A short drive just beyond the city limits of Shanghai stands an ancient camphor forest. At its heart is the Emperor Tree; standing at 17 metres, it is the tallest of its kind in all of China. It has stood for more than 1,000 years - but not here, not in this spot. For in this woodland sanctuary, all is not what it seems.
Amanyangyun is the fourth Aman destination in China, the first in Shanghai, and the only one with its dwellings to have travelled more than 700 km. Opening on 1 January, 2018, it is the result of a staggeringly ambitious 15-year conservation initiative, which saw nothing less than the relocation of a forest and the reconstruction of a historic village.
The story begins in the city of Fuzhou in the province of Jiangxi, 700 km from Shanghai, where construction of a new reservoir threatened the existence of thousands of camphor trees and dozens of homes dating back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Over the course of a decade, Fuzhou-born entrepreneur Ma Dadong and Aman worked together to ensure these relics of China's ancient past would not be lost to history, overseeing the transportation and replanting of 10,000 trees - including the 80-tonne Emperor Tree - and the stone-by-stone disassembly and rebuilding of 50 antique houses.
Reborn 27 km southwest of Shanghai, these houses and trees now shape the soul of Amanyangyun, a 10 hectare retreat that presents a tranquil, nature-rich counterpart to the dynamic cosmopolitanism of its neighbouring city, while keeping the attractions and energy of the metropolis within easy reach.
Kerry Hill Architects - also behind Aman Tokyo - have meticulously restored the 50 disassembled antique houses to create 26 ancient dwellings for Amanyangyun, seamlessly integrating contemporary comfort into the 400-year-old fabric of the buildings. Many of the Antique Villas still bear the legacy of their bygone owners, in the form of ornate stone carvings and inscriptions that depict family hopes and histories.
Thirteen of the antique dwellings, now four-bedroom Antique Villas, measure between 800 and 1,000sq m, and include a private pool and Jacuzzi, as well as a courtyard - a signature feature of Chinese buildings of this age. Twelve of thehistoric homes rescued and restored from Jiangxi have been converted into refined Aman Residences to own. The result is a harmonious blend of modernity and tradition, and a living monument to the natural and human history of Jiangxi.
As well as the Antique Villas, Amanyangyun provides 24 newly created Ming Courtyard Suites that harmoniously complement their historic counterparts, offering guests expansive, light-flooded bedrooms and living areas characterised by refined wooden interiors and Aman's signature Asian-inflected minimalist design aesthetic. Crafted to balance old and new, these 65sq m spaces each pay tribute to the structure of the classic Chinese courtyard home, with two spacious private courtyards attached to each.
The spiritual heart of Amanyangyun is Nan Shu Fang. Named after the royal reading pavilion in the Forbidden City, this cultural complex has been created from the final and most architecturally impressive antique building to have made the journey from Fuzhou. Enhanced with furniture crafted from the nanmu wood characteristic of Ming interiors, the pavilion is a modern-day recreation of the 'scholars' studios' of 17th-century China's literati - a space to learn, contemplate and practise traditional crafts such as calligraphy, music and painting, or to watch one of Amanyangyun's frequent Kunqu Opera performances.
Across the courtyard, six dedicated rooms have been created to host traditional tea and incense ceremonies, while, directly facing the entrance, the Emperor Tree stands as a compelling visual reminder of the value of maintaining a connection with history. This is why Amanyangyun's guests are each invited to nourish the tree with water when they arrive - reflecting the importance of nurturing the past to enrich the future.
More than just a guardian of the past, Amanyangyun offers its guests the opportunity to experience advanced holistic wellness facilities; to explore China's heritage of arts, culture and philosophy; and to enjoy the finest local and international cuisine at its three headline restaurants.
Set around an impressive central courtyard, the 2,840sq m Aman Spa is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the Aman collection. Its ethos and atmosphere draw inspiration from the resort's name, 'Yang Yun', which is taken from an inscription made on a pavilion in Beijing's Forbidden City three centuries ago, and means 'nourishing cloud'. The complex houses eight treatment rooms, two double spa suites, extensive relaxation areas, a sauna, plunge pool, Jacuzzi and two swimming pools; indoor and out. Two private Spa Houses each offer a suite of thermal facilities, including a Russian banya and Turkish hammam. All unique to Aman, the treatment programmes and 15 specially developed spa journeys combine the ancient healing practices of traditional Chinese medicine with the pioneering advancements of 21st-century wellbeing technology.
The main spa building is also home to the fitness and movement centre, installed with professional cardio and strength equipment, and houses a Pilates and yoga studio where three walls of floor-to-ceiling glass provide inspiring, serene views over Amanyangyun's lake and resplendent forest gardens. Through its membership programme, a limited number of Shanghai residents will be granted an exclusive opportunity to escape the city and experience specialist therapies in this peaceful and timeless setting.
