Amanfayun, Hangzhou, China
Situated in a wooded valley about 20 minutes from the center of Hangzhou, Amanfayun comprises a small village, with many of the structures dating to the early 1800s. It is linked by the wide Fayun Pathway, which extends for a little over a third of a mile and leads to Lingyin Si, one of China’s most active Buddhist temples.
On arrival, we were taken to a reception pavilion, a serene space with wooden beams, polished stone floors, lattice screens and a palette of restrained natural colors. The 42 rooms, suites and villas are linked by cobbled pathways and are set around private stone-walled courtyards. Their dignified exteriors display an almost monastic simplicity.
Inside, we found a four-poster bed screened by white gauze curtains, pale elmwood furniture, wire-framed cloth lanterns and cream walls hung with framed calligraphy. From the bedroom, a narrow corridor led to an extremely spacious stone-floored bath with underfloor heat, equipped with a large, walk-in rainfall shower, but no tub.
The aesthetic finesse of Amanresorts is unrivaled, and we walked around for a while in a trance of admiration. Finally, we flung wide the two sets of old wooden doors that opened into our courtyard. All we could hear was the splash and tumble of a stream and the occasional trill of unfamiliar birdsong.
Amanfayun offers four restaurants. One, Hangzhou House, serves regional cuisine, with dishes such as West Lake snow shrimp cooked with tea leaves, and chicken baked in lotus leaves sealed with mud. Our favorite, the Steam House, serves wonderful wonton soups, dumplings and pork buns. Elsewhere, The Restaurant provides Western cuisine and more conventional fine dining. The chief amenity at the resort is the Aman Spa, housed by traditional buildings set around stone courtyards and screened by bam-boo and magnolia trees. The complex contains a 60-foot heated outdoor pool, a modern gym and studios for Pilates, tai chi, yoga and meditation.
Amanfayun is an almost perfect hideaway, but it would not appeal to everyone: It is a place for those who want to slow down, to de-stress and, for a few days, to rediscover a more contemplative side to exis-tence.
Amanfayun Village Room, $700; Village Suite, $900; Village Villa, $1,600. 22 Fayun Nong, Hangzhou. Tel. (800) 477-9180 or (86) 571-8732-9999.
Four Seasons Hangzhou, Hangzhou, China
With just 78 rooms, the four seasons hangzhou is an unexpectedly intimate resort. Its traditional exterior is topped by pagoda roofs and surrounded by extensive water gardens that merge seamlessly with West Lake. It seems quite understated at first glance. But step inside, and you are confronted by a dazzling inte-rior that combines both Chinese and Western elements in a tour de force of contemporary design.
The accommodations are appropriately restful, with wood-and-silk-paneled walls complemented by subdued shades of dove gray, pale yellow and cream. As you would expect from Four Seasons, all con-temporary amenities are provided, and the marble baths are peerlessly well-appointed and equipped with soaking tubs, as well as walk-in showers. The public areas, however, are intended to amaze, and no ex-pense seems to have been spared.
Nowhere is this opulence more astonishing than in the spa, with its huge indoor pool surrounded by pillow-strewn alcoves. The nine treatment rooms, each with a marble sunken tub and delicate pink lighting, are among the most lavish and exquisite I have ever seen. Similarly, the resort’s Chinese restaurant, Jin Sha, with its 11 private dining pavilions overlooking an artificial lake, contrives to be extravagant without lapsing into vulgarity.
Four Seasons Hangzhou Deluxe Room, $515; Premier Room, $625; Lagoon Suite, $1,300. 5 Lingyin Road, Hangzhou. Tel. (800) 819-5053 or (86) 571-8829-8888.
Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, Blue Mountains, Australia
Located three hours northwest of sydney in the Blue Mountains of the Great Dividing Range, the Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa is set on a magnificent 4,000-acre former cattle ranch in a U-shaped valley defined by dramatic sandstone escarpments.
Forty colonial-style bungalows come with screened verandas, corrugated metal roofs and private decks. Inside, leather wing chairs and sofas are grouped around gas-burning fireplaces, and the extensive use of local materials provides indigenous character. Stylish slate-faced baths are equipped with separate tubs and showers. Every cottage has a private heated plunge pool.
Guests cycle, walk or call for buggy service to the main homestead. This contains two excellent restau-rants serving contemporary Australian cuisine. Somewhat surprisingly given the complex logistics of the sprawling estate, the resort offers a lengthy room service menu, so if you want to relax in the privacy of your bungalow, fine dining is just a phone call away. Other amenities include a heated swimming pool and a first-rate spa.
Wolgan is a blissful place to relax, but there is also a full daily schedule of activities, including horseback riding, hikes and four-wheel-drive “safaris.” One wonderful afternoon excursion delivered numerous wildlife sightings — including kangaroos — and ended with sundowners and canapés on a hilltop deck overlooking the property. We also enjoyed a narrated after-dinner stargazing session, learning to identify Southern Hemisphere con-stellations while sipping a first-rate local eau-de-vie.
Overall, this fine resort provides a memorable taste of the Australian great outdoors within easy reach of Sydney.
Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa Heritage Suite, $1,950 (including all meals, local wines and most activities). 2600 Wolgan Road, Wolgan Valley, Lithgow. Tel. (61) 2-6350-1800.
The Louise, Barossa Valley, Australia
The Barossa Valley north of Adelaide, Australia’s most famous wine region, is just 20 miles long. It is an enchanting place with a landscape of rolling hills and neat vineyards. Small but sophisticated towns such as Tanunda and Lyndoch display a Teutonic tidiness, which, along with excellent charcuteries and Lutheran churches, provides evidence of the German immigrants who joined the original British settlers.
Ideally situated for touring the Barossa vineyards, The Louise stands amid beautifully landscaped grounds that overlook neat rows of vines. An elegant 15-suite contemporary country house hotel, it is the ful-fillment of a dream for Jim Carreker, an American who had previously worked in Silicon Valley. A bank of lav-ender and a long rectangular pool line a stoned-paved path that leads up to the main building. This houses reception, the hotel’s acclaimed Appellation restaurant, a sauna and a swimming pool.
Our suite was exceptionally well-conceived. Opening a wooden gate in a stone wall, we found a pretty interior courtyard that later proved ideal for a sunny breakfast. The peaceful sitting room came with a high ceiling, crown moldings, a gas fireplace, a Bose CD player with an iPod dock, and contemporary paintings. French doors led to a spacious private terrace with twin chaises longues. The well-lit limestone bath was equipped with a whirlpool tub and a stall shower. (An additional outdoor shower was enclosed by a high stone wall.)
Appellation is one of the most highly rated restaurants in Australia, and despite occasionally slow ser-vice, we enjoyed a fine meal that included smoked salmon with tiny cubes of cucumber, tomato and crushed hazelnuts with a pool of wasabi cream; barley risotto with spinach and shavings of tangy local cheese; and filet of beef — all accompanied by a superb assortment of Barossa wines by the glass.
The Louise Suite, $445-$1,425, breakfast included. Corner of Seppeltsfield Road and Stonewall Road, Marananga. Tel. (61) 8-8562-2722.
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