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Hotel review: Aman at Summer Palace, Beijing

Wednesday newsletters always feature a luxury hotel and/or flight review.

Today (May 20, 2015): Review of Aman at Summer Palace, Beijing (China).

Just steps from the East Gate of the Summer Palace grounds and only 15 km from the Forbidden City, lies Aman at Summer Palace – the ideal location from which to discover Beijing. The ultra-luxurious resort is a serene retreat, with peaceful internal courtyards and pavilions embracing traditional Chinese architecture. The property provides easy access to cultural landmarks as the Great Wall, The Temple of Heaven and the hutongs, as well as Beijing’s restaurants, art galleries and other contemporary delights. Aman at Summer Palace belongs to the portfolio of Aman, the world’s most exclusive hotel brand.

Aman at Summer Palace features in my top 10 lists of the best luxury hotels in China, the best Aman hotels in the world, the world’s most stunning indoor hotel pools, and the world’s most luxurious, large city hotels.

In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Aman at Summer Palace enjoys a phenomenal location, and it is amazing how Aman was able to secure this exclusive spot. Just 15 kilometres northwest of Beijing’s city centre, the retreat is adjacent to the East Gate of the iconic Summer Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests have private access to the Summer Palace through a ‘secret entrance door’.
  • As you arrive at the hotel, you will first pass by the ancient stone lions that stand guard at the gates and then enter the majestic courtyard.
  • A sense of cultural immersion is felt immediately as you enter the grand lobby to the strains of the live gu zheng and pi pa – traditional Chinese instruments.
  • The resort grounds, with a latticework of courtyards, ponds, pathways and gardens, are stunningly beautiful. The original complex was used by guests of the Summer Palace awaiting an audience with the Empress Dowager Cixi at the turn of the 20th century. The resort is housed in several hundred years-old pavilions, reflecting traditional Chinese architecture and celebrating the courtyard style of the Summer Palace.
  • All 51 rooms & suites – that come in 6 different categories – are set around beautiful, small courtyards, inviting a feeling of serenity and royalty. I stayed in a Courtyard Suite which is enormous, with ceilings at least 20 feet high, a separate office and lounging area, a bedroom with television and minibar, and a openplan bathroom (with shower and tub). Whilst every modern comfort has been provided, the room design embraces Imperial Chinese layouts, materials and fabrics, with the presence of Ming Dynasty-styled armories, traditional wooden screens, and bamboo blinds.
  • The well-stocked minibar features complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. The soft drinks are replaced daily which is a nice touch. Home-made sweet treats are also delivered daily.
  • After turn down service, you will always find a daily gift from Aman on your bed (a Chinese fish lock for instance), which is always a joy.
  • Aman at Summer Palace has three on-site restaurants, all of them serving terrific food with an excellent choice of wine pairings and specialty cocktails. The Grill serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and features Western cuisine, with focus on grilled-to-order prime cuts of meat and fresh seafood. Their Chinese Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner with private dining rooms for small groups or romantic interludes. Finally, the Japanese themed restaurant Naoki serves original Kaiseki fare that combines French techniques with Japanese artistry (with three tastings menus from 8-10 courses).
  • Beneath the resort, you will find one of its highlights: a unique 5,000-square metre, double level, underground recreational facility. The breathtaking space contains a beautiful, 25 metre, indoor lap pool, as well as a 300-square metre sky-lit gym with Technogym equipment (including Kinesis), two squash courts, and a juice bar serving healthy fruit and vegetable drinks. Fitness consultants are on hand to offer personal training and squash partners at all times. In addition, the underground recreational facility also features the Spa, with a tranquil reception, nine self-contained double treatment rooms and a dedicated Pilates and yoga studio which is naturally lit through an extensive panel of skylights.
  • Aman at Summer Palace has a stunning library, which includes a wide selection of material on various subjects in several languages, from rare books on the Summer Palace to historic and photographic works on China and the Asian region. The Library is also host to regular demonstrations of Chinese calligraphy by a skilled master of this ancient art, reminding you of the culture of ancient China and the respect that still exists, at least in the older generations, for Taoist gods like Wenchang, the god of writing and flourishing culture.
  • The resort has a private cinema, which features 37 reclining leather seats and a 21-square metre screen which can be used for movies (there is a daily, complimentary screening), television broadcasts and business presentations.
  • The resort offers complimentary WiFi connection and internet access in all guest suites and public areas.
  • I highly recommend visiting Aman’s Ming-era Music Pavilion for traditional Chinese afternoon tea.
  • Besides being located adjacent to the Summer Palace, the resort offers easy access to three other UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the property is only 30 minutes (traffic permitting) from the Forbidden City & Tiananmen Square, 30 minutes from the Temple of Heaven, and 1 hour from the Great Wall at Mutianyu (which is one of the most scenic sections). Excellent sightseeing tours can be arranged through the resort.
  • Service is impeccable, as you would expect from a resort managed by the world’s most exclusive hotel brand. I did not have any issues with the English standards of the staff. Most speak excellent English, and miraculously, there is always someone popping up to address you in English when confronted with one of the few staff members that are not so fluent in English.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Aman at Summer Palace is a top-notch, world-class hotel. There are no real cons, just some minor thing that you may want to know:

