Aman Resorts is best known for finding spectacular locations and then designing beautiful resorts that fit into the surroundings. For its newest property in China, however, Aman has flipped that around. The centrepiece of this unusual property, 26 antique stone villas from the Ming and Qing dynasty, were transported more than 700 kilometres to this spot just outside Shanghai. The resort’s owner, Chinese millionaire Ma Dadong, not only rescued the centuries-old villas from his native Jiangxi province, which were in danger of being flooded by the construction of a new dam, but also uprooted 10,000 nearby camphor trees which were also set to disappear beneath the water. Many of the trees have been re-planted around the resort; once their branches, cropped back for the journey, start growing again, they will be magnificent.
Aman resorts tend to be popular with cocooning couples, but this one is different. The villas, which are the drawcard, are configured to cater for families or groups of friends travelling together. Each villa is paired with a contemporary annexe to provide a total of four bedrooms. Each self-contained villa complex also contains a Chinese garden, an expansive pool and a Jacuzzi. Travelling as a twosome? The resort also has a number of sleek one-bedroom Ming courtyard suites designed for couples.
Each antique villa is configured slightly differently but has retained its original dimensions, with just a few contemporary additions such as large windows. Stepping through the front door of mine, I pass through a series of small open-air courtyards, each featuring a small ornamental pool. The generously sized living and dining areas are arranged off one of the courtyards, with a private kitchen tucked away beyond the dining room. Behind the last courtyard lies the expansive bedroom, with its own living area, two dressing rooms, and a sprawling bathroom complete with stone tub. The clean lines of the furniture, which draw on mid-century modernist designs, work surprising well in the historic houses.
While your butler can whip up meals in your kitchen, you will want to try out the resort’s restaurants. Lazhu showcases the food of Jiangxi province, chilli-laden dishes which feature plenty of poultry and freshwater fish. The serene Namu restaurant features Japanese classics, while Aqua serves up Chinese and western breakfasts in the morning, and in the evening switches to sharing platters of contemporary Italian food delivered by Andrea Torre, who until recently was working the pans at Aman Venice.
Don’t be in a rush to head off-property: there is plenty to do on site. The 2800-metre destination spa offers not just a range of pampering options – from oxygen facials and private yoga lessons to sessions in a Russian banya – but also tailored wellness programs drawing on everything from Chinese traditional medicine to nutritional analysis. The resort also has a cultural institute called Nan Shufang, which celebrates classical Chinese traditions. Guests can enjoy a calligraphy class, a tea ceremony or an incense ceremony. The resort also offers day trips to a range of nearby places of interest, including historic water towns such as Qibao.