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Try living like real village people

Ex-residents' homes a luxury resort in Chinese hamlet

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From the outside, Amanfayun looks like the traditional Chinese village it used to be when several hundred tea farmers lived here.

Each day they would tend the nearby fields, growing the renowned Lingying Dragon Well green tea, for which this West Lake area of Hangzhou, 200 kilometres from Shanghai, is famous.

The Fayun villagers would also worship at the five Buddhist temples within walking distance of their homes. Lingyin Si ("Soul's Retreat") dates back to 326 AD and is one of the most important temples in China.

Today, while the villagers have moved on (the Chinese government relocated them so it could develop the tourist potential of Fayun), their homes remain -- now transformed into five-star accommodation by luxury travel's Amanresorts, which develops and operates unique luxury resorts around the world.

"We want our guests to experience what life would be like living in a Chinese village," said Ketut Bagiartha, resident manager.

"Around 300 families used to live here. Most of the village was rebuilt in the early '90s with the typical heavy dark timbers, clay tile roofs, walls of brick and earth and stone-tile floors (now with the radiant heating Aman installed) -- although some of the 47 dwellings are more than 100 years old. We added only a couple of buildings --to house the restaurant, for example."

The ambience lingers: Saffron-gowned monks walk along the cobblestone path, the Fayun Pathway, which still bisects the village. And you can almost picture the villagers gathering by the stream that flows through the 14-hectare property -- bathing, washing clothes, gossiping.

Today's inhabitants -- the guests at Amanfayun -- bathe in the circular wooden tubs at the spa, or in the swimming pool tucked into a verdant hillside. If nobody happens to be using the pool, attendants will quickly set up the lounge chairs with towels, fresh fruit and bottled water.

And that's what my companion and I noticed over and over during our visit: the genuinely friendly, willing service provided by all the staff -- from the welcome upon arrival to the restaurant servers to the greeting from staff stationed along the pathway.

It's a natural, well-meaning attitude, rather than a big-city formal approach.

Even the occasional glitch is more amusing than annoying. For example, the phone rang one evening. It was housekeeping and we eventually deciphered what was being said: "Would you like to have your daybed made up?"

I replied: "No thank you, it's now 10 p.m. and we're going to sleep in our night bed. Perhaps tomorrow."

Aman resorts are renowned for their spacious suites, and Amanfayun is no exception. The basic Village Rooms average 66 square metres; the Deluxe Village Suite we stayed in was 135 and had a private double-massage treatment room across our stone courtyard.

We chose to have a massage at the Aman Spa, which comprises five buildings surrounded by lush bamboo groves, tea bushes and magnolia trees. We had experienced hot stone massages before, but here we were treated to a hot bamboo massage: Warmed bamboo used both as part of the massage and also placed under parts of the body. It was hard to stay awake.

At the end of our treatment, we were served tea in delicate china with matching patterns; Aman is known for its attention to design and detail.

The formal tea ceremony was demonstrated during one of the tea interludes held every afternoon in Fayun Place, which consists of two stately houses dating back to the 1800s in the centre of the property.

Different presentations are offered to guests -- handicrafts, traditional Chinese medicine, regional cultural practices -- accompanied by music played on traditional instruments and complimentary savoury and sweet snacks. This created such a relaxing atmosphere we often almost drifted off to sleep.

Cultural events take place at other times, too. One evening, the resort hosted a performance featuring a traditional wedding ceremony accompanied by music played on traditional instruments.

One tradition we thoroughly enjoyed was sampling the variety of food available at the five restaurants in the village. We would have breakfast and sometimes lunch at the Amanfayun Restaurant (with its carefully ironed tablecloths), which serves Western cuisine. We have yet to taste better fresh pineapple juice or more succulent crispy salmon paired with sea bass.

The Hangzhou House and the Steam House served local and other Chinese dishes, but for us the Lingyin Vegetarian House's tasting menus were so unusual, so creative, so beautifully served -- so memorable for various reasons -- we had to return for a second dinner.

The food descriptions alone can be interesting. One of the items on the 10-course, $90 Karma Fast (presumably Feast) tasting menu was golden mushroom medlar and safflower soup.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 D6

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