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The Opposite House
Designed by star Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the glass-and-steel boutique hotel is located in the fashionable expat area of Sanlitun.
Aman at the Summer Palace
Aman has out Amaned itself with this incredible property because it has actually merged a luxurious resort experience with a historic cultural immersion. Today, too often a traveler is forced to starkly divide their sightseeing experience from their hotel experience. You leave a modern cocoon and dive into cultural exploration, then return to your hotel oasis to process. Here, however, within the very walls of one of China’s greatest monuments, Aman has fashioned a supremely special home-away-from-home-Imperial Chinese-style hotel so you actually feel like you are checking into history.
The Summer Palace, which at 293 hectares is three times larger than the Forbidden City and is still the largest garden in China more than a century after it was built, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built as the summer retreat for the imperial family, the Palace in its current form (the original was destroyed in 1860) was the fantastical project of Empress Dowager Cixi. Somehow, Aman managed to win the right to transform buildings annexed to the palace, some of which were once used as diplomatic waiting rooms, into a luxury hotel. So while tourists stream into the main gates of the Summer Palace through subway-like ticket turn styles, guests at the Aman arrive to a private courtyard adjacent to the East Gate where valets await to whisk them into a restored 19th-century Ming dynasty building where dignitaries once waited for their audience with the Empress.
The lobby, like the rest of the property, has been updated with the most luxurious modern materials but in a way that pays homage to history. So under the traditional peaked, beamed ceilings, there are lots of chic wood and paper lanterns, delicate wooden lattice screens and Ming benches with gorgeous silk cushions. If the Empress were to arrive today, she would know that she were in a different time but also that she was in a familiar place, which means for the modern guest going from the pampering enclave of the Aman, where bathrooms have deep soaking tubs and TVs hidden in Ming armoires, to the Summer Palace, there’s no jarring transition from tourist to traveler.
Cobblestoned pathways lined with gardens and weeping willows lead to the thirty-five guestrooms and suites, which are housed in historic buildings set around internal courtyards. Each room is slightly different but all incorporate traditional architecture and materials like Jin clay tile polished floors, exposed wood roof beams and Ming daybeds and armoires. The top accommodation, the Imperial Suite, occupies three separate structures, which share a courtyard. One building houses the bedroom and his-and-her bathroom suites; another has a living room and study and another a private dining room. And while the rooms feel like precious jewel boxes that you will not want to leave, the resort has many attractions to explore. In addition to the exquisite spa and state-of-the-art gym, there are squash courts, an indoor pool, a 37-seat screening room and one of China’s premier wine clubs. The Aman restaurants include the Grill, which focuses on Western food; a Chinese restaurant; and Naoki, where the chef serves French Kaiseki Japanese food. Cultural activities such as calligraphy classes, tea ceremonies, tai chi and musical concerts are also offered daily. To visit the Summer Palace, guests merely duck through a private doorway, but it is also possible to have the hotel arrange for other sightseeing excursions to the Forbidden City, Great Wall or 798 Art District and even to have after-hours access to the Summer Palace itself, where you might have a private dinner or concert arranged.