Long known as the northern gateway to Beijing, this historically significant city and its surrounding countryside provide a number of excellent weekend-trip possiblities from the capital. Comprising a whopping 36,947 square kilometer (14,237 square miles) and situated at the meeting place of three mountain ranges—the Hengshan, Taihang and Yanshan—greater Zhangjiakou's peaks, valleys and plains offer a number of options for hiking, sightseeing and skiing. The city itself, an increasingly prosperous industrial center, is a fairly typical northern Chinese urban area with some fascinating history that makes for a good break from the intensity of the capital.
Among the scenic and recreational areas worth checking out in Zhangjiakou are Bashang Prairie, a Qing-era hunting ground that provides a taste of the wide-open spaces of nearby Inner Mongolia; the Wanlong Ski Resort and the Cuiyunshan Ski Resort, located in Heping Forest Park; the ruggedly beautiful Xiao Wutai Shan Nature Reserve and a number of ancient temples, pagodas, residences and military constructions, including Dajing Gate. The greater Zhangjiakou area also includes a number of smaller settlements, such as the old garrison town of Xuanhua, known both for its proud military tradition and excellent vineyards, a number of which are now providing grapes for one of China's largest and most successful wine makers, Great Wall Wines.