Hot spring waters and delicately flavoured feasts take centre stage in this authentic ryokan stay
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Activity adventure | Food & wine | History & culture | Natural world | Relaxation
Hakone has long been the retreat for well-heeled Tokyo, home to seven hot springs. One such is Tounosawa, which Yamanochaya sits on. First discovered in the 8th century, its volcanically heated waters are still providing relief and comfort to weary travellers to this day. But Hakone is much more than its spas. With Mt. Fuji as its picture backdrop, only sparkling lakes interrupt dense evergreen forests speckled with lacquered Shinto shrines and imperial palaces. It’s ideal for walks, lazy days spent fishing and cable car trips.
Surrounded by lush greenery, rooms look out over the murmuring Hayakawa River to the mountains beyond. Rice paper walls open onto ‘moon watching’ balconies as authentic tatami mats line the floors, themselves host to traditional lowered furnishings and futons. Even the rooms’ baths are run with waters from the hot springs. The overall effect is one of rich minimalism with ebony timber enhanced by soft lighting and patterned accents. Our favourite rooms come with open air, stone baths.
Yamanochaya’s kitchen uses only carefully selected, seasonal ingredients sourced from Hakone’s seas and mountain fields; menus change monthly. While traditional breakfasts include home-dried fish, a staple grain porridge and cooked rice, staff go to the trouble of finding out your preferences before your arrival to tailor your meals to your preferences. Dinners are a more elaborate affair. Following the multi-course principles of kaiseki, staff prepare immaculately presented feasts served and explained in your room. Enjoy the best in crispy tempura or ultra-fresh sashimi. A particular speciality is the hotel’s own soup stock base, featuring in several dishes.
While the Tounosawa springs were first happened upon in the Nara period, it took some 900 years before they were developed in the 17th century. Hot spring water is pumped from its source 300 metres below the ryokan, supplying the four baths. The onsen are thought to have medicinal qualities and can be booked for private use. This being a traditional stay, don’t expect much beyond the WiFi; instead, head out to explore picturesque Hakone with its postcard-perfect natural beauty, museums and temples.
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