Aman at Summer Palace is a tranquil retreat near a major tourist attraction. // © 2011 Aman at Summer Palace, Beijing
We all know China has different restrictions from the U.S., so I wasn’t surprised when Facebook was blocked everywhere I went during my recent visit to Beijing. Therefore, when I checked into Aman at Summer Palace, Beijing, I was completely surprised that Facebook worked, even if it was only for 10 minutes. I didn’t see it as a glitch in the system but as a sign that there was something special about the resort.
While Beijing is a dynamic, fast-paced city that never seems to stop, there are places of sublime serenity, specifically the Summer Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a 260-year-old garden estate dotted with palaces around the beautiful Kunming Lake. It served as an imperial retreat for the Qing Dynasty, and travelers who truly want to relive the life of royalty should check into Aman.
The seven-acre resort manages to effortlessly blend in with the iconic landmark of the Summer Palace and offers visitors to the ancient city an unbeatable retreat away from Beijing’s bustle. In fact, Aman at Summer Palace is literally on the edge of the imperial garden’s gates.
Guests have private access to the Summer Palace through a special doorway, which is great for those who want to see the attraction as it should be: tranquil. But being able to wander the grounds of the park before and after the rush of tourist groups and tour leaders with megaphones is only part of what makes this hideaway so attractive.
There are only 51 guestrooms, most of which are situated in structures that date back more than a hundred years. Some of the original dwellings were used by guests of the Summer Palace awaiting a meeting with the Empress Dowager Cixi at the turn of the 20th century. All guestrooms feature bamboo blinds and wooden screens for windows; king-size, four-poster beds; and Ming-style armoires. I was impressed with the sliding latticework doors, clay stone tiles and high, wood-beam ceilings.
Those who book a suite will be treated to stylish furnishings inspired by the Ming dynasty. Suites are also equipped with daybeds, reading chairs, writing desks and a separate bathtub and shower in the bathroom.
The Imperial Suite comprises three separate dwellings: a private dwelling, a living/study area and a formal space. The room sizes range from 410 square feet to 3,200 square feet.
A stroll through the resort is like a walk through Chinese history with typical rural landscaping: quiet courtyards, willow-and-bamboo-lined pathways, even a “lake” to mirror that of the Summer Palace (actually a small pond with a terrific garden). In public areas, live Chinese music is played by
instrumentalists. The whole experience is like a step back in time to a gorgeous sanctuary, whether linked to the Summer Palace or not.
There are four restaurants to choose from. The Lounge in the main building offers breakfast and light meals with live music and pastries in the afternoon. Naoki serves Japanese fare with a French twist, proving to be an innovative culinary experience around a Japanese counter. The Grill, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serves Western fare, specializing in grilled-to-order dishes such as beef, lamb and fish. The Chinese Restaurant serves imperial dishes and, most importantly, Peking duck. There’s also a Reflection pavilion, which acts as a bar and has a separate Cigar Room.
The Library features a nice selection of various books in several languages. A Chinese calligrapher is also present several times a week.
Aman also features a theater with 37 reclining leather seats and a 225-square-foot screen, which can be used for movies, live television broadcasts, live theater and/or presentations.
For those who want to be pampered, the resort offers a full-service spa that includes nine treatment rooms for facial and body treatments, a dedicated Pilates/yoga studio and a beauty and hair salon. Fitness enthusiasts will appreciate the 3,200-square-foot fully equipped fitness center, as well as a juice bar and two squash courts. The resort’s 80-foot indoor lap pool is such a retreat in itself, guests are known to fall asleep in the comfy sunbeds.