30 July 2014

Feeling like an Emperor @ Aman at Summer Palace

Making an entrance

At a time when luxury travel is a regularly coined and overused term Aman Resorts continue to embody the iconic representation of high end luxury and personal hospitality.

Having stayed at a few of their properties in Sri Lanka and Indonesia I knew to expect nothing but a stunning property and flawless service but the Beijing resort has something so unique that no other property in Beijing or, dare I say, in China, has achieved: the true Imperial surroundings of a 250 year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Summer Palace.

The hotels pavilions and courtyards

A regular in "Best of" lists the resort is attached to the hideaway residence of the Emperor during the hot summer months. But its location is not merely a geographical one. The rooms and courtyards were used at the turn of the 20th century to host visitors awaiting to see the Empress Dowager Cixi, they were the equivalent of the 19th century Palatial accommodation and effortlessly blend into the grandeur of the Summer Palace. 

The reception lobby

The original complex has been restored and guests sleep under manicured wooden roofs hand carved over a century ago. From the main reception to the rooms guests stroll through corridors and pavilions flanked by bamboo groves and colourfully carved columns. The resort feels like a real size replica of Chinese watercolour paintings. 

A butler walks silently as if floating, a bird sings a delicate song from a swaying tree branch, a wild pomegranate drops on the perfect gardens. This must be what it was like to live like a king.

The Courtyard room. Summer Palace in the background

Aman's touch is apparent in the nightly turn down service, the delicate cultural gifts resting on the bed, the afternoon hand made cookies, the organic bathroom amenities, the silk bathrobes, the wonderful showers and the exquisite Ming Dinasty furnishings. But above all, the level of service Aman has got us accustomed to is apparent in the staff always at hand to organise excursions or fulfil any guest's wildest requests. Staff always remembers you by the name, they perfectly know what your room is, what your daily schedule looks like and what your next request may be. All of this in an non intrusive manner I have yet to find in any other hotel chain, consistently.

Inside the courtyard roo

The property also has a few dining options. The Imperial Chinese restaurant offers a glimpse into historical cuisine wit perfectly prepared dishes with a steep price tag to match. Breakfast is served by the fish pond in surroundings so quiet one can mistakenly feel in heaven.

Decoration on dinner plate

Because of its historical past, the rooms are organised around courtyards and pavilions some of which have direct access to the Summer Palace through a back door on the East Wing. This allows for unlimited and uninterrupted access to the grounds anytime of the day or night with a specially arranged guide provided by the resort. No queues, no bustle, no hassle. A small door opened in front of my room and I was transported to the times of the Emperor.   

Afternoon cookies

Old world charm and mystery is mixed with 21st century ultra-modern amenities in the basement of the resort. Aside from the magnificent Spa the complex also houses a 25m underground pool perfectly lit for relaxation, a yoga and pilates studio naturally lit and a state of the art 300 sqm gym.

The Pavilion

Back on the surface, two areas particularly draw the magic of Old China. The Pavilion deck overlooking a small pond with floating waterlilies felt like a sanctuary of tranquillity after a day out in town fighting the summer crowds. Aman Resorts' expected cultural sensitivity can be found in the library which hosts rare books about the Summer Palace. In the afternoons, calligraphy classes are on offer. The brush and ink is available in every room for guests to try their skill.

The pool

Aman at Summer Palace is a remarkably peaceful oasis in Beijing's crowded streets and noisy market. 

The devil is in the details

Rates starting at around $500 per night
The restaurants serve exquisite food and are some of the priciest in town. Explore the city

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