  • This is China and internet access is heavily controlled. There are many sites (e.g. Google, Youtube, Facebook) that are not accessible due to restrictions applied beyond the hotel’s control. In addition, the internet is slow from time to time.
  • The resort is not well-known amongst Chinese taxi driver. Leaving the resort is not a problem (taxi cost is just $10 to the Forbidden City, a journey that takes around 30 minutes, traffic permitting), but the trick is getting back. The resort will provide a business card as you walk out the door, with their name and details written in Chinese for taxi drivers. Nevertheless, none of my taxi drivers could find it, and they always had to call the resort for further instructions. Don’t get frustrated by this; it only adds an exotic touch and some adventure to an already exceptional trip.
  • During daytime, the hotel’s central facilities are open to the public, so non-guests are walking around the property. However, they can not access the courtyards where the rooms are located nor the underground recreational facility. This did not bother me though.
  • Yes, the resort, food and excursions are very expensive but this is a hotel belonging to the portfolio of Aman, the world’s most exclusive hotel brand. You should know that going into it. The most important thing is that we you will not be disappointed at all with the unique experience that you will be provided for the price. It’s a place you will never forget.
  • Be prepared to become an Aman junkie as this will raise the bar for your future trips.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 10/10
  • Design: 9/10
  • Rooms: 10/10
  • Food: 9/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Overall experience: exceptional: 9,2/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS AND SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting best deal a luxury hotel like Aman at Summer Palace (and/or receive many free perks). You will never find lower rates for Aman at Summer Palace, and Aman resorts in general, than those listed on the official hotel page.
  • Save money: I recommend to book through a Virtuoso travel agent, which will cost you the same as compared to booking via the official Aman website, but has the benefit of complimentary VIP perks, but has the benefit of complimentary perks (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and one lunch for two).
  • Read my tips for prepare your trip in time. Passport and visa requirements differ from country to country. Please check with your local authority before booking.
  • Prebook an Aman hotel car from Beijing airport and you will be met off your flight, escorted through borders and baggage reclaim, and then whisked through a marble-walled VIP corridor to your Aman vehicle, avoiding all the crowds, a long walk to the parking, and language problems with the local taxi drivers.
  • Don’t make the mistake of assuming Chinese taxi drivers will recognise the English name of your hotel. You must have the name and address of the hotel written in Chinese, otherwise you may find yourself ‘lost in translation’. Aman at Summer Palace will provide a business card as you walk out the door, with their name and details written in Chinese for taxi drivers.
  • The Summer Palace is a top place of interest for visitors all over China and elsewhere.  The UNESCO World Heritage Site is open to the public from 6am, and you cannot imagine the number of tourists and tour groups streaming in from that time on. Hence, I recommend going early (just after sunrise) and making use of the private access that the hotel offers, so you can have it all to yourselves for a while, which will truly be a privilege.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Beijing has four discernible seasons – short windy spring, long hot summer, cool pleasant autumn but long chilly winter. July and August temperatures can exceed 40 °C (104 °F). January can dip to -20 °C (-4 °F). There are frequent sandstorms in spring, and that makes the autumn months of September and October, when all considered, the best time to visit Beijing.


HOW TO GET THERE

Beijing can easily be reached by plane, train or car. For those coming by plane, the hotel is located a 45-minute cab ride from Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK). Check the Wikipedia page of Beijing Capital International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Beijing.


ENTRANCE GATE

ENTRANCE GATE

ENTRANCE GATE

ENTRANCE GATE

ENTRANCE GATE

ENTRANCE GATE

ENTRANCE GATE & CENTRAL COURTYARD

ENTRANCE GATE & CENTRAL COURTYARD

CENTRAL COURTYARD

CENTRAL COURTYARD

CENTRAL COURTYARD

CENTRAL COURTYARD

CENTRAL COURTYARD

CENTRAL COURTYARD

CENTRAL COURTYARD & WELCOME PAVILION

CENTRAL COURTYARD & WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION

WELCOME PAVILION: ENTRANCE TO LOBBY

WELCOME PAVILION: ENTRANCE TO LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

