Once Japan’s imperial capital, Kyoto is now a city synonymous with tranquil pleasures, from exquisite Shinto shrines and tea houses to the pink haze of cherry blossoms that flourish briefly from late March. It’s here, in a 79-acre forest to the north of the city (yet only 15 minutes on foot from perhaps its most iconic building, Kinkaku-ji – the famed Golden Pavilion), that luxury hotel group Aman has opened its third Japanese outpost.
To stay in one of the resort’s black timber-latticed pavilions, which pepper a green network of moss-covered paths, streams and groves of cedar, cypress and maple, is to truly embrace escapism: this is the stylish way to do a disappearing act. For all the site’s leafy good looks, late Australian architect Kerry Hill – who also turned his hand to Aman’s Tokyo and Amanemu properties – had a heritage to consider: the pavilions’ plots were already defined by a series of platforms left by the previous owner.
The structures had been part of a vision for a textile museum, never realised, by one of Japan’s most respected collectors of obi, or kimono sash. Pitched at different heights within the tranquil landscaped gardens, the platforms now host modern, almost monastic forms that pay homage to the traditional Japanese ryokan inn.
Six are sequestered for the 26 guest rooms, all featuring floor-to-ceiling windows that frame vignettes of the forest. Hill clearly identified the resort’s showstopper as the setting itself, and his designs embrace the estate’s natural riches at every turn. Instead of vying for equal attention, interiors are imbued with a quiet drama, eschewing colour and ornamentation in favour of muted hues that feel seductively timeless.
The few carefully selected objects, which include scroll paintings by local artist Yuji Sakai among works from a selection of Kyoto-based artisans, are displayed in traditional tokonoma alcoves, while bespoke furniture is characterised by bold, curved lines and low-slung frames.
Loosely arranged around a central formal lawn– coined the Kerry Hill Garden in tribute – the estate houses a casual and convivial lounge and dining space (the ‘Living Pavilion’), Japanese restaurant Taka-an and the Aman Spa, this time with traditional onsen bathing facilities replete with local spring water.
There’s guided yoga, meditation led by a local monk and, of course, plenty of opportunities for shinrin-yoku, aka the restorative art of forest bathing. Travellers – Olympics-bound or otherwise – take heed. From £997 per night aman.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration February 2020
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