Combine luxury modernity in waterside pavilions with ancient tradition in teahouses and naturally heated onsen pools
Activity adventure | Relaxation
Karuizawa, lying at an altitude of 1,000 metres in the foothills of Mount Asama – an active volcano – started life as a cool, summer retreat for 19th century Westerners. Today, as it’s just an hour and a half north of the Japanese capital, it’s still welcoming wealthy second-homers to its picturesque valley where summer brings hikes and bike rides and winter sees skis and ice skates. And, given that the incumbent emperor met his wife here, it’s got more than a reputation for romance with Karuizawa a popular spot for weddings. The resort itself is arranged around a river with accommodation hugging the valley’s gentle contours.
Waterside Mizunami pavilions are tucked among forest-covered banks with large windows and wide terraces offering views over the river and onto the rich, green canopy beyond. Each is carefully designed to fit perfectly into its setting without disrupting natural sightlines as high windows invite cool air in and geothermal floors keep guests warm in winter nights. Perhaps book into the family-size Niwarajoi villas and their Japanese gardens or take a step back to the Yamaroji pavilions, which enjoy a wild bird sanctuary location. In all, contemporary design brings a new take on Japanese Ryokan – luxury traditional inns. Bathtubs are formed out of aromatic cedar and high ceilings frame low-level furnishings.
At Hoshinoya, guests have a difficult choice between modern Japanese cuisine in Kasuke and world-class French gastronomy in nearby Bleston Court Yukawatan. In the former, multi-course kaiseki meals showcase the best in seasonal, local ingredients with dishes carefully selected based on flavours, aromas and textures before being presented with that quintessentially Japanese attention to detail. Everything from bento lunch boxes and in-room fine dining to marbled wagyu beef slices and degustation feasts are available. Perhaps snack on buckwheat noodles or sample a freshly baked delicacy from the bakery.
No Japanese retreat would be complete without its onsen hot spring. And, dug out in 1914 by the resort’s founder, Hoshinoya’s is among the best having attracted such cultural heavyweights as Toson Shimazaki, who penned several of his works at Hoshinoya. Today, its waters have been enhanced by light, dark and open air rooms along with a spa where dieticians and expert practitioners can recommend between saunas, massages and a range of treatments. Following in these holistic footsteps, you’ll find nature trails where you can spot flying squirrels and a myriad of birdlife while there’s also national forest horse rides to be had. Back at base, drop the kids off at the children’s room and unwind with a good book from the library lounge in the teahouse or on the terrace.
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