Aman at Summer Palace – Good for some, not for all

Overview: A luxury property located on the outskirts of Beijing with a very unique feel
Strengths: Off-hours access to Summer Palace, rooms, spa
Drawbacks: Breakfasts (food and service), location (relative to much of Beijing)

 

This property is an interesting one.  I was generally pleased with my stay.  The property has a highly authentic Chinese feel, and while not perfect by any means, it offers plenty of high end luxuries.

Despite the authenticity and luxury, this property’s location in the northwest near the Fifth Ring Road is well away from many other sights in Beijing may prove to be too much of a drawback for many.  While it is located near a stop on Subway Line #4 (albeit a stop near the end of the line), guests will face close to an hour by subway or private car to reach many other tourist sights.

Map courtesy of Google
Map courtesy of Google

As I was in Beijing only for a weekend stop-over with meetings only on Monday and have visited many of the common sights on previous trips, the property fit my needs exactly.  I was looking for a quiet, luxurious place to relax.  This property fit my needs well.  Unless you are open to changing hotels mid-way through your stay in Beijing, due to the location, this property probably isn’t where you’d want to base your stay for a proper tourist visit to the city.

Let’s begin…

After my meetings in Hong Kong concluded, on Saturday morning, I flew to Shanghai for a lunch meeting at the Four Seasons in Pudong then flew onward to Beijing that evening.  Due to ATC holds in Beijing, I didn’t end up arriving at the Aman until about 2:30 in the morning.  (It turns out that trains were also heavily delayed due to blocked tracks, so either mode of travel would have ended similarly.)

The Aman representative was waiting for me upon arrival in Beijing as soon as I left the airport’s secure area.  He escorted me to my driver who was waiting in the parking lot.  A cold towel and bottle of water were waiting for me in the car.  Owing to the late hour, there was no traffic and the ride to the hotel was relatively quick.

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I was greeted by name by the front office staff as I exited the car under the hotel’s porte-cochère.  I presented my passport for the obligatory government scan and then was quickly escorted to my room by both the desk clerk and a porter (who looked after my bags).

Hotel Lobby
Hotel Lobby

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Walkway to most rooms
Walkway to most rooms

I booked a regular suite and was upgraded to a deluxe suite.

The suite was in a building that held two deluxe suites, and they shared a common dining room.  If you weren’t traveling with the party in the other suite (I was not), it would be odd to use this space.  However, if you had secured both suites in the building, it would have been a useful area.

Courtyard #8
Courtyard #8

The private living room in the suite was comfortable and had high ceilings.

Suite living room
Suite living room

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The bedroom was little more than a bed, and required climbing into the bed via the foot of the bed.  Looking through photos on the hotel’s website, I didn’t see any other rooms or suites with this sort of bedroom configuration.  On my second night, I woke up during the night and it took a few seconds to process just where I was.

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The bathroom was reasonably large and included a dressing alcove.  There was a tub and a separate step-in shower.  Water pressure and temperature control were fine.

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Slippers were a bit too small for me!
Slippers were a bit too small for me!

I was pleased with the room and its appointments.

In the compound that my suite was in, there were also two courtyard guestrooms.  You could reserve both suites and both guestrooms and have an ideal spot for an extended family stay.

The compound-like setup of the hotel and room made me think this is what living within the Zhongnanhai grounds would have been like.  It really has a special feel to it.

I had pre-booked a private pre-opening tour of the Summer Palace for 5:00 that morning (about two hours from when I entered the room) and the hotel staff asked if I wanted to reschedule for later in the day.  I declined to cancel as a key benefit of the property is that pre-opening access.  I arranged a wake-up call for 4:40am, set my iPhone alarm for the same time, and quickly fell asleep.

I woke up and took a quick shower and exactly at 5am, there was a quiet knock on my door.  My guide, an energetic and petite Chinese woman in her early 60s, greeted me along with a hotel valet, who had a key to the “magic door” (the door connecting the Aman into the Summer Palace).  The valet escorted us in to the grounds, bid us adieu, and locked the door as he turned back into the hotel.

