If you haven't heard of Singapore-based Aman Resorts, there's a good reason.
It's widely touted as the world's chicest hotel brand, frequented by European aristocracy and pop stars looking for vacation glamour where the resort is the destination. In certain circles, the mere reference of Aman conjures up the image of far-off locations in one-of-a-kind resorts that humble the ordinary Ritz travelers into jealous silence.
Not just run-of-the-mill five-star luxury, Aman combines the seclusion of a private villa with the resort amenities of a full-service hotel. With openings coming in Montenegro, Brazil and India set for December, its newest property is also one of its most historic, the Summer Palace Beijing, a few miles from the Chinese capital.
How to get there
With new routes coming almost monthly from U.S. and Canadian gateways, China has never been more accessible. Beijing is a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles and around 14 hours from JFK in New York, with nonstop service by a growing list of carriers that include United and Air China. U.S. visitors are required to obtain a 30-day visa from the Chinese Embassy for around $130. Once you arrive in Beijing, you're greeted by the pampering hands of Aman Resorts, which arranges private transfer to the hotel in chauffeured sedans or shuttle.
Away from the gridlock and congestion of central Beijing, the Aman at Summer Palace is a spiritual escape that combines old-world elegance with decadent modern luxury. The resort is accessed via the East Gate of the Summer Palace, which is open to the public. The hotel is contained within a series of Ming-red structures and ornate one-story villas. Built in 1750, the palace is a series of immaculate, interconnecting structures surrounding Kunming Lake that was once the summertime escape of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty. The palace was completely destroyed by air raids in 1860, after which his wife passionately oversaw every detail of reconstruction that created the series of buildings and gardens found today.
What to expect
If you've never been to an Aman Resort, you're in for a treat. A modern-day emperor's arrival begins down a long passageway of mature shade trees and a formal garden leading to the main lobby. Lined in clay tiles polished to mirror perfection, the lobby is decorated in traditional Chinese woodwork with modern touches like minimalist lounge areas and artwork that define the ever-hip aesthetic of most Aman Resorts. Reception and check-in is seamless without being stuffy. Every detail of guests' desires and preferences are earmarked before arrival to ensure that rooms are drawn to specific orders.
Finding your room
Entry-room categories would be considered full-fledged suites by most standards, but at Aman they are simply called guest rooms. Arranged around manicured gardens and courtyards, the spaces feature polished tile floors among a combined living-and-sleeping area arranged in intricate window screens, traditional paneling and wooden lounge furnishings with chunky upholstered cushions in subdued colors of burnt gold and creamy white. The actual suites are lavish and large, with individually designed spaces offering secluded daybeds, cushy reading chairs and dramatic views of the surrounding landscape. The Imperial Suite is intended for modern-day emperors of the business and film world with three separate dwellings including sleeping, office and living areas complete with dining room and private courtyard.
Bathrooms and details
Better than the emperor had it, the resort features the signature Aman bathroom experience that has become a staple at all of its iconic international properties. Spacious spa-style bathrooms feature natural clay floors with floating countertops flanked by two basin-style sinks with golden trim. A separate alcove contains a freestanding soaking tub with occasional view of the outdoor courtyard in upgraded rooms. An additional rain shower is contained behind a wall of glass with signature Aman toiletries and fluffy towels.
Hit the spa
As with most Aman properties, a state-of-the-art spa offers a rejuvenating escape with nine fully furnished treatment rooms offering a mix of Eastern body treatments and Western-style procedures. The in-house gym is rather impressive, given the lack of quality Western-style gyms in China: complete with Techo-cardio equipment, two squash courts and an array of trainers to nudge you through your workout. A staff of yoga and pilates experts can also accommodate even the most fickle fitness addicts with personalized classes. Afterward, there's an indoor lap pool as well as a natural juice bar to refresh and replenish your fluids.
Restaurants and lounge
Morning begins with a casual breakfast in The Lounge, located off the main reception area overlooking an Eastern-style courtyard while dining on a mostly Western menu of continental breakfast, homemade pastries and coffee. The resort is home to three full-service restaurants including Naoki, a French-inspired Japanese eatery overlooking a central courtyard. The Grill serves a more Western dining experience with a selection of steaks, seafood and vegetarian dishes. At the top end of the dining spectrum is the Chinese Restaurant, cooking up traditional staples like Peking Duck and Cantonese cuisine in an elegant parlor of nine interconnecting spaces fully functional as private dining rooms. For late-night spirits there is The Bar, overlooking an outdoor water garden as well as the Music Pavilion, where musicians serenade the night during warmer months.
What's the real deal? Beijing is one of the better Asian bargains for American travelers right now, given the vast array of post-Olympic hotel options and all-new city infrastructure. Prices at Aman Summer Palace start at $495 for entry-level guestrooms and under $995 for larger deluxe suites, based on late-autumn availability.