The Banyan Tree Lijiang sits on the quiet outskirts of Lijiang, a pretty green city in China's Yunnan province. There are stunning uninterrupted views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain throughout the property. At an elevation of 2400 metres, Lijiang dates back to the Song dynasty and was a centre for tea trade. Today, its blue skies, UNESCO-listed old town and Naxi minority culture are the major drawcards. In spring, snow peach blossoms across Lijiang's surrounding farmland. Naxi farmhouses are notable for the ceramic "tile cats" lurking on the roof with open mouths to catch good fortune.
The Banyan Tree's individual stone-walled villas recreate the atmosphere of an elegant Naxi village. Pathways lined with bamboo and wisteria follow running streams to a central pond and a three-storey pagoda. Yunnan was known for its carpentry in imperial times and the craftsmanship is on display in our villa, from its carved black gateway to the wooden ceiling beams decorated with fish, and the dark lattice framing of the windows.
I had a hard time getting my seven-year-old son to leave the outdoor heated spa with mountain views. Room service lunch was delivered to the teak table setting in our private garden, where birds chirped in bamboo thickets and topiary bushes. My son named our peak-roofed villa "the mansion". My favourite mountain view is from the bed. Cleverly designed with sliding carved timber and glass doors, the bedroom can be opened to the fresh air and garden by day, with fabric screens pulled down for complete privacy by night.
The restaurants here seat guests in Ming luxe furniture overlooking tranquil ponds. The dinner menu has a focus on Yunnan cuisine with creative presentation. Delicious pork chops are served on a heavy stone plate dripping with dark plum sauce. Lamb minced with cracked wheat and ginger is served in an elaborate yellow egg casing. Sticky rice comes in bamboo tubes. The Yunnan staple of fried rice with Dali ham is a hit. An international breakfast hits the right note for all ages with banana bread, bircher muesli and sweet mangoes. The drinks list includes local craft beers and a good selection of imported wines.
Baisha old town, a timber and stone Naxi village, is 10 minutes away by taxi and a quieter option for browsing craft and watching daily life than the more famous Lijiang old town, a maze of tea stores and jade merchants. Both are World Heritage listed, but Baisha is older, established in the Song Dynasty. Nearby Yuhu stone village offers horse rides. There is also multi-day trekking through the spectacular Tiger Leaping Gorge.
An elegant resort that offers space and privacy to relax like a wealthy Naxi tea merchant of old. This is a place to get away and do nothing, as a couple, family or as a group with friends.
Jet pool villas start from $US326 a night. See banyantree.com
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
The serene landscaping.
The hotpot offered so much food I felt compelled to eat it all.
Kirsty Needham stayed as a guest of Banyan Tree.