Mary Gostelow visits Aman’s newest resort in Japan
Many luxury travellers have heard about Aman’s latest resort Amanemu but, as if it was the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, like that golden wonder, fewer know where it actually is. Thanks to help from the hotel, and Aman’s excellent team in London, my arrival journey involved one flight from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Osaka’s Itami airport, one limousine bus, two trains, and then, on reaching Kashikojima, I’m picked up in a Lexus.
Immediately on arrival came a sense of relief and wonderment, with fresh air and deep breaths. In villa 10, one of 24, all in semi-detached, grey-tiled houses with private gardens before and behind, one of the first things I did was look around. Each space, designed like the entire resort, is designed by Kerry Hill. I had 100 sq m of fabulous honey-coloured cypress soaring to a same-wood cathedral ceiling; attached to my living-bedroom was a dark grey stone bathing area that includes a big basalt tub with three taps, hot, cold and near-boiling onsen, hot spring water.
This is my own spa area, no wonder many, especially the 60% of guests who are Japanese, come back again and again, maybe drawn by the fact that Amanemu is on the banks of idyllic Ago Bay in beautiful Ise Shima National Park in Shima, Japan’s smallest mainland province. No wonder, too, that Yamaha, the motorbike and piano company, chose here for an educational camp, then called Nemu, or Yamaha Village – people came, perhaps by bike but certainly to perfect their music skills. Then the entire area was bought by Mitsui Fudosan, whose resort division also includes Halekulani, in Honolulu. Mitsui Fudosan kept Nemu’s three golf courses and the original three-star Nemu hotel, but they added the luxury resort that has become Amanemu. Today people also come for the Aman brand, the property’s food, and for wellness.
I loved eating in The Restaurant, where chef Masanobu Inaba, formerly at Conrad Tokyo. We went for Ise-shima Roman Set: a jellied anglerfish appetizer and a bite of pufferfish milt (intestine) on a barely-visible risotto, broth with local tuna and tofu, assorted sashimi, steamed abalone, a melt-in-mouth already-sliced Matsusaka beef sirloin and Zuwai crab blended with steamed rice. There was no space for the white bean soup dessert, with dumpling. We toasted Aman in its own-label Masumi Sake 1662, from Miyataka Brewing Co, and went on, interestingly, to the recommended wine by glass, a Greek Xinomavro, by Kir-Yanni Estate Ramnista, owned by an eccentric collector, Yiannis Boutaris.
At night the gorgeous cedar tables are set with burgundy and black-swirl table mats and sage napkins, upright in drinking glasses. At breakfast, the only colour on tables is a single green leaf, in a clear pot (white napkins are rolled in interlinking bamboo rings, direct on tabletops). The view outside, down to the Bay, provides all the colour one wants, and there are more bright colours on the dishes of fruits and salad stuffs wheeled silently in on a trolley, its smooth wood exactly matching the champagne of chairs, banquettes, floors, screens, everything.
After breakfast I headed out for a bike ride, up and down the hills on the estate – then back to the gym, a good LifeFitness setup with amazing views to the main onsen area. This has two outdoor pools, one 38 and one 41 degrees. Some Japanese, I was told, are initially rather amazed that they are shared, and everyone must wear swim gear: traditionally, men and women are naked in their one-sex facilities.
I was later taken buggy-touring, by Yoshi Kubota, the highly-sophisticated England-educated deputy to another female professional, hotel GM Hisayo Shimizu who was in Tokyo – apparently Adrian Zecha has recognised Shimizu’s potential when she was a flight attendant on an ANA flight he was taking. Kubota-san took me to see the Nemu marina, where summer long Amanemu guests can take an assortment of boating trips, or have a drink or outside barbecue overlooking the water.
We saw the spa, another serene area where journeys, from 90 to 180 minutes, change with the seasons. Spring time? Cleanse with a seasalt compress of yomogi mugwort, and neroli and green tea essential oils. We saw the library, a magnetic room with a fireplace and views of manicured trees through all the picture windows, as if to divert me from so many gorgeous books. And then, all too soon, it was time, very sadly, to leave this fascinating luxury resort.