Wake up between mountains and a monastery at Amanfayun, a revamped village with dark, romantic rooms and verdant tea-field views. Five restaurants, seven spiritual sites within walking distance and a pretty stream decorated with ancient Buddhist carvings are your reasons to get out of bed each morning.
Get this when you book through us:
A picnic breakfast for two on a traditional boat, cruising down waterways fringed with weeping willows, lotuses and hidden pavilions
Double rooms from £632.88 (CNY5,750), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates usually include WiFi, daily afternoon tea (served in Fayun Place) and breakfast: choose from Chinese or Western options, served in the Steam House or the Restaurant, respectively.
Fayun Place is the heart of the hotel, home to a variety of cultural activities and performances. The two-storey building dates back to the 1800s and includes a relaxation area and internal courtyards. There are plans afoot to turn the upper storey into a whisky and cigar bar.
At the hotel
Traditional bathhouse; a heritage building dating back to the 1800s, where cultural activities take place; access to temples and a monastery; swimming pool. In rooms: TV, DVD player, minibar.
Our favourite rooms
Amanfayun Deluxe Suites 16–18 are perched high on the hill, with sweeping views of the valley and oodles of space (clocking in at 135sq m, compared to the 66sq m rooms and 88sq m suites).
There’s a serene 20m pool set in lush greenery, with views of the mountains.
Not your usual spa – this is a Chinese bathhouse (none of the rooms have bath tubs). Get your steam on in one of the three rooms, each of which has a circular tub for two, a steam room and double shower.
Your biggest emerald earrings/cuff links, to match the vivid greenery of the West Lake region; temple-appropriate attire for early morning monastery visits.
Little Smiths are welcome, but they’ll have to entertain themselves (there’s no crèche or kids club).
Don't settle for the same familiar spot – try each of the five restaurants.
Cotton and silks in summer; cashmere and cologne in winter.
There are five to choose from, including two managed by the hotel: the Steam House, which serves dim sum, and the Restaurant, which offers Western cuisine. Keen to try a monk’s diet? Sample some new vegetables at the Vegetarian House, whose chefs also feed the monks at the monastery next to Amanfayun. In a nice nod to tradition, dining times are scheduled in accordance with the monks’ early prayers and early nights. Hangzhou House serves local dishes, cooked to ancient recipes; the Tea House has a daily changing menu of small plates, served with the region’s famous tea (pick from a large selection of leaves and blends).
No bar as such, but you can have a drink in the Steam Room or the Restaurant. Tip: it's more about the tea here – don't leave without having a brew or two in the Tea House.
22 Fayun Lane, West Lake Street, West Lake Scenic Area
Amanfayun sits in the lush green hills of the West Lake district, a 40-minute drive from Hangzhou and an hour from Shanghai by train.
Fly into Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport (www.hzairport.com) or touch down in Shanghai Pudong International Airport (www.shanghaiairport.com) and hop on the train.
Hangzhou Station is 12km away, a half-hour drive. Hotel transfers are CNY300 a person, each way.
Worth getting out of bed for
Pay attention at the back, this is important: Hangzhou is extremely popular with Chinese tourists due to its wealth of cultural treasures, so you’ll need to be canny to beat the crowds. Ask the hotel to take you out on the West Lake in their private boat, so that you don’t get squashed on a public tour. Similarly, rise very early (pre-7am) to beat the hordes at the local temples and monasteries. There are seven within walking distance – the most famous of which is Lingyin Si or ‘Soul’s Retreat’, dating back to 326 AD. Visit the tea plantation on the property and the National Tea Museum, set in sprawling gardens with ponds and pavilions, just a few minutes away by car. Sit in the museum's traditional Tea House and taste the delicate infusions. Chinese cultural activities, including calligraphy, paper-cutting and performances of traditional music, take place in Fayun Place, which dates back to the 1800s. (Ask staff for the daily schedule.)
Avoid the crowds. You’re better off sticking with Amanfayun’s cluster of dining options, though it’s well worth getting a bowl of $3 noodles from the café inside the main Buddhist temple complex, just adjacent to Amanfayun village.
