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How Aman turned a centuries-old Chinese village into a five-star resort

With the help of a passionate Chinese businessman, Aman Resorts saved and restored an entire village from the Qing and Ming dynasties

Nikki Ekstein | Bloomberg 

Hotel, resort

In reforested woodlands 20 miles southwest of Shanghai, a stunning new hotel is taking shape, one ancient brick at a time. When it opens in early January, Amanyangyun, the 31st hotel in the Aman portfolio and the company’s most ambitious project to date, will join a crowded scene of red-hot Chinese debuts. Only a few miles away, Capella has recently restored an entire corridor of 1930s shikumen townhouses to create a standard-setting hotel for the burgeoning financial hub; in Hong Kong, the soon-to-pop Murray is resurrecting a locally beloved building with a no-expenses-spared design by Sir Norman Foster; in Beijing, Peninsula has just undertaken a top-to-bottom renovation of its dramatic, all-suite stalwart. So what makes Amanyangyun so impressive? An unlikely backstory, a decade-long conservation project and a commitment to historical preservation that gives any landmarked property a run for its money.
 
The concept

 
If most successful have a sense of place, Amanyangyun's also has a sense of time. In a feat of preservation spearheaded by Chinese entrepreneur Ma Dadong, the resort consists primarily of 50 historic homes  — still in its original location. Most are between 300 and 500 years old, and all have been rescued from an untimely fate.
 
The backstory
 
In the early 2000s, Ma — who found his success in real estate and investment management — returned to his native Jiangxi province on a routine
 
visit home, only to find a major change afoot. The government had just approved the construction of a dam that would imperil the area's historic residences, forcing their owners to relocate and leaving dozens of Ming and Qing dynasty homes to rot under water.
 
A monumental effort
 
Although the exact numbers are rough, given the length of the project, more than 200 employees were said to have been hired to carry out Ma's vision, beginning with locals in Jiangxi who broke down 50 ancient homes beam by beam and stone by stone. (Workers counted an average of 100,000 stones per dwelling, said Benoit Amado, Amanyangyun's general manager.) Each piece was then individually catalogued and sent to a warehouse outside for safekeeping. Rebuilding the structures, Amado said, took upward of three years per home.
 
Tributes to residents past
 
Certain pieces of each historic villa tell the story of their former occupants, such as a reclaimed plaque displayed above a doorway. Although the characters are difficult to decipher — think of them as a Chinese equivalent to old English — they hint at a family with a passion for literature. Most likely, they led to a study or library.
 
The finished product
 
Besides the meticulously recreated historic courtyards, these suites will also have private pools and jacuzzis, two-toned wood trim around contemporary platform beds, butler service and views of the camphor forest.
 
A full experience
Aside from the fully reconstructed villas, the resort will offer a broad array of public spaces and amenities. Amanyangyun's spa will be a highlight — the company says it's among the largest and most comprehensive of any Aman resort, with 30,500 square feet and a menu of treatments inspired by Chinese medicine. Also worth exploring: Lazhu, the most locally inspired of three on-site restaurants. Shanghai-born chef Stee Miao will focus on traditional dishes that hail from Jiangxi province, many with roots that date to the Ming and Qing dynasties. Highlights include a super-spicy, slowly braised duck in ginger and soy gravy and glazed young Mandarin fish with chilli sauce, sourced from the largest fresh water lake in
 
Getting there
Amanyangyun is a 45-minute drive from Shanghai, accessible via hotel transfer or rental car, and opens on Jan 8, 2018.
© Bloomberg

First Published: Sat, December 02 2017. 00:36 IST
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