Aman’s hotels have never failed to impress, but its first Shanghai property raises the bar. Amanyangyun not only involved the reconstruction of a historic village, it also saw the relocation of a forest some 700km from where it originally was. By Justina Tan
While all Aman properties share a similar DNA – off the beaten track, surrounded by virgin nature, and expositing discreet luxury with a deep respect for the locale’s culture – only one can boast the staggering relocation of a camphor forest and the stone-by-stone disassembly (and subsequent rebuilding) of 50 Ming and Qing Dynasty village buildings from Jiangxi province to 10 hectares of land on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Freshly minted this January, Amanyangyun has a romantic backstory to match its peaceful, refined spaces. In 2002, a young Chinese real estate entrepreneur, Ma Dadong, returned to his childhood home in Jiangxi, only to discover that his hometown and the surrounding forest would soon be lost to the construction of a dam. To save his cultural heritage from a watery fate, Ma set plans afoot to uproot the camphor trees and break down centuries-old Chinese residences, and transport them to Shanghai.
It was a massive undertaking that took no less than a decade. According to Amanyangyun’s general manager Benoit Amado, there were approximately 100,000 stones used in each of the 50 ancient Jiangxi homes. Each home was disassembled stone by stone and beam by beam; every piece was then catalogued and stored. Even doors, walls and windows of the original homes were salvaged. Each of the 26 antique villas and residences that now make up Amanyangyun took three years or more to reconstruct, thanks to painstaking restoration of these salvaged parts by skilled artisans.
Just as integral to the resort’s historic dwellings is the mystical forest that also took a long journey from Jiangxi. Though massive, the camphor trees were delicate and necessitated speedy uprooting and swift transportation to Shanghai (700km away) during traffic-free hours of the night – 80 percent of the 10,000 trees survived the replanting process. At the heart of the forest is the oldest and tallest of the lot. Aptly christened the Emperor Tree, hotel guests are invited to water the 17m evergreen upon arrival as part of a welcome ceremony connecting the present to the past.
When Aman inked a deal with Ma in 2009, they brought awardwinning Australian design firm Kerry Hill Architects on board
to put together the 500-year-old structures that had been so meticulously taken apart, and to breathe life into the property that would become Amanyangyun. Swathed in a natural palette to complement the materials used in the original structures, the interiors are decked in wood, stone and bamboo, flooded with natural light, and deliver mesmerising forest vistas. Finished with subtle Asian accents like latticed screens and lamps, 13 of the 26 dwellings are now four-bedroom antique villas that each house a private pool, Jacuzzi and courtyard. Twelve have been converted into residences that include features like cinemas, gyms and underground wine cellars. However, the last villa is the pièce de résistance.
Coined Nan Shu Fang (after the royal pavilion in the Forbidden City), the building is the most architecturally impressive structure to have made its way from Jiangxi. Featuring furniture crafted from nanmu wood – characteristic of Ming interiors – the pavilion is a modern recreation of the ‘scholars’ studios’ of China’s 17th century literati. Guests can enjoy activities such as calligraphy workshops, music, painting, tea and incense ceremonies, and Kunqu opera performances.
One of the largest in the Aman collection, this hotel’s Aman
Spa is set around a picturesque central courtyard. The complex houses eight treatment rooms, two double spa suites, a plunge pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and two swimming pools (one indoor and one outdoor). It also has a yoga and pilates studio with three walls of floor-to-ceiling glass offering tranquil views of a lake and forest gardens. The resort boasts five restaurants and bars, but the one that stands out most is Lazhu. Paying tribute to Jiangxi, where the camphor trees and villas originated, the Chinese restaurant serves dishes conceived during the Ming and Qing Dynasties with Cantonese classics. It includes seasonal produce from Amanyangyun’s on-site organic herb and vegetable garden.
The brand’s signature Asian-inflected minimalist aesthetic works wonders when married with the rustic timber beams, soaring ceilings and ornate stone carvings and inscriptions of Jiangxi’s ancient homes. If there’s one thing that Aman is extremely skilled at, it’s incorporating contemporary touches into historic buildings without ever losing the soul of the place.
Amanyangyun marries a minimalist aesthetic with the rustic timber beams and the soaring ceilings of Jiangxi’s ancient homes.
The Lakeside Café is one of six dining outlets at Aman’s first Shanghai property.
Interiors are swathed in a natural palette and decked in wood, stone and bamboo furnishings.
A modern interpretation of China’s 17th century ‘scholars’ studios’, Nan Shu Fang offers activities such as calligraphy workshops and Kunqu opera performances. Featuring ornate stone carvings and inscriptions by skilled craftsmen, each antique villa took three years or more to reconstruct.
Every villa bathroom boasts a gorgeous stone bath.