After jetting around for two days in Shanghai, it only took a bullet train (too quick for an adequate nap) and a rickety taxi (with windows too fogged from the rain to watch the bright city of Hangzhou fade away) to bring us to the secluded tea forests surrounding Amanfayun.
At first I thought the taxi had mistakenly taken us to the entrance of a temple, but realized quickly that Amanfayun was just that serene. Holding umbrellas for us, staff walked us down a path to the reception area where we were served locally grown tea and given an extensive overview of the property. Amanfayun was once a secluded village tucked between temples and scenic wonders (including one of the Ten Scenes of Qiantang in the Yuan Dynasty, no less).
Mr Smith was swamped with work back in LA so I brought a girlfriend of mine along but it was clear the hotel staff were under the impression that this was, in fact, a lovers getaway. After the introduction we were led back outside, over a small river, and deeper into the village where our room was located. The sound of traditional Chinese music welcomed us, and the heated floors were a nice relief from the rain outside. Most of the buildings at Amanfayun are original structures from the village, with high ceilings, dark wood, and windows that look out into the surrounding forest.
The open-plan rooms all have spa-quality showers instead of bathtubs, which is more than forgivable since the spa has a private bath experience that can be ready in just minutes with a phone call (make sure to stay in your robe afterward and ask for a buggy ride back to your room).
Jet-lag hit a little harder than expected and we ended up sleeping until dinner. We ran up to Steam House just before it closed; our first restaurant experience of the five on the property. Mrs Smith is something of an expert on Asian cuisine so I let her do the ordering – we feasted on incredible dishes like pigeon soup, duck, spring rolls, eggplant, cabbage and more local tea. Another restaurant in the compound serves Western-style meals, but we couldn’t stomach the thought of eating American food in China, so we opted to just check it out for a quick glass of wine after dinner. The sprawling dining room and bar did feel a bit more Western than the rest – perhaps this was one of the newer buildings on the property, but it was hard to know for sure. After our nightcap, we retired back to the heavenly bed and flicked through some Chinese television.
Breakfast the next morning took us happily back to Steam House for a traditional Chinese meal of congee, vegetables and – surprisingly – a fried donut. And of course, more tea. With the rain still pouring down, we decided it was a perfect spa day. We opted for the couples massage to keep our fictional love affair going. The private massage room was actually a series of rooms, with a relaxation area at the beginning where we sipped blue-butterfly-pea tea before heading into the steam room and the wooden bath. A cup of ginger juice on the edge of the bath was sadly not for drinking, but for pouring in the bath water.
Feeling fully restored post massage, we both agreed it was possibly the best spa experience of our lives.
Though it would have been easy to not leave the property at all, on the last day I ventured out into the city of Hangzhou while my faux Mrs Smith went back to the spa for another round. The hotel made travel easy and not only called me a taxi, but negotiated with the driver so that he would wait for me until I was done at the Tea Museum. I went on to the Bronze Art Museum, the Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and a shopping street clearly meant for tourists, where I used my rough bargaining skills to get a comical looking back massager for Mr Smith.
I underestimated the intensity of the language barrier here and realized I definitely should have kept my cabbie for the final ride back. After flagging down a taxi the driver eventually told me through hand motions to get out of the car due to lack of understanding. The next taxi dropped me off at the temple next to Amanfayun where my quickest option to get back was to buy a ticket for entry, which would have been free had I entered through the property. I sped through the crowds, just glancing at the temples, hoping to get back in time for our reservation at the Vegetarian House, where we had reserved the 10-course tasting menu.
Highlights of the meal – expertly cooked by monks from the nearby temple – were the bamboo mushroom with sour soup (served over a candle to keep it warm), the oddly-named ‘Black Mushroom of Constipation’, and the dessert course. I almost skipped over the single pistachio on the fruit plate, but am beyond glad I went for it because it turned out to be the best pistachio I will probably ever have in my life.
Amanfayun also offers calligraphy classes, tea ceremonies and other exciting activities that we missed out on because we didn’t plan our days out well enough. But we did spend a little time in the library, sipping tea and looking through literature on Chinese culture. Just as we were heading out, the calligraphy class was about to begin. But our taxi was waiting for us out front, and we had to be on our way back to reality and away from the beautiful (and all too brief) life of relaxation that we found at Amanfayun.
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