Aman turns a cen­turiesold Chi­nese vil­lage into a mod­ern re­treat.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy ALI­CIA TAY­LOR

Aman’s new re­sort in China is its bold­est yet. That might sound like a big call when you con­sider that the group’s first prop­erty in China, which opened in Bei­jing in 2008, oc­cu­pies out­build­ings of the Em­press Cixi’s Sum­mer Palace, and of­fers guests a back door (lit­er­ally) into the grounds of the palace it­self.

But while re­mark­able lo­ca­tions are some­thing of an Aman sig­na­ture (a dozen of its prop­er­ties are in or ad­join UNESCO World Her­itage sites – Aman­jiwo at Borobudur, for in­stance, or Aman­galla, set in

Galle Fort in Sri Lanka), Amanyangyun, its fourth re­sort in China, in­volves a wilder imag­in­ing.

Re­mark­able is per­haps not a word you’d use to de­scribe its lo­ca­tion on the south-west fringe of Shang­hai, 45 min­utes’ drive from the cen­tre of town. Or at least it wasn’t un­til Ma Dadong, a Fuzhou-born en­tre­pre­neur, de­cided he wanted to res­cue a for­est of thou­sand-year-old cam­phor trees that was go­ing to be lost in the con­struc­tion of a vast new reser­voir in his home prov­ince of Jiangxi. A decade and many, many dol­lars later, the first of the 10,000 cam­phors he has re­lo­cated nearly 800 kilo­me­tres south are flour­ish­ing, and have cre­ated a unique back­drop for Amanyangyun.

The 50 Qing- and Ming-dy­nasty dwellings Ma res­cued from the re­gion, mean­while, have been trans­formed by Kerry Hill Ar­chi­tects into the 13 vil­las that form the most lux­u­ri­ous el­e­ment of the prop­erty’s ho­tel and res­i­den­tial ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Clock­ing in at 60,000 RMB (about $12,000) a night, the vil­las are built from the bricks and tim­ber of these price­less an­tique houses, their in­tri­cate stone carv­ings mar­ried seam­lessly with the cool el­e­gance of Hill’s tex­tured black-gran­ite bath­rooms, the huge, airy rooms per­fumed by their soar­ing cedar beams.

The at­trac­tion at Amanyangyun is not the canyons and mesas of Utah at Aman­giri or the Pelo­pon­nese beaches of Aman­zoe, but rather a more in­ward jour­ney. “The con­cept was very much based on cul­tural China, and try­ing to bring back to life some of the crafts and some of the val­ues that have been for­got­ten,” says Is­abelle Vergnaud, se­nior in­te­rior de­signer at Kerry Hill Ar­chi­tects.

“It’s a much more in­tro­vert ho­tel, in a way – it’s like a self-suf­fi­cient prop­erty. For us it was about bring­ing a can­vas to ex­pe­ri­ence the var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties and Chi­nese well-be­ing, not about try­ing to com­pete with it. It was fo­cus­ing on views and cel­e­brat­ing the cam­phor trees.”

Then there’s Nan Shu Fang, a cul­tural com­plex of nine tea­houses ded­i­cated to im­mers­ing guests in the arts of cal­lig­ra­phy, in­cense, tra­di­tional mu­sic and tea. The tea­houses are set be­hind a pav­il­ion that re­pro­duces the read­ing stu­dio of a mem­ber of the late Ming dy­nasty literati in rare style, be­fit­ting a pe­riod that’s con­sid­ered a high-wa­ter mark of Chi­nese aes­thet­ics. “The rit­u­als and prac­tices of this scholar class of the Ming and Qing eras can be ap­pre­ci­ated to­day for their re­fine­ment,” says Nan Shu Fang man­ager Jonathan Wolf­berg. These stu­dios, he says, were places to nour­ish the soul and spirit, a tra­di­tion that Nan Shu Fang will fos­ter. “Be­cause the an­cient struc­tures which have been re­built here be­longed to this class, Nan Shu Fang brings it full cir­cle – stay­ing here, you can ex­pe­ri­ence the clas­si­cal Ming aes­thetic, the grand­fa­ther to min­i­mal­ism.”

A min­i­mal aes­thetic need not be as­cetic, of course. Amanyangyun also has a vast spa, which at 2,840 square me­tres is noth­ing less than pala­tial. It has multi-room spa houses, each with its own ther­a­pists and but­lers, that can be rented for the day or half-day by groups.

The ho­tel also fea­tures Aman’s first ball­room, and has one of the group’s largest food-and-bev­er­age of­fer­ings, tak­ing in Nama, a Ja­panese restau­rant, an up­scale trat­to­ria called Arva, a cock­tail bar, a cigar lounge, a hand­some ter­race, and the sig­na­ture restau­rant, Lazhu. The food at Arva is ex­cel­lent (not least the ca­cio e pepe ag­nolotti), but it’s Lazhu that re­ally stands out, bring­ing the rus­tic dishes of Jiangxi, the project’s touch­stone prov­ince, into a white-table­cloth-and-wine-glasses con­text. The likes of sweet-hot Nan­chang duck sim­mered with leek and chilli, or soy­beans with ham and mus­tard greens chan­nel the po­tent (and of­ten thrillingly spicy) qual­i­ties of Jiangxi cui­sine with­out di­alling down their raw power.

If bold­ness tem­pered with sub­tlety could be said to be a call­ing card for the new China, Amanyangyun is ev­ery bit a re­sort of its times. Lo­cated 27km from Shang­hai’s CBD, Amanyangyun has 13 his­toric vil­las and 24 new court­yard suites, from 6,000 RMB ($1,174) for suites and 60,000 RMB (about $12,000) for vil­las per night. 6161 Yuan­jiang Rd, Min­hang District, Shang­hai, China,

Clock­wise from top left: an­tique villa bed­room; in­struc­tor Lily Wang makes in­cense; out­side Lazhu restau­rant. Op­po­site: Nan Shu Fang Cul­ture Cen­tre.

Clock­wise from top left: villa dé­cor in­spired by the Ming and Qing eras; de­tail above the en­trance to an an­tique villa; Jiangxi dumplings at Lazhu restau­rant. Op­po­site: bath­room in a four-bed­room an­tique villa.

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