This 160-year-old property delivers an authentic taste of ryokan tradition
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Food & wine | History & culture | Relaxation
UNESCO-listed Miyajima Island is best known for its much-photographed Itsukushima Shrine. A floating Shinto torii gate, its bright red beams are vividly reflected in the island’s strait – an imposing foreground to a coast carpeted in dense greenery. The ryokan itself is set on the quiet edges of town just a five minutes’ walk past cute, traditional shops to the shrine. However, if you head the other way, you’ll be rewarded with the island’s verdant rural interior. Dominated by the holy Mt. Misen, here hiking trails and cable car trips bring you past Buddhist temples to summit views of Seto Inland Sea. On a good day you can see as far back as Hiroshima.
Spread across three one-storied cottages and a main building, characterful rooms are all individually designed in typical timber tradition. Covered verandahs and picture windows overlook the valley hillside and Iwaso’s Japanese garden where autumn and spring flushes are particularly beautiful. Two rooms even offer views onto the famed gate itself. Back inside, tatami rice straw mats, sliding paper doors, deep soaking wooden baths and floor-level furnishings are typical of the ryokan’s Edo-period origins. It’s made all the more serene by a picturesque riverside setting.
Having studied in Kyoto, Iwaso’s head chef specialises in creating multi-course kaiseki cuisine using only fresh, seasonal ingredients. Each dish has been carefully balanced so as to excite all five senses and is served either in private spaces or in your room. And, come winter, you can expect meals to make the most of Miyajima’s famous oysters. Breakfasts and lunches are equally authentic with miso soup, grilled fish and Japanese omelettes. If you eat in the dining room, you can watch as deer come down the mountainside for a drink in the Momijidanigawa River, itself filled with minnows and eels.
Originally built as a stopping off point and teahouse for 19th century day-trippers and hikers, Iwaso has grown from humble beginnings. Today, it’s best known for its generously sized banquet hall, saloon and onsen springs. There’s both indoor and outdoor gender-specific and mixed baths that invite the outside national park serenity in with floor-to-ceiling windows and a traditional, timber construction. They’re the perfect way to end a day spent travelling or hiking and freshen up before dinner.
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