Eat, drink and breathe China’s mind-blowing Empirical past at this lavish resort. Built during the Qing dynasty to house dignitaries awaiting an audience with the emperor at the Summer Palace, it still boasts a secret door into this Unesco World Heritage Site. Slip in before the main gates have opened and stroll around Kunming Lake, picturing Empress Cixi and her thousands of servants gliding past on dragon-shaped barges.
The hotel’s 51 bedrooms are housed in heritage buildings painted red, the royal hue, built around courtyards shaded by indigenous trees. Inside, expect gabled ceilings with exposed beams, decorative tiles on floors and carved furniture. Bamboo blinds and traditional lamps create an intimate atmosphere that encourages you to lounge on your daybed and nibble the mysterious bean curd sweets left daily on wooden cake stands.
From musicians playing the pi pa (a string instrument) in the gilt-frosted reception to the daily calligraphy demonstrations in the library, a stay at this hotel is a lesson in Chinese culture. This extends to the kitchen, which serves a fine line in Cantonese plates like spicy chicken and crispy pork skin, accompanied by service so attentive you’ll feel like an emperor yourself.
A subterranean wellness centre roamed by squads of soft- voiced therapists is a moodily lit study in shiny granite, cool marble and wooden panelling. Don’t miss treatments inspired by Chinese medicine such as herbal poultices, daily gym classes at 2pm and a soak in an enormous bathtub infused with essential oils followed by a massage. Doubles from $420. aman.com