Cable car views, a Japanese fine dining restaurant and luxury fusion rooms make for unforgettable stays
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History & culture | Natural world | Relaxation
Considered one of Japan’s three ‘hidden regions’, the Iya Valley – tucked away in the centre of Shikoku’s remote interior – remains utterly unaffected by Japan’s urbanisation. Its cragged mountains, eroded over the years by river trickles into stunning gorges, are as much of a verdant retreat today, as when they hosted defeated clans and political rebels in centuries past. And, plied by vine bridges and ridge-edge tracks, the region makes for excellent hikes. To get to the hotel’s osnen, a private cable car brings you from its mountainside perch down 176 metres of vertiginous tracks to the valley floor.
A more contemporary take on traditional, timber ryokans, its 20 rooms combine Japanese aesthetics with Western comforts. In blonde wood rooms, plush designer furniture sits on tatami mats, rubbing shoulders with knee-high seats and calligraphy artwork. Be sure to get a room with a view of the valley as floor-to-ceiling windows look out over tree-carpeted peaks down to the gurgling stream below. Some even come with a stargazing terrace – complete with telescope – or baths that share the same panoramas. Those with open-air tubs are particularly delightful.
At Iya Onsen Hotel, its restaurant champions UNESCO-listed washoku – traditional Japanese culinary culture. Dinner is served either kaiseki style over multiple courses or in an omki-nabe hot pot. Here, thinly sliced meats and local vegetables are cooked in a broth made from miso soup and sake. Breakfasts are similarly indulgent with both Japanese and Western choices available in salads, soups, freshly baked sweetbreads and grilled fish. The only meal not included in the nightly tariff is lunch, which can be taken in the café lounge. Perhaps tuck into grilled trout served with soba buckwheat noodles.
After the scenic cable-car descent, you’ll be greeted by gender-specific onsen, heated from 38°C underground hot springs. Milky white in colour, coated in a thin layer of mist and shielded by bamboo screens, a step into their welcoming waters is a step back in time. Yet more of those gorgeous views don’t hurt either. You might also want to make use of the free cycle hire or the range of valley trails to explore further while back at base there are yukata kimonos, free in-room massage chairs and BOSE sound systems to help you relax further.
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