LOBBY

COURTYARD BETWEEN LOBBY AND LIBRARY

COURTYARD BETWEEN LOBBY AND LIBRARY

COURTYARD BETWEEN LOBBY AND LIBRARY

COURTYARD BETWEEN LOBBY AND LIBRARY

COURTYARD BETWEEN LOBBY AND LIBRARY

COURTYARD BETWEEN LOBBY AND LIBRARY

LIBRARY PAVILION

LIBRARY PAVILION

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

LIBRARY

AMAN SHOP

AMAN SHOP

AMAN SHOP

AMAN SHOP

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

ENTRANCE TO COURTYARD SUITE

ENTRANCE TO COURTYARD SUITE

ENTRANCE TO COURTYARD SUITE

ENTRANCE TO COURTYARD SUITE

ENTRANCE TO COURTYARD SUITE

ENTRANCE TO COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: BATHROOM

COURTYARD SUITE: WELCOME SNACKS

COURTYARD SUITE: WELCOME SNACKS

COURTYARD SUITE: WELCOME SNACKS

COURTYARD SUITE: WELCOME SNACKS

AMAN EXCURSIONS

AMAN EXCURSIONS

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

COURTYARD SUITE

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

RESORT GROUNDS

UNDERGROUND RECCREATIONAL FACILITIES: CORRIDOR

UNDERGROUND RECCREATIONAL FACILITIES: CORRIDOR

UNDERGROUND RECREATIONAL FACILITIES: CORRIDOR

UNDERGROUND RECREATIONAL FACILITIES: CORRIDOR

UNDERGROUND RECCREATIONAL FACILITIES: CORRIDOR

UNDERGROUND RECCREATIONAL FACILITIES: CORRIDOR

UNDERGROUND RECCREATIONAL FACILITIES: BAR

UNDERGROUND RECCREATIONAL FACILITIES: BAR

GYM

GYM

GYM

GYM

SWIMMING POOL

SWIMMING POOL

SWIMMING POOL

SWIMMING POOL

SWIMMING POOL

SWIMMING POOL

LOCKER ROOM: JACUZZI

LOCKER ROOM: JACUZZI

LOCKER ROOM

LOCKER ROOM

LOCKER ROOM: RELAXATION AREA

LOCKER ROOM: RELAXATION AREA

LOCKER ROOM

LOCKER ROOM

LOCKER ROOM

LOCKER ROOM

PRIVATE CINEMA

PRIVATE CINEMA

TEA PAVILION

TEA PAVILION

TEA PAVILION

TEA PAVILION

TEA PAVILION

TEA PAVILION

CHINESE RESTAURANT

CHINESE RESTAURANT

CHINESE RESTAURANT

CHINESE RESTAURANT

CHINESE RESTAURANT: LUNCH

CHINESE RESTAURANT: LUNCH

CHINESE RESTAURANT: LUNCH

CHINESE RESTAURANT: LUNCH

CHINESE RESTAURANT: LUNCH

CHINESE RESTAURANT: LUNCH

CHINESE RESTAURANT: LUNCH

CHINESE RESTAURANT: LUNCH

ENTRANCE GATE TO RESTAURANTS

ENTRANCE GATE TO RESTAURANTS

COURTYARD OF NAOKI & THE GRILL RESTAURANT

COURTYARD OF NAOKI & THE GRILL RESTAURANT

COURTYARD OF NAOKI & THE GRILL RESTAURANT

COURTYARD OF NAOKI & THE GRILL RESTAURANT

NAOKI RESTAURANT

NAOKI RESTAURANT

NAOKI RESTAURANT: DINNER

NAOKI RESTAURANT: DINNER

NAOKI RESTAURANT: DINNER

NAOKI RESTAURANT: DINNER

NAOKI RESTAURANT: DINNER

NAOKI RESTAURANT: DINNER

NAOKI RESTAURANT: DINNER

NAOKI RESTAURANT: DINNER

NAOKI RESTAURANT

NAOKI RESTAURANT

NAOKI RESTAURANT

NAOKI RESTAURANT

NAOKI RESTAURANT

NAOKI RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: BREAKFAST

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: DINNER

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: DINNER

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: DINNER

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: DINNER

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: DINNER

THE GRILL RESTAURANT: DINNER

CENTRAL COURTYARD AT NIGHT

CENTRAL COURTYARD AT NIGHT

CENTRAL COURTYARD AT NIGHT

CENTRAL COURTYARD AT NIGHT

RESORT GROUNDS AT NIGHT

RESORT GROUNDS AT NIGHT

SECRET GATE TO SUMMER PALACE

SECRET GATE TO SUMMER PALACE

SUMMER PALACE

SUMMER PALACE

SUMMER PALACE

SUMMER PALACE

SUMMER PALACE

SUMMER PALACE

SUMMER PALACE

SUMMER PALACE

GREAT WALL

GREAT WALL

GREAT WALL

GREAT WALL

FORBIDDEN CITY

FORBIDDEN CITY

FORBIDDEN CITY

FORBIDDEN CITY


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