26 Thursday March, 2015
Ampersand’s China specialist, Charlie Walker, was extremely fortunate to be one of Amandayan’s first guests. In typically effortless Aman style, there were none of the teething issues that are usually par for the course for a new opening – in fact, Amandayan turned out to be Charlie’s favourite of the three Aman Resorts in China, if not his favourite hotel in China! Read on to find out why…
Just two weeks after the Amandayan's doors opened, I was lucky enough to find myself walking through them into the cavernous entrance hall of radiant wooden pillars, panelling and traditional southwest Chinese lattice-work. The coincidence of the opening and my research trip to the pretty town of Lijiang in South West China was both serendipitous and envy-provoking among my colleagues.
Amandayan is the latest arrival in the Aman Resort family and, although operational now, the grand opening is planned for this summer. Architect Ed Tuttle (an Aman design veteran) sought inspiration from the traditional architectural styles of the local Naxi people (descended from Tibetan nomads who left the plateau and settled northwest Yunnan province over 1,000 years ago). The consistently graceful and clean design is typical of Aman: contemporary and luxurious yet unarguably a deeply-considered product of its environment.
The setting at the heart of Lijiang Old Town is a real plus. This fabled town is crisscrossed with quaint stone-paved alleys. Small canals and streams adorn these thoroughfares which are all presided over by heavily blossoming willow trees and typically-Chinese, sloping tiled roofs. In the centre of the Old Town lies Lion Hill and proudly stood atop the hill is Amandayan. And yet, there is no sense of being exposed to the town below. The resort is literally a stone's throw from the town but enjoys a peaceful sense of complete removal. The smattering of surrounding trees manage to create a sense of privacy and sanctuary without limiting light or panoramas.
The exclusive views offered over the rooftops of the town are simply peerless, particularly in the early morning when the sun slips over the mountain tops and rays dart slantingly through the fresh alpine air. On one side of the property is a small pagoda where guests can enjoy a private, candlelit dinner with far reaching views to distant mountain peaks and a golden Buddhist stupa.
The Courtyard Suites and the Deluxe Suites are identical in design with the exception that the ground floor Courtyard Suites have an elegant stone floor while the first floor Deluxe Suites have wood flooring to match the rest of the interior and a gabled ceiling. The Deluxe Suites also offer better views from their higher vantage point and are, in my humble opinion, worth the extra cost.
The beauty of the suites is in their simplicity. There is a sense feeling of space and a complete absence of clutter yet inclusion of everything one could want to feel, relaxed, at home and spoiled. The spacious, walk-in wardrobe and the bright but soft lighting around the bathroom mirrors are great features of convenience in the bathroom. Meanwhile the lovingly manicured banzai tree on a pedestal is one of the subtle decorative flourishes that add character.
A morning swim in the pool felt like a glorious throwback to another era. The heated, 20m outdoor pool is surrounded by more wood-panelling with lattice-screened doors which house the spa. The simplicity and absence of the intrusion of visible modernity made me feel I was swimming laps in a Ming-dynasty teahouse-cum-massage parlour. There was just myself, the water, and a stealthily-placed tea set, steaming and within reach of the shallow end.
Sadly the spa was not yet open when I visited but I caught a sneak peak of treatment rooms equally as uncluttered and modernity-unencumbered as the suites. Round wooden bathtubs, like the bottom halves of great, oaken wine casks, stood waiting for inhabitants to unravel under the expert ministrations of a therapeutic body scrub before moving to the bed for a signature Aman treatment (likely incorporating selected wisdom from traditional Chinese medicine).
I enjoyed a meal of countless courses and dishes in the Chinese restaurant Man Yi Xuan ('Lingering Peace') which was a true marathon. From exquisite Cantonese-style prawn dumplings and rich ginseng chicken soup to crispy duck skin and spicy Sichuan fare. This feast left me happily staggering but still unable to turn down a desert of homemade almond ice cream washed down with a couple of whiskeys from an enviable selection. Breakfast (taken in the The Lounge) was an utterly comprehensive feast that decided to not discriminate between the various different western approaches to morning dining and simply serve them all.
There is also an in house museum (opposite the traditional Tea House which promises to be wonderful) being developed in collaboration with National Geographic. The museum will house information, photographs and original artefacts relating to the famed Austrian-American Botanist Joseph Rock who made Lijiang his home for several years before the 1949 Communist revolution. The museum was not quite ready when I saw it but, being open only to guests, it will be the best and most peaceful way to learn more about the life of this intrepid explorer-botanist.
China is a rapidly opening luxury destination. In fact, it is wide open and fast expanding. Remote Yunnan province is a pocket of history, beauty and tradition that should never be overlooked. I have found that Amandayan is more than just a juicy incentive to visit the delightful town of Lijiang. The wonders of Lijiang could now be seen as a good excuse to treat oneself to an unforgettable stay at Amandayan.
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