FIND THE PATH TO BLISS

Australian House & Garden
A village-resort in the hills of China’s Hangzhou is a Zen experience like no other, writes Vanessa Walker.

Tea fields and forests surround the resort. Photography from Amanresorts.

Tea fields and forests surround the resort. Photography from Amanresorts.

A gong sounds in the distance, reverberating around the heavily forested hills near West Lake in Hangzhou, southern-eastern China. It’s the call to prayer for monks in one of China’s thriving Buddhist enclaves; a community of seven temples scattered throughout the Wulin Mountains.

The origins of this community have been traced back to 326AD, when an Indian monk came to China and built the Lingyin Si, or Soul’s Retreat, temple. Over the centuries, monasteries were created, with their monks carving numerous Buddhist figures into the escarpment’s niches and grottos.

More than 1685 years later, this religious, serene, atmospheric place swims against the tide of modern China. And today, nestled among the sweet osmanthus, magnolia, camphor and fig trees is a small village established by retired monks and nuns – with some buildings more than a century old – that has been turned into a one-of-a-kind ‘village resort’, called Amanfayun.

Encountering Amanfayun for the first time is like stepping into a Zhang Yimou film (he of Raise the Red Lantern and the Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies fame); my every glance is greeted with a kind of mise en scene; a bright-yellow parasol against the muted stone buildings, a glimpse into an ancient courtyard to someone sweeping away the fallen autumn leaves, a carved inscription in stone framed by lush wet vines. Although I arrive in busy Hangzhou in the afternoon, so thoroughly does the atmosphere change once here that by evening, I feel myself becoming gently untethered from the concerns of the day.

Encountering Amanfayun for the first time is like stepping into a zhang yimou film.

Like many Amanresorts properties, Amanfayun has been renovated from the inside out, with the existing exteriors reshaped by only the lightest of touches; the boundaries of the property are fuzzy, with the intent of being intimate and involved with the cultural life of the community, rather than separating.

The entire resort is situated along each side of the 600m-long Fayun Pathway, which is walked by locals and monks alike. One end of the public path marks the end of Amanfayun’s 14ha and the start of Lingyin Si, scattered across the hills are the Temple of Goodness, the Temple of Purity and the Temple of Reflection, the only nunnery in the region.

The next morning, I open my shutters to see the mist hanging low among the trees. My dwelling, with its camphor-wood walls, stone tiles, latticework windows and elmwood furniture is the height of ‘luxurious austerity’. Because Amanfayun was originally a village, each of the 47 courtyard abodes is unique. I walk along the path, past other courtyards to The Restaurant – one of several eateries within the property then wander along a path beside a stream that was once the focal point of life here, and come across some ancient Buddha statues carved into the cliffs.

LEFT A local musician plays at Fayun Place. RIGHT Fayun Pathway connects each part of the resort; it begins at the reception area and winds its way through the property, ending at the entrance to Lingyin Si.

LEFT A local musician plays at Fayun Place. RIGHT Fayun Pathway connects each part of the resort; it begins at the reception area and winds its way through the property, ending at the entrance to Lingyin Si.

Later, I lunch on delicious noodles at the Steam House, while watching chefs tossing sizzling food around their woks in the open kitchen, before making my way to Fayun Place; two linked courthouses transformed into a spacious place to relax or meet up with other guests. There’s a library, a cigar room, and tatami-style reading rooms and here, every afternoon, sweet treats and lonjin (green) tea are served to each guest. There are also occasional talks on topics ranging from Chinese art to tea rituals.

My stay concludes with a visit to the Tea House. It’s a traditional establishment where calligraphy and hand-drawn sketches adorn the walls and heavy curtains filter the light, just so, on the dark furniture. I am served a plate of delicate cakes and dried fruit along with samples of teas this area is renowned for… just another treasured tradition that elevates my spirits, and my understanding of this culture.


Amanfayun

Prices range from US$700pp (about AUD$673) per night for a Village Room to US$2300pp per night (about A$2215)for Amanfayun Villa; www.amanresorts.com/amanfayun/home.aspx.

HANGZHOU Hangzhou is about an hour by high-speed train from Shanghai. It’s famous for West Lake, a beautiful body of water bounded by pagodas and paths that wrap around and cut through it.

OPERA Do not miss Impression West Lake, a show directed by Zhang Yimou, staged nightly on the lake. Dazzling sets, magnificent lighting and beguiling choreography make this a truly memorable night.

SHOPPING Hangzhou, 20 minutes drive from Amanfayun, is famous for its silk. Xinhua and Jiankang have been the centre of silk production for many centuries.