Live Like Ancient Royalty at the Aman Summer Palace in Beijing, China
Aman hotels are known in the travel world as being the best of the best. I had wanted to stay at the Aman Summer Palace in Beijing, China, during a recent trip to Beijing with my parents, because my first trip to an Aman resort, the Amanyara in Turks & Caicos, was nothing short of magnificent. For my first two trips to Beijing years back, I'd stayed at the St. Regis and the W Beijing, which were both amazing, but the Aman Summer Palace was in a category all its own. After all, it's the choice of celebs like Katy Perry and Maria Sharapova when they visit the Chinese capital, so I knew it had to be incredible.
Aman resorts aren't cheap, but they are the cream of the crop when it comes to luxury. Since the Aman Summer Palace is a member of the Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts program, I figured it would be a good way to get added perks, even though it was an expensive rate.
I used my Amex Centurion to pay. My room, a Deluxe Pavilion for just over $2,000 per night, came with two bedrooms and a shared living area. It included daily breakfast, complimentary Wi-Fi, a room upgrade (which I ended up getting), a guaranteed 4:00pm late checkout, a 50-minute massage for two people per room and a $200 credit for food and beverage or spa visit (assuming you paid for at least a two-night stay; I stayed three nights).
The Aman Summer Palace was about a 40-minute drive from the city center, on the edge of the grounds of the UNESCO World Heritage site the Summer Palace. Now a popular tourist attraction, the Summer Palace was once a retreat for Beijing's royalty. It's a collection of gardens, lakes and palaces designed in a traditional Chinese layout, creating harmony between architecture and nature. I loved staying on the grounds of this beautiful green space, and it was relaxing to be set apart from Beijing's hectic city center. Every aspect of the property radiated tranquility and serenity.
Obviously, getting a room upgrade wasn't a guarantee, but I was excited to hear at check-in that there was one available. We'd have even more space in the Courtyard Suite, giving both my parents and me a separate bedroom, living space and bathrooms but connected by a hallway in a beautiful private pavilion. I felt like I was in a palace.
Our building was a freestanding, private Chinese palace, making me feel like ancient royalty every time I entered. Past the entrance was a small hallway and room with a desk, and if you turned left, you'd enter what were my parents' quarters.
To the right were my quarters, which included a small office, where I prepared and drank my tea each day, a living/dining area, the bedroom and the bathroom, which was enormous.
It was wonderful to simply have so much open space to enjoy. My parents especially loved the high ceilings and soft bedding.
The suite decor was beautiful but very minimalist— the wooden carvings, bamboo blinds and hanging scripts with Chinese writing gave the room a regal feel. Aman didn't miss a detail — fresh orchids and complimentary water bottles were carefully placed around the suite. To enter, you needed to cross through a beautiful courtyard garden, and it was all so serene.
The rooms also came with Wi-Fi, a TV, safe and sound system. They were equipped with air conditioning (which I didn't use, as it was winter) and heating — even under-floor heating — which was a real luxury after getting out of the bath or shower since it was chilly outside.
The bathroom was massive and came with all the bells and whistles. The freestanding bathtub was fantastic, and the shower passed the TPG shower test. (I'm six feet, seven inches.)
The only thing I didn't like was that all the toiletries came in clay pots, which was a pretty design touch, but not great when it came to functionality. It was virtually impossible to get the shampoo out, so I needed to really shake it. If it were to slip out of your hand in the shower, it would shatter, which almost happened to me a few times. I love the concept of chic design (especially when it's eco-friendly, like reusable containers), but it should never interfere with functionality.
Food and Beverage
Breakfast at the Aman Summer Palace was fantastic. I was able to sample both the Chinese and American breakfasts and was pleased with both. It was interesting, though, that breakfast was included, but I was charged $6 for a bottle of sparkling water.
One night, we ate dinner in the restaurant, ordering traditional hot pots, where you cook the raw vegetables, chicken and seafood in steaming pots of broth.
The restaurant ambience was upscale but unpretentious, and a mandolin player provided music as we ate. While most of the reception staff spoke English, the dining staff didn't, so we did have a few small communication bumps. But they were really nice, so that made up for it.
The staff members, in general, were extremely friendly and accommodating. Every detail was attended to, and they were flexible when we needed to change our dinner reservation or move the times of our massages. They really thought of everything — they brought hot tea to us each night and left small gifts like Chinese fans, bookmarks and masks by our beds.
The last day, we had to leave to catch our flight at about 5:00am, and the restaurant prepared us breakfast boxes to go. We even got hot towels handed to us every time we entered the property, which was comforting and warm after chilly days exploring with our guide, Summer.
The spa was one of the favorite parts of my stay. Although my massage wasn't the best I'd ever had, the spa was stunning — located in its very own beautiful pavilion. My mom had a hot-stone massage, which she said was fantastic and warm after a cold day exploring the tourist attractions of Beijing.
The hotel also had a movie theater, which was a pretty cool amenity.
I didn't watch a film, but I made it a point to try out the seats, which were almost lie-flat. It was basically the business class of movie theaters — my kinda space!
Swimmers could do laps even in winter in the indoor pool, but I was too busy eating duck and dumplings for any of that.
Although the Aman Summer Palace was a splurge, it's definitely a TPG-approved splurge. This hotel gets everything right down to almost every last detail: Unique, spacious rooms, fresh flowers and delicate pots of hot tea after a cold day. Staying here really made this Beijing trip special for both my parents and me — it transported us to another time However, a stay in summer may be a better idea — if not, be prepared for cold and windy weather.