Amanyangyun, 45 minutes’ drive from the centre of Shanghai, is unique for many reasons. Other properties are converted from traditional houses. Amanfayun, near Hangzhou, is a re-use of an entire one-street village. Its houses, now individual villas, are still surrounded by tea plantations. But Amanyangyun all began because an entrepreneurial developer, Ma Dadong, then only 26, was so appalled that villages in Fuzhou were being completely submerged by a forthcoming dam that he bought 13 of their traditional stone mansions. Each is 300-500 years old, dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. He rebuilt them stone by stone on 48 hectares, which include a beautiful lake, on land he conveniently already owned (he also shipped 10,000 camphor trees he had similarly rescued from the dam). See a picture of Ma Dadong, above, with his sister Marie Gao.
The resort, designed by Kerry Hill, opened January 2018. In all, including the reconstituted houses, there are 67 keys. The enormous estate has lots of fabulous outdoor vistas, small forests here, lawns and wooden picnic benches there. Pride of place is a centuries-old tree tied with a red ribbon. Pour water from a bowl nearby on to the tree’s roots, to nurture it and bring you good luck (in the photo to the right you can just make out, behind to the left, a kid of about six having a landscape painting lesson from a hotel employee). Dine, as I did – with GM Christophe Olivro – in the all-day Arva Italian restaurant, for memorable ravioli cacio & pepe with Pecorino and black truffle, and a glass of Heritage 1831 Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2016 Albert Bichot. At weekends, Arva offers barbecues with two-hour free-flow drinks.
Shanghai cognoscenti not surprisingly come to try this beautiful, stress-free place. Some of them are members of Nan Shu Fang clubs, run by Amanyangyun’s owner for those who, like him, want to learn more about China’s aesthetic culture: there are so far four clubs, two in Beijing, one in Xintiandi in Shanghai, and the other here. Yes, the hotel has six ‘studios’, small meeting rooms furnished with exquisite antiques where hotel guests can join members in learning calligraphy or the art of tea service. I was privileged, by the way, to be invited to take part in the once-a-year super-tea presentation at the Xintiandi club, where for three days ten top tea masters, including this year three from Taiwan, do their meticulous tea ritual twice a day for the lucky few.
Back at Amanyangyun, I did have time to walk the grounds, and look at some of the rescued camphor trees. I worked out evening and morning in the serious LifeFitness gym – Aman’s owner-chairman Vladislav Doronin is commendably into wellness. Next visit I want to have an oxygen treatment there. Finally, before leaving for the big city I had a good talk with Christophe Olivro over lunch in Lazhu restaurant. Born in Normandy, he had completed two years’ medical school before a part-time job as bellman in a Paris hotel convinced him to change tack. We nibbled on Lazhu’s Jiangxi cuisine, which offers such specialties as crispy crocker fish fillet tossed in sweet soy sauce and ginger (crocker fish seems to be a Chinese delight – Alibaba lists 123 crocker fish products). I tried open-topped siu mai dumplings, filled with pork and sea scallops. And then, sadly, the car was waiting to whisk me away from this unique resort. NOW SEE A VIDEO OF VILLA 106 AND THEN HAVE A PEEP AT THE NAN SHU FANG TEA SALON IN CENTRAL SHANGHAI