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Posts tagged Hangzhou

Inspiring valley retreat

Pathway Amanfayun, Hangzhou

 

After two nights in the state-of-the-luxury-art Four Seasons hotel down at the lake, arriving at the Amanfayun in the hills was like entering a lost world. Somehow the computers in the scarcely furnished reception house did not seem to fit at all to the historic ambiance, created by the surrounding old, dark-colored wood.

 

At this point it is time to admit that I sometimes insist to carry my luggage to the room by my own. I am not a fan of endless seemingly minutes of twiddling thumbs in the room, minutes often without the potentially desired calmness for toilet related relief. However, this time I was glad that I did not insist. On the way to our room #16 we walked a bumpy stone path, passed detached guest houses and crossed a creek. Not really suitcase-friendly, but incomparably beautiful. The energy of the whole place was amazing. We were in the midst of fertile woods, in a valley with strongly green vegetation all around.

 

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The general low-key attitude of this exceptional property was only deranged by hotel guards standing evenly spread alongside the main path. That seemed to be a necessity as the way that leads through the resort is publicly accessible. In fact the whole area belongs to public authorities, with the Amanresorts commissioned to run the place as a hotel. The carefully restored hotel buildings once used to serve as a monk’s village. The area still is sacred, with ancient rock Buddhas and seven surrounding temples that seem to earn a lot of money with thousands of paying pilgrims every day.

 

Our room turned out to be a house – single-story, but a house. There was a spacious living room, an equally spacious bed room, and quite an ample bath room. The Space was framed by high grade materials which were formed to an Asian-minimalistic design. I cannot remember any ornamentation. It made you feel like on an expedition, apart from the matter of fact that there was all you needed, broadband internet included.

 

 

As part of the Amanfayun facilities there are two restaurants. We heard that the fancier one which serves international cuisine was very good. Anyway, we were looking for local stuff, so we ate at the more casual Steam House, where they serve Dim Sums as well as regional dishes. The food was not outstanding but good.

 

Apart from that there are three independent eateries on the property, one of which is the Lingyin Vegetarian House which tries to serve cloister compatible food with an haute-cuisine-appearance. Although I liked the idea, it did not work out for me. I found the dishes nice to look at, but at the same time rather tasteless. Contrariwise my companion Stefan loved it.

 

We both approved the Tea House, which is owned by tea master Pang Yin. Many years ago Pang Yin used to be a computer science teacher who one day started to collect Chinese antiques. Very soon her space ran out, so she had the idea of opening a tea house. Today she has become a well known Hangzhou society lady running three venues. She does not only have her own tea exclusively produced in different areas of the country, but also creates desserts for each type of tea. Saç Ekimi During my visit she told me that for each type of tea she boils water that was first resting on stones which she personally collected in the specific area from where each tea came from. This seemed quite an esoteric approach to me, if not a good marketing idea. The truth is that in her Tea House I had the best Pu’er of my life so far.

 

 

Of course the Long Jing Cha (“Dragon Well tea”) is THE big thing in Hangzhou. The hotel organized us a guided tour to nearby tea fields. We walked the picturesque Nine Creeks path, with rows of tea bushes on both sides of the hills. After that we visited the National Tea Museum, which houses a very nicely done exhibition with informative English explanations. Do you know the difference between yellow, white, green, red, and black tea? Then come and see. At the end of our tour we were given a tea ceremony during which we tried several kinds of teas, among them a state-of-the-art Long Jing. I realized that there is no tea culture at all in Europe, with England included.

 


Back at the Amanfayun I absolutely fell in love with the Fayun Place, the magical centerpiece of the property. It consists of two 19th century courtyard houses that were linked together and now serve as a peaceful retreat, with a relaxing library on the first floor. On the ground floor there is high tea served in the afternoons, with players of traditional instruments producing atmospheric “lounge” music.

 

I did not use the Amanfayun Spa facilities, a five-structure-compound surrounded by bamboo groves and magnolia trees, but without any doubt they provide individual relaxation experiences combined with high-standard services. It includes a 20-metre heated pool, several treatment rooms, a gym, a bath house, and a room for Pilates and yoga.