The "magic" door
The “magic” door

We spent approximately two hours walking through the grounds and talking about both the grounds and the world more broadly.  It was quite foggy at that early hour and it was difficult to see much of the grounds.  Despite limited visibility, you could tell that you were in a very special place.

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While the grounds of the Palace were quite interesting to see, the most fascinating part of the tour was talking with my tour guide.

My tour guide came of age during the Cultural Revolution and had some pointed views to share with me.  Into calmer times, she studied tourism and hospitality at a leading university (once universities re-opened).  As part of that course of study, she learned English (which was indeed fluent).  We spoke about many aspects of life and the world broadly.

This was similar to my tour of the Great Wall back in 2012.

Back at the hotel as the crowds began to arrive at the Palace, I cleaned up and went to the dining room for breakfast.    Breakfast was the main disappointment of my stay.  The setting for breakfast was very comfortable, but I found the buffet selections to be limited and the service to be disinterested.

The setting for breakfast is an indoor-outdoor layout, with the outdoor portion overlooking a small, man-made pond.  Visiting during the summer, it was comfortable to eat outside.

I visited the buffet several times, trying a variety of items representing from a cross-section of cuisines.  While nothing was bad, I found few things inspiring and several items (including the hot meats and cold charcuterie) to be disappointing.

 

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Further, not once (across two breakfasts) was a dirty plate removed from my table during my meal.  I eventually made a little tower of plates.  This happened at several other tables as well.

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Being in the middle of a multi-country roadshow, other than visiting the Palace, I didn’t leave the hotel until my meetings began on Monday.  I found lunch and dinner at the property to be notably superior to the breakfasts, both in terms of the food and service.

For lunch, I had an Italian dish, which was prepared very nicely.  Lunch was offered in the same room as breakfast.

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I visited their Japanese restaurant for dinner, and was also pleased.  I selected a set menu offering (there were plenty of a la carte items, too) and was very pleased.  Service was much more attentive (compared to both breakfasts).

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I visited the spa in the afternoon for a massage.  I selected a two-hour Seasonal Signature massage and was very pleased.  The masseuse was very strong and she offered a very nice massage.  Each massage room is its own suite, with a private tub, changing area and shower.  You do not need to visit a common locker room for a spa service, which is a welcome touch.

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In the same underground compound as the spa, the hotel has a sizable gym and a large pool.  There are also large locker rooms for men and women, including a whirlpool and a dry sauna.  While the physical facilities were quite nice, the service in these areas was non-existent.

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Rather than run in the Beijing smog (which I have done before), I elected for a treadmill run during my stay.

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The dry sauna was not operable while I was there.  There was no sign or notice, just the room sat dark and unheated.  There was no attendant visible in pool or men’s locker area to inquire with either.  This was disappointing.  There were also several towels strewn about in the locker room.

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Similarly, the pool area was untended.  During my multiple visits to the pool, there were dirty towels sitting on several of the chairs each time.

Dirty towels by the pool
Dirty towels by the pool
...and the locker room
…and the locker room

The grounds of the property are lovely.  Several times walking to or from my room I was inspired just to stop and look and soak up the feel of the property.  The attention to detail throughout the property’s structures was amazing.

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Cameras were plentiful
Cameras were plentiful

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Pathway to breakfast

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Check-out was handled smoothly and my bill was accurate.  There were no negotiations required regarding any part of the Virtuoso package, which I always appreciate.  The concierge had arranged a driver to take me to the Ritz Carlton Financial Street, where I met up with my colleague.

Street view
Street view

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While there were a few lapses (breakfast being the most notable), overall, I was pleased with the experience at the property.  The Aman at Summer Palace can be a special part of a visit to Beijing.  The location

 

Aman at Summer Palace, Beijing
1 Gongmenqian Street, Summer Palace
Beijing, PRC 100091
(86) 10 5987 9999
amanatsummerpalace@amanresorts.com
Twitter: @amanresorts

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