Healthy Beijing: A wellness guide to the city

Healthy Beijing: A wellness guide to the city

Despite legendary pollution, Beijing offers access to nature, healthy restaurants and eco-friendly retreats

Beijing has historic attractions, a vibrant culture and, of course, delicious Chinese food. But with its notorious pollution and regular food scandals, it's not a city one equates with health and wellness.

But maintaining a healthy lifestyle while visiting Beijing isn't as challenging as you might think.

Here's an insider list of nature-friendly spots, wholesome restaurants, organic stores and green escapes in and around Beijing. 

iReport assignment: What are your favorite spots in Beijing?

Where to go

Zhaomiao (Luminous) Temple in the Fragrant Hills.Xiangshan

With a name that translates to "Fragrant Hills," this imperial garden is named after the scent wafting off its "Incense Burning Peak."

It's not just incense scenting the park.

There's the perfume of the pine-cypress forest, maple trees, smoke trees and persimmon trees, all of which can be taken in on a hike in the hills. Visitors can also rent a bike to cycle the 20 kilometers up the hill.

Xiangshan is a popular spot for photos, especially in autumn when trees and leaves burn bright with golden and red hues. 

To throw some culture into the mix there's Shuangqing Villa, once the residence of Mao Zedong, and the Temple of Azure Clouds, located just outside the north gate of Fragrant Hills Park.

Xiangshan, 40 Maimai Jie, West Mountain, Haidian District, Beijing; April 1-June 30, 6 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; July 1-August 31, 6 a.m.-7 p.m.; September 1-March 31, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.; +86 (10) 6259 1155

Chaoyang Park

Locals looking for a quick outdoor hit head for Chaoyang Park, which hosted beach volleyball action during the 2008 Olympic Games. 

A family spot, this park has several basketball courts and soccer pitches, a lake with boat rentals and a few rides for the kids.

Chaoyang Park, 1 Nongzhan Nan Lu, Chaoyang district, Beijing; open daily, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.; +86 (10) 6506 5409

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Beijing Botanical Garden

Not the typical image of Beijing that comes to mind. Not far from Fragrant Hills, the Beijing Botanical Garden has 6,000 species of plants, including 2,000 varieties of trees and bushes, 1,620 varieties of tropical and subtropical plants, 500 species of flowers and 1,900 kinds of fruit trees and water plants.

Not green enough for you? The garden also has an extensive collection of orchids, medicinal plants, aromatic plants and succulents.

Highlights include the 100,000-square-meter peony garden, rain forest house, desert garden house and Wofosi Temple, home to a five-meter-long reclining Buddha.

Beijing Botanical Garden, Wofosi Road, Xiangshan, Haidian District, Beijing; outdoor gardens open daily, 7 a.m.-5 p.m.; +86 (10) 6259 1283 (Chinese language)

Where to eat

Saveur de Corée: Korean Patio Gourmet

While on what we can only assume was an excellent Chinese adventure, Keanu Reeves popped into Saveur de Coree for a grilled Wagyu fillet. Saveur de Coree serves natural yet tasty spins on Korean classics. All dishes are MSG free and made with a range of organic ingredients.

Vegetarian options include vegan bibimbap and dairy-free, tofu-based chocolate mousse.

An open-air garden, inspired by traditional Korean courtyards, adds charm to the simple venue.

Saveur de Coree, 20 Ju Er Hutong, Dongcheng District (Near Nanluogu Xiang's north end); open Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 pm, 6-10:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; +86 (10) 6401 6083

The Orchard

The Orchard is a European-inspired restaurant in a stunning Shunyi setting.

The venue includes two smaller dining rooms for private parties, and a large, open room that overlooks a small lake with a covered bridge and orchard.

The menu features homegrown pesticide-free herbs and veggies, semi- to fully organic fruits and vegan or vegetarian meals upon request.

Transportation back to the city center is a challenge if you don't plan ahead, but the scenery makes it worth the trip.