 

Above all: The friendly staff, all dressed in dark-brown and wide tailored uniforms, acted strikingly naturally. At the end it was really hard to leave.

 

Hotel website

The epitome of luxury

Smoked tea egg couldn't taste better

Four Seasons Hangzhou at West Lake

 

One of the biggest challenges for international luxury hotels in China is without a doubt to assure that their staff speaks English. Especially in provincial towns – although it seems odd for Westerners to call megacities like Hangzhou (杭州) that way – only very few hotel managers seem to be aware of that topic. The reasons are obvious: predominantly domestic customers, less qualified applicants than demanded and a general high fluctuation seem to impinge on the motivation to serve international clients as professional as they would deserve it. Nevertheless, in a long term these hotels run the risk of demolishing the high-profile image of the international brands they represent.

 

The Four Seasons Hangzhou is different, and its General Manager Rudolf van Dijk seems to be relieved by the compliments we delivered personally during our visit. “We are very selective regarding our personnel decisions. While recruiting for the hotel opening more than two years ago we probably accepted one applicant out of ten.” What exactly is the qualification the Dutch is searching for? “I prefer ‘fresh’ people, with no experience in the hospitality business at all. We train our people by ourselves, and we are searching for specific characters.”

 

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I did not only find the staff of this hotel outstanding, but everything around it. The location is unique. Situated right at the history-charged West Lake, this world heritage treasure can easily be experienced by foot or by hired hotel-bicycles. Moreover, the Four Seasons Hangzhou is a truly leisure resort. There is no multi-floor-building slated to spoil as many (business) people as possible. This hotel is really exclusive, and its venues are split into several low structured buildings amidst an inviting green park.

 

 

There is no need for the hotel to drop their guest’s names in the press, like other houses in the West started to do a long time ago. It is obvious that the Chinese elite, be it politicians, actors or well known business people thankfully accept the possibility to stay in one of the exclusive villas inside the property. Besides these over-the-top-choices the hotel offers an exclusive amount of 78 guest rooms, five of which are classified as suites. I did not get a room with view of the West Lake, although such exist, nevertheless I absolutely enjoyed my stay from the first moment when I entered the “room”, which consisted of a hallway, a spacious bath room with a free-standing bath tub, a bed room with a couch, a hidden ample TV screen and a desk and, finally, a roofed balcony.

 

The architecture in the whole property is defined as “Jing Nan”, a traditional regional style with pagoda-like roofs which used to be popular during the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. The resort consists of a couple of rather small-scale buildings that are linked by walkways, which lead through pleasant water gardens. Also the interior design seems highly deliberated. I especially loved the spa facilities. The treatment was great, but I was blown away by the atmospheric design by Bensley Design Studios & Concept Saphyr. In a perfect way it fulfills the approach of a contemporary interpretation of Chinese traditions by using natural materials and including water flows.

 

And then there is this great food venue called the Jin Sha restaurant. Jin Sha means “Golden Beach”, and refers to a historic place near the hotel. The Jin Sha restaurant is the spot where the idea to start this blog was born. To us – my dear friend Stefan Tauchhammer and me – in that very special moment it appeared as the most perfect epitome of luxury in contemporary China. The cuisine is defined as Shanghainese and Cantonese with local influences.

 

 

Executive Chef Tan Chwee Chan designs his dishes in a creative way, reminding on the optical pleasures you find in the French haute cuisine. The plate with appetizers was a good start, both visually and flavorfully. It consisting of delicious bits of sweet glutinous rice in a lotus root, half of a tea smoked egg that was topped with some caviar and topping pea starch noodle rolls with vegetables and sesame, and honey barbecued pork. It was followed by a cod fish soup with mushrooms and ham, a steamed crab claw on egg white and sea urchin sauce, and furthermore a cube of braised pork belly that came with an abalone on its side.

 

I guess I gave some good reasons to stay there for a while.

 

Hotel website