You can live like a favoured Mandarin in Zhejiang Province at this gorgeous Aman resort, which is set within a constellation of Buddhist temples in the city of Hangzhou – it’s less a hotel and more a village with a communal bathhouse/spa, meeting hall, restaurants and a tea house. It’s the perfect retreat from the bustle and hassle of Hangzhou’s business hub just a 20-minute drive away, but you could easily pass a week here, hanging out in the gorgeous traditional stone and cedar wood houses, drinking one of the famous local teas while contemplating the transitoriness of human existence.
The emphasis here is on stopping the crazy roulette of modern life, taking things in at walking pace and by lantern light; so don’t expect a state-of-the-art gym or anything too high tech. You can luxuriate in an old-fashioned bathhouse, have a traditional bamboo massage, melt into a hot tub and be waited on by a cohort of therapists. There is t’ai chi, reflexology and yoga by arrangement and if you have enough time on your hands you can learn the Chinese calligraphy.
It’s extraordinary that the local government allowed its construction inside a national park and pilgrimage site – but then this is no ordinary hotel
It’s a wonderful place to practise mindfulness: you can meditate with actual monks at 4 am and attend Buddhist philosophy talks. As there is a renowned and ancient Buddhist Academy just a stone’s throw away, it seems almost churlish not to. Curiously, meditation classes do not appear on the wellbeing menu but perhaps the idea is that you find your own meditation: whether that’s tea drinking, walking or just looking at the magnolias.
And of course, there are plenty of limestone hills to explore as you climb up to ancient temples with great views across the West Lake (assuming you’re lucky enough to have a cloud-free morning). The 1,600-year-old temple of Lingshun is quite a hike but the smaller temple complex of Taoguangguanhai is easily accessible and the famous Lingyin Si (Soul’s Retreat) and Yongfu Si are a short amble away from the gate. The ancient rock Buddhas and Bodhisattvas carved into the limestone mountain above the river should really not be missed.
there are plenty of limestone hills to explore as you climb up to ancient temples with great views
The wonder of Amanfayun is its location. It’s extraordinary that the local government allowed its construction inside a national park and pilgrimage site – but then this is no ordinary hotel. For hundreds of years, the village had been home to the tea growers of the world-famous Longjing leaf, the champagne of green teas. The story goes that quite recently the growers became so wealthy that they didn’t know what to do with it all and applied to build flashy extensions on their modest stone-built ones. So to avoid a Millionaire’s Row effect inside a national park, the government gave them some land nearby to build their big houses. At some point, the Aman group came along and proposed something more in keeping for the derelict village.
The suites come replete with everything you need to host and perform your own tea ceremony including the furniture and varieties of Longjing and Jinquhangmai tea
The dwellings are (re)built in traditional stone with dark cedarwood shutters, high beams and reed rooves. Low lighting is employed throughout the whole resort to enhance the time warp effect and you will be hard pushed to find plastic anywhere (apart from the water bottles in the bedrooms and spa).
Despite looking like old China there is state-of-the-art temperature control including underfloor heating for the colder months and colonial style ceiling fans. The suites come replete with everything you need to host and perform your own tea ceremony including the furniture and varieties of Longjing and Jinquhangmai tea. And if you look carefully you can find the mod cons: widescreen TV, wifi, electric ceramic teapot.
The rooms have showers so that guests are encouraged to use the bathhouse/spa, which is a delight: individual treatment rooms off a central courtyard which come with large wooden tubs, a steam room and hot water which cascades out of a stone faucet. Fayun Place is the ‘great hall’ which houses a library stocked with art, politics and the history of China (alongside Dan Brown and David Baldacci!)
The Teahouse felt a little like a movie set from the Last Emperor,
The Steam House serves up dim-sum style and steamed local dishes. The subtle flavours of river shrimps with smoky Longjing tea leaves leave you wanting more. The salad of spicy lotus root with peanut was delicious as was Yunnar mushroom soup. Example main dishes include Yongcheng Lake Hairy Crab, Double-Boiled Chicken with Ginseng and Sea Bass with steamed beancurd and Jinhua ham. There is also a vegetarian restaurant, which is popular with the monks, and a Western style restaurant with a European chef which has an excellent selection of wines. This is where breakfast is taken (included in the room price) and you can get a decent coffee (hard to find outside the main cities), a good selection of a la carte European and American options.
The Teahouse felt a little like a movie set from the Last Emperor, laid on for the tourists, but was very atmospheric. It would be anathema to get your laptop out and start tapping away. Whispered conversations involving political or sexual intrigue were more the thing.
Prices start from £586 per room per night including taxes (CNY 5175) with breakfast, minibar and entrance once a day to the Lingyin Temple. amanfayun.com.
For more wellness travel ideas check out Queen of Retreats. Queen of Retreats was founded by Caroline Sylger Jones, an author and freelance journalist who travels the world checking out spas, retreats and healthy holidays for international newspapers, glossy magazines and websites.