That the name of the Aman Summer Palace points to one of the most revered historical sites in Beijing is not a mere attempt at linking the hotel to a nearby tourist attraction. This Aman property is basically part of the Palace, both by the virtue of its physical location and by the well-crafted cultural immersion.
When we entered through the hotel’s spectacular portico and walked into the grand lobby we had the sense of a spell being cast. We felt embraced by the atmosphere of the old China and seized by the weight of hundreds of years of deep history.
The spectacular welcome area, the subdued, moody light, the smells, the quiet sounds of traditional Chinese instruments, these are the elements that work towards making this powerful first impression.
By the Palace
Everything around the Aman Summer Palace is designed to provide an experience of a serene retreat, steeped in ancient heritage. You would be forgiven to think this is quite a trick to pull off in the midst of the daily cacophony of Beijing, but Aman does it effortlessly.
Much of it is down to the composition of the houses and buildings around the resort. The guest suites and pavilions are arranged around the very peaceful internal courtyards, every single one with its own character and unique details. The architecture very much embraces the traditional Chinese style and local design practices.
It also helps that the hotel hugs one of the walls in the quiet corner of the Summer Palace, only steps from the East Gate — and the guests of Aman have private access to the Imperial complex through a secret door. Moreover, the resort is partly composed of the original, historical houses that were used by the royal guests awaiting an audience with the Empress Dowager Cixi at the turn of the 20th century.
Consistent with the overall concept, also the interiors pay homage to the Imperial heritage. The rooms utilise classic layouts and are decorated using sophisticated materials and fabrics. A big part of the overall style are the bamboo blinds and the exquisitely-crafted traditional wooden screens. The spaces are peppered with Ming Dynasty-styled arms and artworks.
Experiences, not things
The resort has plenty of moody spaces to explore. One of them is the delightful hotel library. Rummaging through its stock of books and albums was a rare highlight for us. They have a range of titles in several languages, including books on the Summer Palace. The Library has also a section devoted to Chinese calligraphy and regularly hosts a skilled master, who is eager to demonstrate his craft.
There’s is also the beautifully-designed, Ming-era Music Pavilion, where the afternoon tea is served. We’d organise our days just so we wouldn’t miss it. It’s a daily event orchestrated to emphasise the Chinese tea culture. Our favourite spot was on the pavilion’s patio overlooking a picturesque pond.
Of course, not everything is about the heritage. Aman Summer Palace is well equipped to deal with modern life demands and pleasures. We made sure to include in one of the evenings a visit to the private cinema at the resort. It’s a real cinematic experience, with 37 reclining leather seats and a 21-square metre screen. The selection of films is also great — and we had the entire cinema to ourselves.
But the most important attraction — and for many, the main reason to stay at this Aman property — is the sightseeing at the Summer Palace. This hotel really is the best place from which to explore one of the most important historical monuments of Beijing — especially considering that secret entrance, exclusive for the guests of the hotel.