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Like the Summer Palace, the Western Hills (西山, xīshān) are somewhere to escape urban life for a while, though they’re more of a rugged experience. Thanks to their coolness at the height of summer, the hills have long been favoured as a restful retreat by religious men and intellectuals, as well as politicians in the modern times – Mao lived here briefly, and the Politburo assembles here in times of crisis.
The hills are divided into three parks, the nearest to the centre being the Botanical Gardens, 3.5km northwest of the Summer Palace. Two kilometres farther west, Xiangshan is the largest and most impressive of the parks, but just as pretty is Badachu, its eight temples strung out along a hillside 2.5km to the south of Xiangshan. The hills take roughly an hour to reach on public transport. You can explore two of the parks in one day, but each deserves a day to itself.