Amanyangyun's Cultural Discovery Centre, a convivial meeting ground for children, will offer a host of experiences, each designed to help the resort's younger guests unearth the rich culture of China. The club, open from 9am to 5pm, will welcome children aged from five to 12, and will also have a dedicated programme for teenagers. Nature programmes will take young guests on adventures to the resort's wetland to learn about the unique ecosystem that surrounds them, whilst keen foodies in the making can spend time on Amanyangyun's own organic herb and vegetable garden to learn about traditional Chinese farming techniques. Chinese lantern making, paper cutting, pottery moulding and tea ceremonies will also be organised, as well as Chinese shadow puppet shows. Children's yoga and spa treatments can also be arranged, on request, for those who feel that a bit of pampering is in order after a day spent exploring. A light food and beverage menu will be available throughout the day, along with a snack bar.
Positioned throughout the forest to allow guests to experience the rich variety of the landscape, each of Amanyangyun's five restaurants and bars is designed with a combination of refined modernity, material simplicity and sensitivity to both the local environment and the culinary philosophy of each concept.
The kitchens of Chinese restaurant Lazhu pay homage to Jiangxi province, the original home of Amanyangyun's camphor trees and Antique Villas, and headed up by the Executive Chef of the resort, Steve Miao, who was born and raised in Shanghai. Combining dishes first conceived during the Ming and Qing Dynasties with Cantonese classics, the menu makes use of the region's abundant soya plantations to offer an inventive array of tofu-based plates, as well as taking advantage of seasonal produce from Amanyangyun's 200sq m organic herb and vegetable garden.
At Nama, close to the lake, Executive Chef Keiji Matoba brings the flavour-led simplicity of Japan's washoku tradition to Amanyangyun. A menu of authentic, uncomplicated and elegant dishes combines the classic techniques of the Japanese kitchen with the finest and freshest ingredients available locally.
At lakeside Arva, Master Chef Andrea Torre - fresh from helming the kitchens of Aman Venice - presides over a menu that draws inspiration from Italy's farm-to-table gastronomic tradition, showcasing signature dishes and sharing plates in a warm and convivial atmosphere. Here, a bimonthly programme of Italian cookery classes offers guests hands-on instruction in pasta-, pastry- and mozzarella-making, among other culinary arts.
Amanyangyun guests can head to The Bar for expertly crafted cocktails, afternoon tea and a live jazz soundtrack in front of an antique fireplace, or stroll up the picturesque path to the Cigar Lounge. In this copper- and oak-accented space, a selection of fine cigars from Cuba and the Dominican Republic awaits, along with a humidor and temperature-controlled wine cellar where guests may store their personal collection for future visits.
Set in a scenic bamboo grove, the Banqueting Room allows for 200-seat receptions, conferences, weddings and special-occasion feasts with breath-taking views through its floor-to-ceiling windows, while a 25-seat cinema offers classic film screenings.
When it opens its doors on 1 January, 2018 Amanyangyun will stand tribute to one of the boldest conservation projects in China's history, while offering Aman guests the same standards of design, service, natural beauty and cultural immersion to which they are accustomed. Breathing new life into ancient history, Amanyangyun brings the promise of a soul-easing sanctuary to Shanghai; a place where mindful living, natural splendor and historic wonders interweave and thrive.
The Story of Amanyangyun
Located just outside downtown Shanghai, Amanyangyun is without doubt Aman's most ambitious project to date. The resort comprises a village of historic relocated and restored Ming and Qing Dynasty houses surrounded by an ancient and sacred camphor forest of 10,000 trees. The construction of a reservoir in the early 2000s in the Jiangxi province (some 700km from Shanghai) threatened the area's historical villages and indigenous camphor trees. In response, the project - spanning over a decade - entailed the disassembling, relocation and restoration of the houses and trees in a bid to preserve China's vanishing past. A rescue team of botanists, engineers, architects and master craftsmen, the latter of which documented fine architectural details for their later reconstruction, together confronted this challenge. The houses were painstakingly disassembled piece by piece, not only revealing their history but also the ancient building techniques used in their construction. The ancient houses joined the rescued camphor trees on a long journey, via a fleet of flat-bed trucks, to Shanghai, where they would later be resurrected in the form of Amanyangyun.
Vladislav Doronin, Chairman and CEO of Aman said, "Every Aman has a story to tell and this one is no exception. This project and the many challenges it presented were unimaginable, but we overcame them not only to defy the test of time, but to push the boundaries of traditional hospitality. This resort, a legacy to the past, stands proud as an archive for future generations. I am especially grateful to Ma Dadong, the mastermind behind this unique restoration project and whose foresight and determination has made it possible to preserve the magnificent history of China for generations to come."
Dadong, the lionhearted entrepreneur behind this ambitious rescue and restoration project and a native of Jiangxi, said, "We human beings with our short lifespan are nothing but a fleeting traveller at a moment in time. As a guardian of the past, I realised the only way to protect and celebrate our history was by instilling a new life and purpose into these ancient homes, and to allow the sacred trees that surround them, to be animated with renewed spirit. Much like the ornate stone carvings and the stories they hold, this ambitious project will continue to recount and nourish the next generation with hopes and expectations for the future."