A few weeks ago, I enjoyed a memorable trip with one of my best friends in scenic Japan. The hotels we stayed at were spectacular, and the flights to/from Japan were not bad either. You can read my trip reports here:
- Trip report: Japan Airlines B77W Business Class London to Tokyo
- Review: Amanemu (today)
- Review: Aman Tokyo
- Review: Hyatt Regency Hakone
- Review: Park Hyatt Tokyo
- Review: St Regis Osaka
- Review: Andaz Tokyo
- Review: The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
- Trip report: British Airways B77W Business Class Tokyo to London
Today (July 27, 2016): Review of Amanemu, Shima Peninsula (Japan).
- Location: Google Maps
- Address: Japan, 〒517-0403 Mie Prefecture, Shima, 浜島町迫子2165
- Hotel website: Amanemu
- Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso
March 2016 welcomed the opening of Amanemu, a ultraluxe hot spring resort, located in the idyllic setting of Ise Shima National Park on the shores of Ago Bay in Western Japan. It’s the latest addition to the portfolio of Aman, the world’s most exclusive hotel brand. Providing the perfect rural complement to Aman Tokyo (which I reviewed here) and continuing Aman’s journey with Japan, Amanemu adopts a classic Japanese aesthetic in the ryokan tradition, with each of the 24 suites and four two-bedroom villas featuring their own onsen (mineral hot spring).
Amanemu features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels of Japan.
In this review (more info below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Amanemu enjoys a peaceful and picturesque location on the rugged coast of the Shima Peninsula in the southern Mie Prefecture, a popular leisure resort area for inhabitants of Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya. The peninsula is also commonly referred to as Ise-Shima National Park – or simply Ise-Shima – because of its natural scenery and cultural treasures, since it’s home to Japan most sacred shrines.
- Amanemu is easily accessed via Japan’s high speed rail network. Nagoya is a scenic 2 hour train journey (or 25-minute helicopter ride) from the resort, while Osaka and Kyoto are 2,5 and 3 hours away by train respectively. Trains run multiple times a day and arrive at Kashikojima station, where you will be welcomed by hotel staff for the 20-minute complimentary transfer to Amanemu in the resort’s limousine.
- Amanemu’s rural setting is a welcome respite from the urban hustle and bustle that most tourists will experience when travelling in Japan. The resort is located on a hilly, forested patch of land, that overlooks the blue waters of Ago Bay, also known as Bay of Pearls, because of its pearl culture. The bay is dotted with oyster rafts, idyllic islets, and rocky beaches.
- From the resort’s entrance, a winding driveway leads to the welcome pavilion, curving up a small hill lined with maple and cherry trees, hereby setting the scene for the rest of the property, which is rich in greenery and Japanese foliage. The stylish welcome pavilion overlooks a lovely garden with some small rice paddies.
- Upon arrival at the resort, I was greeted by Mrs. Hisayo Shimizu, Amanemu’s general manager. She was the nicest general manager I ever met at a resort, and showed commitment to anticipate the needs of all her guests, albeit in an non-intrusive manner. In fact, choosing a female manager for Amanemu was a very conscious decision of the Aman hotel group, since it honors one of the most important Japanese traditions relating to ryokan hospitality – which is that it is run by an ‘okami’, a female manager.
- Amanemu has been designed by the same team behind Aman Tokyo, Kerry Hill Architects. The resort’s architecture is based on a contemporary interpretation of so-called Minka buildings. The latter are vernacular, Japanese houses with traditional low-slung tiled roofs and dark-stained cedar exterior walls, reflective of the simple nature-influenced design of ryokans, Japan’s traditional bathing retreats. All of the resort’s pavilions are elegantly appointed in a composition of understated simplicity and interiors warm and carefully crafted in light Japanese timbers.
- Amanemu’s pavilions are clustered in four areas that are scattered around the resort grounds: the welcome pavilion, the leisure and dining facilities, the accommodations, and the spa. It’s very enjoyable to walk from one area to another, but because the resort grounds are spread out, one may prefer to make use of the complimentary buggy service that is offered by the hotel staff. In addition, there a plenty of bikes you can use for free to explore the resort grounds and beyond.
- The intimate hotel is comprised of 24 suites and four two-bedroom villas, all of which overlook either Ago Bay or the gardens. During my visit, I stayed in a so-called “Sora Suite”, which enjoyed partial sea views towards Ago Bay from the expansive deck and private garden. The suite itself featured a very comfortable king-sized bed, a separate dining corner, and a day bed. There were floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides of the bedroom, allowing for generous views of the surroundings while letting in a lovely sea breeze. The room’s décor was reminiscent of a traditional Japanese design, because of the use of natural materials, Japanese hinoki cypress wood, lofty ceilings, soothing tones, timber sliding shutters, and sliding doors with woven textile.
- The stunningly beautiful bathrooms at Amanemu feature charcoal-coloured basalt stone tiles and all have two sinks, a rain shower, and a massive granite bath. The latter function as a private onsen, which embraces the Japanese tradition of bathing in thermal spring waters and creates a space in which guests can switch off, relax and refuel.
- Amenemu’s villas are clustered in two areas, with a complex housing the leisure and dining facilities in between. This U-shaped complex consists of a cluster of pavilions, which you enter via a reception area, from where one walkway leads to the hotel’s only restaurant, while another walkway takes guests to the library and the bar, both featuring the resort’s signature minimalist décor. The walkways and pavilions embrace a Japanese rock garden at its center, while a 33 m (108 ft) freshwater infinity pool close by provides panoramic views over the resort grounds and Ago Bay at a distance. Sunken terraces constructed with basalt stone, located between the restaurant and bar, are the ideal spot for an aperitif and feature glass covered fireplaces.
