Carved from a former Tibetan home cradled in a remote hillside in Yunnan province, Sunyata Hotel Meili stands as the antithesis to the hyper-consumerism and materialism that drives the modern world. Deriving its name from the Sanskrit word for “emptiness”, the 19-room hotel harks back to a more poetic way of life with an aesthetic informed both by traditional Tibetan architecture and Japanese wabi-sabi philosophy. Nestled among a cluster of 22 Shangri-La households in a centuries-old village, the hotel both honors and continues the cultural narrative of its exceptional setting. A restaurant serves authentic seasonal Yunnan cuisine, and the jagged beauty of the sacred Snow Meili Mountain is offered up to guests from the rooftop lounge Kawagebo, which also serves a neighborhood hub come nightfall.
Acclaimed studio Zhao Yang Architects were responsible for transforming the two-and-a-half storey homestead-turned-hostel into a four-floor hotel inspired by traditional local architecture. Proving the adage correct that good things come to those who wait, the logistical challenges of sensitively restoring an ancient structure located 3,600 meters above sea level meant the project took 1,095 days to complete. The result is an intoxicating fusion of old and new, the architectural language of Sunyata is traditional, albeit supported by modern practices.
The original rammed-earth walls have been retained and reinforced with concrete to strengthen the structure, while the expansive atrium features a gold curved arch that has been artfully purposed to reflect natural light and illuminate the interiors. In a purely modern flourish, the restaurant resides in a newly-constructed steel and glass edifice that offers a peerless panorama over the rugged awe-inspiring mountain terrain.
In one of the best instances of wabi-sabi outside of Japan, Sunyata celebrates both the beauty of imperfection and the freedom of “emptiness”. The restrained interiors are defined by the aged texture of natural materials, salvaged timber, roughly-hewn furniture, and rustic pottery, all curated by designer Ke Xie. Oversized, deep wooden window frames showcase the dramatic mountainous landscape and allow sunlight to flood the guestrooms and public areas, creating a profound sense of lightness and calm. In harmonious balance with its core wabi-sabi concept, the hotel is imbued with a proud sense of location and heritage, reflected in features such as the Tibetan-style fireplaces, Buddhist murals and reclaimed doors.
A soothing nude color palette is used throughout the hotel’s 19 rooms and suites, which all feature an open-studio layout and uninterrupted views over the surrounding peaks. Framed by coarse bamboo beams and uneven concrete walls, each is outfitted with furniture crafted by local artisans, as well as custom-made pieces from the Yiji Collection by Ke Xie. The 45-square-meter Snow Mountain Room has a balcony that is perfectly placed to soak up the extraordinary natural setting, while Sunyata’s 70-square-meter standalone villa, Noble House, takes the “room with a view” to the next level with a private terrace and bathtub overlooking the gardens and dense forest beyond.
A hand-selected collection of multilingual books, ranging from literature to nature and social science books about the Shangri-La region, is placed in each room as an invitation for guests to take a break from the technological treadmill of modern life. And for the most ardent of bibliophiles, the hotel’s spectacular library houses The Sonnets of Snow Mountains, a moving tribute to the spiritual sanctuary of Meili by Chinese avant-garde poet Hua Ma, alongside an impressive curation of limited-edition publications and rare vintage volumes.
Subtle lighting, strategically placed candles, handwoven blankets, and naturally dyed linens create a cozy vibe at the restaurant, which is located in the steel and glass-clad extension. The menu is inspired by traditional Yunnan specialties and regularly changes to reflect the season and availability of regional produce. Digestifs are best enjoyed at the rooftop lounge Kawagebo, which looks out over the Wunongding village, the residents of which are known to open their homes to hotel guests looking to meaningfully engage with the neighborhood.