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.
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-table-cloth-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, aman.com