Amanyangyun, 45 minutes’ drive from the centre of Shanghai, China, began because an entrepreneurial developer, Ma Dadong, then only 26, bought 13 traditional stone mansions being submerged by a dam. Each mansion, says Mary Gostelow, is 300-500 years old, dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. He rebuilt them stone by stone on 119 acres, which include a beautiful lake, on land he conveniently already owned (he also shipped 1,700 camphor trees he had similarly rescued from the dam).
The resort, designed by the late Kerry Hill, opened January 2018. In all, including the reconstituted houses, there are 67 keys. For those who want a truly once-off experience, choose one of the ancient mansions, which of course have all 21st century mod-cons and, as throughout the entire estate, what I found to be faultless WiFi. But, since the stones, including flooring, are original, be warned you might stub toes or trip on the slightly-raised ledges at door openings. Personally, I was thrilled to have been assigned villa 06, in a new single-floor terrace, with an open courtyard of greenery in front.
Inside, my rectangular villa included two open-air spaces, with greenery (one space had an electric-fuelled real-flame fire). The appeal was Japanese-Scandinavian sleek, with no unnecessaries. I was also only three minutes’ walk from the wellness building, and double that, along a covered, granite walkway past decorative pools, to the main reception.
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. Fortunately the hotel’s French GM, Christophe Olivro, is a highly-cultured aesthete who appreciates history and the arts as well as the other finest things in life: 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.
I worked out evening and morning in the significantly-serious LifeFitness gym, which has boxing gear. Pummel to your heart’s content looking out through all-wall windows to all that greenery. The adjacent spa, which offers oxygen treatment, will have to wait for my next visit.
As you would expect from this extraordinary place, food is spectacular. Dine, as I did, 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). I lunched, with many locals, in Lazhu, which is Jiangxi cuisine, on 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 loved Lazhu’s open-topped siu mai dumplings, filled with pork and sea scallops.
Shanghai A-listers 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 arts 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 antique-look pieces where hotel guests can join members in learning calligraphy or the art of tea service. I learned later that these gorgeous pieces of furniture, copies of priceless antiques in the Forbidden City in Beijing, are produced in a Beijing workshop that just happens to be owned by the entrepreneurial Mr Ma, and yes, if you fall in love with one of the satin-smooth cabinets you can order one, to be delivered to Malibu or Manhattan.
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. I was at a table hosted by Qian Qian Zhai, a charming young fashionista who is generally based at Amanyangyun, teaching tea at the resort. This day, at the Xintiandi Nan Shu Fang club, she had personally decorated the table with a display of living bonsai. Using a small electric kettle hidden under the table, she prepared Lishan Oolong tea in a glass tea pot, and we sipped from shot-sized handleless glass cups. Ma Dadong and his sister, Marie Gao, were very much in evidence, greeting what must in all have been about 60 club members, all Chinese and in the 25-50 age group.
And then, sadly, the car was waiting to whisk me away to a “real” world.