- Centred on Japan’s centuries-old onsen tradition, the 2,000 sq m (21,500 sq ft), spectacular Aman Spa embraces the theme of water. Designed around a large onsen that is filled by natural mineral-rich waters and fringed by daybeds, the Aman Spa also features two private onsen pavilions, a watsu pool, four treatment suites, a state-of-the art fitness center, and an expansive glass-walled yoga studio with an outdoor deck overlooking a peaceful garden with a Tabunoki tree at its centre. Soaking in the onsen pools was absolutely blissful, especially at night, when the complex is beautifully enlightened by candles.
- Amanemu has only one restaurant, which can seat 50 guests at full capacity and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It offers delicious Japanese and Western cuisine. Based on the Japanese concept of ‘omakase’ where the chef selects dishes for his guests, a team of 12 chefs – headed by Masanobu Inaba (from the Conrad Tokyo) – are responsible for creating the menu which changes daily based on the fresh produce available. Be sure to try Matsusaka, one of the most acclaimed variety of Wagyu beef in Japan which originates from the region and is renowned for its high fat-to-meat ratio with characteristic marbling pattern.
- Guests have access to Nemu Golf Club, an 18-hole championship golf course overlooking Ago Bay. Located just a few minutes away from Amanemu and having recently been redesigned, the course represents a series of challenging holes with views of the bay in a serene setting.
- Amanemu offers an enlightening Aman journey through the region including private tours of the Ise Grande Shrine (Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine). The resort also offers visits with ama, female Japanese divers who played an integral role in the development of the pearl industry in the 19th Century, who today free-dive for shellfish such as oysters and abalone. Trips to The Kumano Kodo – a series of five ancient pilgrimage routes in the heart of the remote Kii Mountains that were recently named as UNESCO World Heritage routes – can also be arranged. If you don’t want to travel too far away during your stay, there also an excellent hiking trail close by which run through bamboo forest and along the shore.
- Amanemu is managed by Aman, the world’s most exclusive hotel brand, which manages a small collection of glamorous properties stretching from Asia to Europe to North Africa and the U.S. Among its habitués is a group of passionate repeat customers who call themselves ‘Aman junkies’ (count me in) and whose travel plans are determined by Aman locations. The brand is known for understated elegance of its resorts, exquisite attention to detail, minimalist design, heartfelt service, and otherworldly locations. Frankly, an Aman resort makes a St Regis or Ritz-Carlton look downright pedestrian.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Amanemu is hand’s down the best resort I visited during my recent holiday in Japan (with Aman Tokyo being a close second). There are some things you need to know though:
- The vegetation still feels sparse but the bamboo grass and seasonal trees will mature with time.
- Although it’s in a pretty spot, Amanemu’s setting will not blow you away. It’s located on a verdant hill and overlooks the sea in the distance, but it’s location is not as spectacular as most other Aman resorts. Nevertheless, this is Japan, where most visitors will stay in large cities for most of their holiday, and in this context, it’s lovely to spend a few days at Amanemu in a more rural setting to relax and recharge.
- The wooden deck around the pool and onsen is extremely hot for the feet on a sunny day, so take your slippers with you. In addition, during my stay, the pool area was unmanned and it took a long time before I could draw the attention of one of the staff members nearby.
- The villa pavilions seem to float over the surrounding gardens, and it’s a big step from the villa’s deck into the garden. I know this is respectful of traditional architecture, but some extra stairs would be helpful here, especially for those that have difficulties with walking.
- Yes, the hotel is extremely expensive but this is Japan – where holiday budgets come to die – and it’s an Aman hotel, the world’s most exclusive hotel brand. You should know that going into it. The most important thing is that when you can afford it, you will not be disappointed at all with the unique Japanese experience that awaits you. It’s a place you will never forget.
- Be prepared to become an Aman junkie as this will raise the bar for your future trips.
- Location: 8/10
- Design: 9/10
- Pool: 8/10
- Resort grounds: 9/10
- Rooms: 10/10
- Food: 10/10
- Spa: 10/10
- Service: 9/10
- Value for money: 8/10
- Overall experience: exceptional: 9/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Amanemu (and/or receive many free perks).
- Save moneyVirtuoso: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via (e.g. room upgrade, daily American or Japanese breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD food & beverage credit).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Japan enjoys all four seasons, with cherry blossoms usually at their best in late March and early April. The summer sees the largest amount of precipitation and humidity in Mie Prefecture, while autumn brings fresh, cool temperatures and light breezes. Winter is temperate, dry and often sunny.
HOW TO GET THERE
Situated in Shima, in Honshu’s Mie Prefecture, Amanemu lies approximately 186 miles (300 km) southwest of Tokyo and is easily accessed via Japan’s high-speed rail network. Nagoya is a scenic 2 hour train journey from the resort, while Osaka and Kyoto are 2,5 and 3 hours away by train respectively. Trains run multiple times a day, and arrive at Kashikojima station, where you will be welcomed by hotel staff for the 20-minute complimentary transfer to Amanemu in the resort’s limousine.
If you prefer to travel by plane, Amanemu is nearest to Nagoya Chubu International Airport (NGO), from where it is a 25-minute helicopter ride to the resort.