On the edge of a huge plateau in central Mongolia, through which the Orkhon River meanders after exiting the Khangai Mountains, Genghis Khan Retreat will reopen for the summer 2024 season.
Located a five-hour drive from the capital of Ulaanbaatar, the spectacular World Heritage-listed landscape among the wild Mongolian steppes has been described as the gateway to heaven. No wonder Genghis Khan the Conqueror set up camp here in the 13th century, creating the ancient capital of Karakorum.
To this day, the Orkhon Valley remains home to the ancient nomadic culture, which lies at the heart of Mongolian society.
Founded more than two decades ago by Christopher Giercke, a man as individual as the camp itself, along with his Mongolian wife Enkhe, Genghis Khan Retreat began as a private getaway for family, friends, and friends of friends with an interest in equestrian sports. Wanting to share this one-of-a-kind treasure with the wider world, Christopher and Enkhe opened it up in 2018 to curious travellers for whom the spirit of adventure runs strong and who seek experiences not found anywhere else in the world.
Open for just 11 weeks of the year, from June until September, the camp has been championing sustainable travel long before the term became popular. Accommodation and living spaces are housed in gers, or circular tents, which are assembled at the start of each season and then dismounted at the end, leaving no footprint behind.
Each cosy ger is a luxurious update on the traditional Mongolian home, with candlelight, a wood-burning stove, an ensuite toilet, handcrafted furniture, and beds topped with the finest cashmere blankets. Separate gers with Japanese soaking tubs are set aside for bathing, one of the few places in High Asia where you can have a hot bubble bath. With 35 staff attending to a maximum of 20-25 guests, visitors will be well looked after.
Mongolia has a long and proud history of horse riding, with herder children learning to ride before they can walk, and a wealth of activities are centred around it. This includes riding across breathtaking landscapes and up to Edelweiss Ridge for a panoramic view of the Orkhon Valley, with the option to pitch a tent and stay overnight.
Then there is polo, which has been played in Mongolia for over 800 years, initially as a training game for the fierce Mongol cavalry. It was at risk of being forgotten when Christopher established the Genghis Khan Polo Club (GKPC) in 1996 to help preserve the tradition by training and supporting talented young Mongol riders. As a not-for-profit organisation, the GKPC hosts about 30 Mongolian children each summer for polo training to complement their equestrian skills.
Renowned as a polo destination, international and local players converge each year to compete in Genghis Khan Retreat’s schedule of multi-day tournaments. A highlight of any stay is an exhibition match with Mongolian players that culminates in traditional Mongolian feasting and celebration.
In addition, anyone interested in polo can take part in training sessions, with tuition available from experienced instructors. Guests might even be lucky enough to learn to play with the Mongolia National Polo Team. Whether novice or expert, all levels of riders are catered for, with safety and comfort a priority; the camp’s riding team ensure guests are well-matched with the horse. What’s more, horse riding is an ideal family activity and children are most welcome at the camp.
There is, of course, much more to Genghis Khan Retreat than galloping and chukkas. A host of alternative exciting outdoor activities are available, including hiking, kayaking, or mountain biking past herds of yaks and a multitude of birdlife, plus there’s rock climbing, archery, scenic drives, and lazy picnic lunches. Spa treatments, yoga and sundowners are also options for those who believe that doing less is more.
As the former capital of what was once the mightiest power and empire on earth, the nearby town of Karakorum offers fascinating cultural diversions. Among them, the 16th-century Erdenze Zuu, the oldest surviving monastery in Mongolia; Karakorum Museum for unbeatable insights into the Mongol empire, with artefacts dating back 4,000 years; and the ruins of the Khar Balgas citadel, founded by the Uighur empire centuries before the Mongols. A more recent addition, the Bilge Khan monument and museum, was built to recognise the region’s connection to the sixth-century Turkic empire.
Back at the camp, guests are wined and dined in style. Evenings are spent in the candlelit dining ger or around the fire pit, with Nepalese chef Mingma Sherpa serving up anything from delicious Mongolian dumplings to handmade pasta, accompanied by quality house wines or Mongolian vodka. Most evenings will also see a pre- or post-prandial piano recital, which might turn into an impromptu party with visiting artists.
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