We’re all strapped for time, and travel trends are reflecting that: over the past few years, there’s been a shift towards shorter breaks in lieu of long holidays, which often means trying to cram our rest and reset into a mere weekend. Luckily, the bountiful selection of luxury urban wellness retreats offer a chance for stressed out, time-short travellers to escape in style, even in the most unlikely of places—sprawling cities like Beijing, for instance. On a recent trip to China’s capital, Compare Retreats’ Editor and CCO Rebecca Cairns explored Aman Summer Palace’s idyllic city resort and uncovered a hidden haven of urban zen…
Beyond the traffic and bustle of central Beijing, Aman Summer Palace lies on the outskirts of the city near the more rural Fragrant Hills and, as the name suggests, adjacent to the East Gate of the UNESCO-protected Summer Palace. Beijing Capital Airport (PEK) is just 45-minutes drive away, and guests can easily reach city centre attractions like the Forbidden City via car or metro, while the Great Wall lies a 90-minute drive to the north.
Formerly the residence of Empress Dowager Cixi on her visits to Beijing during the late Qing dynasty, Aman Summer Palace’s 51 rooms and suites offer an idyllic refuge in one of the largest cities in the world. Many parts of the building are over a century old, and old or new, embrace traditional Chinese architectural styles and feng shui principles with low-buildings encircling courtyards, moon gates, ponds and generous garden foliage. Pavilions connect to each other via covered walkways, weaving in a maze through the resort—it creates a sense of mystery and intimate privacy, perfect for those seeking a retreat away from the world.
The Aman Summer Palace resort boasts five in-house restaurants, a spa, boutique store, gym, Pilates and yoga studio, 25-metre indoor swimming pool, one squash court, a multi-language library, and a home cinema theatre with a 21-metre screen, as well as conference and meeting rooms for corporate getaways.
Guests looking to go beyond the Summer Palace can request excursions to The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, the Hutongs, or Great wall, which can be arranged by the front desk.
The 18 rooms and 33 suites at Aman Summer Palace come in a variety of sizes and configurations and can be connected to suit different needs for groups and families. Ranging from 45-square-metres in the rooms to 260-square-metres in the Imperial Suite, the accommodation is generous in size compared to standard room sizes.
Designed by interior designer Jaya Pratomo Ibrahim, the resort evokes its history through careful restoration and tasteful modern flourishes. Overlooking courtyards and bamboo-filled gardens, the accommodation takes inspiration from the Qing and Ming dynasty—exquisitely furnished in wood tones, the rooms are sparse rather than cluttered, giving the accommodation a zen-minimalist feel.
The use of antique wood furnishings, particularly the warm hues of Chinese Rosewood, gives the accommodation and communal resort spaces an elegant cosiness that makes you feel right at home. Throughout the resort, guests can observe the original restored golden-brown Jin clay-tiled floors.
The Deluxe Suites offer the optimum balance of space and privacy: the three rooms, including an en-suite bedroom suite, private dining or board room, and personal study, are divided into separate buildings, situated around a courtyard for the residents’ private usage.
With five in-house restaurants, guests at Aman Summer Palace are spoilt for choice. The Chinese Restaurant specialises in Beijing Perking duck and other traditional Imperial cuisines, along with Sichuan and Cantonese dishes. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant also offers six private dining rooms for more intimate dining experiences.
The second restaurant, The Grill, is where breakfast is served, as well as lunch and dinner. Serving up Western cuisine and specialising in grilled-to-order quality meats and fresh seafood, the restaurant overlooks a quiet courtyard and pond—ideal for morning reflections over a hot cup of tea.
NAMA serves up elevated Japanese cuisine, with a seasonal menu which changes to reflect the fresh, local produce available at varying times of the year. For pre-dinner drink, The Reflection Pavilion is situated in front of a peaceful Chinese pond and garden with views toward the Summer Palace’s Grand Theatre where singers and musicians can often be heard practising their disciplines. While savouring the sounds of distant past, guests can indulge in one of Aman’s signature cocktail selection.
Guests with dietary requirements should let the resort know when they arrive, as allergies, intolerances and dietary preferences of any kind can be met.
With a gym, pool and spa on-site, guests can rest assured that whether they’re visiting for two days or two weeks, there’s an opportunity to reset, relax, and maintain their fitness while at Aman Summer Palace.
The gym is kitted out with the latest Technogym equipment, including Kinesis machines, and personal training services available on request. The sky-lit Pilates and yoga studio contains reformers equipment, and classes and private tuition are offered to guests.
The highlight of Aman Summer Palace’s wellness offerings is its spa—a 5,000-metre-square sanctuary spanning two floors, the nine double treatment rooms offer a zen space for solo and couples relaxation. Inspired by Traditional Chinese Medicine and ancient practices in reflexology and gemstones, the huge spa menu offers treatments in beauty and health to meet all needs.
The Himalayan Singing Bowl Healing Massage I experienced was one of the best massages of my life. The double treatment suite had an oversized sunken bathtub, two massage tables, a shower, and a toilet. Adorned in ornate wooden panelling in a traditional Chinese style, the smooth, cooling grey stone of the bathroom gave way to warm wood tones, creating an intimate environment,
Before I entered the room, the spa manager performed a singing bowl experience: closing my eyes, I could feel the vibrations through my whole body. Whether it was this that set me up for total relaxation, or the massage itself, it’s hard to say, but I found it very easy to tune out when I lay on the massage table, which usually takes my mind a while. Using beautifully scented rose oil, the masseuse worked down my body: her touch was gentle, but still managed to untangle the tension knots in my shoulders from working from a laptop, and my calves from running.
Another noteworthy aspect of the experience was the spa music—often undervalued, or entirely missed, but done well, spa music can make or break the experience. The soothing sounds of nature overlain with Se, a traditional Chinese 25-string silk instrument with a 2,000-year history. Lilting with the flow of bubbling streams or bird calls, the string music enhanced the natural soundtrack and deepened the relaxing ambience created by the singing bowl and the massage itself.
What sets Aman Summer Palace apart from other urban wellness retreats is its proximity to the city centre while completely avoiding the chaos, busyness, and pace that makes urban living so stressful mentally and physically. The peaceful surroundings of the resort shouldn’t be missed—make sure you explore the gardens on your doorstep via the secret door at the back of the resort. Right on the fringes of the Summer Palace gardens, Aman Summer Palace really is a city escape that gives you a dose of greenery and fresh air, helping you reset to the natural pace of your body and mind.
Enquire about Aman Summer Palace at [email protected]