website's description "fine dining restaurant offering sophisticated Manchurian cuisine". I didn't (and still don't) know what Manchurian cuisine is but it sounds interesting and I was looking forward to trying it.
So here's the bottom line, we were expecting to go to a relatively secluded valley right next to the Great Wall where we could let the kids run around in the gardens, do some walking and hiking along the wall, relax comfortably in a large room, take in some fresh air and eat some decent meals. At over 1,200rmb (+15% service charge), I think that these expectations are reasonable.
Now that I've set up our expectations, let's take a look at a few of the heavy buzz-words that the Ranch's marketer employed: private valley and eco-tourism resort...on a private estate makes you think it's going to be pretty secluded and quiet. In reality, the hotel is next to a village and in between two parts of the Wall. Villagers and tourists alike are welcome to meander around the "resort". While this in itself is not bad, it did worry me about the security of our things and it was in no way "private".
Now let's turn to restored luxury Chinese villas. While I was expecting simple but comfortable, I was not prepared for dirty and smelly. We had requested a family room so were given one of the largest suites (I suppose). The set up itself was not bad. There was a front sitting room on one side and a bedroom on the other, separated by a door. We were planning to put the kids to bed early and then enjoy the sitting room with a bottle of wine. However, the decor and lighting were so uncomfortable, and it was so cold, we had no desire to be anywhere but in bed.
Furthermore, the bathroom floor was wet and remained so for the entirety of our stay. The complimentary tea was simply two ancient, dusty bags in an old box. The fruit basket included two molding oranges and two soft apples and the room wreaked of paint fumes. I inquired about the smell and was told the room had been painted a month ago - but obviously never aired. And absurdly, the sitting room is decorated with small alcoves in which Chinese curios are placed. The painters had simply painted over them!
If you are staying at the Red Capital Ranch, you have no choices when it comes to restaurant options. The village is small, and has no discernible restaurants. I was not expecting to have a problem as in every other hotel I've stayed in China, I've been able to find something on the menu for everyone in my family. We all love simple Chinese food so at the very least, a bowl of noodles, any time of day, usually suffices.
Well, at the ranch, there was no discernible "sophisticated Manchurian cuisine". In fact, the menu had only Western food options. With limited and bizarre choices, we ordered chicken soup and plain pasta for the kids and spaghetti Bolognese and a hamburger for us adults. The soup came with the usual masses of chicken bones (routine in Chinese cuisine) but the stock was clearly made from a bouillon cube - we know, some of it was undissolved. The Bolognese sauce was a mix of ketchup and mayonnaise and my tiny hamburger was hidden in a mountain of mayonnaise and soggy white bun. It was so disgusting we decided to drown our sorrows in wine but after finishing the first (and least expensive) bottle on the ridiculously priced menu, and trying to order another, we were informed there was no more.
Breakfast the next day was equally absurd. Offered no choices, we were served white toast with garlic, bacon and egg and mayonnaise sandwiches on white toast, and a salad of spicy raw peppers slathered in mayonnaise. After trying to wipe the mayo off various items to feed my kids, I asked for plain toast with jam. We got plain toast. They didn't have any jam.
Despite expectations, I couldn't let the kids just run amok in the garden. The grounds were littered with broken glass, bits of wire, horse turds and plastic bags blown around from their burn pile. While I could imagine that in spring (we were there slightly too early so nothing was green yet) the place could be beautiful, I couldn't believe they had no one at least keeping the place tidy. They have two sad-looking horses caged up or eating through the garbage piles and two scary looking large dogs caged up with skull-and-crossbones signs warning you not to get too near.
So there was a small silver lining. On either side of the hotel, the ancient Great Wall heads straight up the mountains. This part of the Wall has not been renovated but still has guard towers and battlements that can be seen climbing the ridges on either side. Everywhere you look, there's the wall. I loaded my two-year-old in the backpack and my husband, my seven-year-old and I headed up for a hike. It was really thrilling to climb along the old wall and to go inside some of the towers. The Wall is overwhelming and when you're up high, to stop and think about the thousands of men who built it is incredible. My son was in heaven.
But this area can be visited for the day from Beijing. And there are other, better, places to stay if you really just want to be near the Great Wall. Do not waste your money at Red Capital Ranch. But do go seek out some of the old Great Wall. It is thrilling.