Hegezhuang Village, Cuigezhuang Town, Shunyi district, Beijing; open Tuesday-Saturday, noon-2:30 p.m., 6-9 p.m.; Sunday, noon-3 p.m., 6-9 p.m.;+86 (10) 6433 6270

The Rug

Snug as a bug at The Rug. (We couldn't resist.) The Rug is a charming cafe across from the south gate of Chaoyang Park. It's one of the first restaurants in Beijing to work directly with local farmers.

The Rug is particularly good for breakfast or weekend brunch, with a selection of pancakes, egg dishes, sandwiches and fresh juices.

The bagels aren't authentic -- better choices include a fantastic eggs Benedict or 100% organic yogurt from Green Yard (the only approved organic fresh milk brand in Beijing).

The venue is well-lit with floor-to-ceiling windows and is family friendly, with a playroom for kids.

The Rug, 1/F, Building 4, Chaoyang Gongyuan Nan Lu, Lishuijiayuan Xiaoqu (opposite Chaoyang Park south gate), Chaoyang district, Beijing; open daily, 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; +86 (10) 8550 2722

Where to shop

Organic farm on Beijing outskirts. After food safety scandals, interest in organic produce is growing.

Lohao City

Lohao City is Beijing’s first organic health food store. It serves a variety of products, including tofu, dairy-free chocolate, bread, vegetables and fruits in eight Beijing locations.

The store stocks organic goods specially made for pregnant and nursing women and babies, as well as natural vitamins and supplements.

Lohao City, 608 Pinnacle Plaza, Tianzhu, Shunyi District; open daily 8am-9pm; +86 (10) 8046 6242

Green Cow Organic Farm

Green Cow Organic Farm was originally founded by Lejen Chen as a way of sourcing organic produce for her cafe.

Today it's a fully functioning closed-system organic farm with corn, wheat and soybean fed chickens, cows, pigs and a wide range of pesticides, herbicides and GMO free vegetables.

A member of the Model Farm Project, the Green Cow Organic Farm follows organic growing standards set by the Soil Association based in the UK. 

While tourists aren't likely to be in the market for fresh veggies on vacation, it's a great place to learn about Beijing's efforts to produce clean, safe food.

The farm also hosts regular events, including the fall Green Cow Harvest Festival. 

Green Cow Organic Farm, Donggezhuan, Houshayu Zhen, 30 minutes from downtown Beijing and 10 minutes north of the new International Exhibition Center; +86 (10) 8046 4301

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Where to unwind

The Mutianyu area of the Great Wall is about 70 kilometers northeast of Beijing and one of the best-preserved sections.

Brickyard Eco Retreat at Mutianyu Great Wall

The Brickyard is a private eco-retreat at the Mutianyu Great Wall, about an hour's drive out of central Beijing. It was built on the remains of a glazed tile factory with locally sourced materials such as native fieldstone, slate, gravel, brick and fruitwoods.

The eco-resort neither serves nor sells plastic bottles and recycles fiber, glass and plastic waste. The garden offers a great view of the Great Wall and surrounding mountains.

Set right in the garden, the spa offers relaxing treatments as well as a sauna and icy plunge facilities.

The Brickyard also offers seasonal Sunday morning yoga sessions right on the Great Wall.

Brickyard Eco Retreat at Mutianyu Great Wall, Beigou Village, Huairou District; +86 (10) 6162 6506

Commune by the Great Wall

Winner of the 2002 Biennale di Venezia special prize and praised by Business Week as a "New Architectural Wonder of China," the Commune by the Great Wall is a private collection of contemporary architecture designed by 12 Asian architects.

This SOHO China development gives its guests a chance to be completely immersed in the green mountains surrounding the Great Wall without lacking the luxury comforts of a five-star hotel including a swimming pool, lounge and restaurant.

The Commune has its own private passage to the Badaling section of the Great Wall, which is ideal for long hikes. 

Commune by the Great Wall, Great Wall Exit No. 53 at Shuiguan G6 Jingzang Highway; +86 (10) 8118 1888

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