Head off Japan's typical tourist route to explore hilltop temples, artist island retreats, castle old towns and hidden valleys
- Head off the tourist route to explore hilltop temples, artist island retreats, castle old towns and hidden valleys
- Experienc eauthentic Japanese culture with iconic floating shrines, theatrical performances, cooking classes and stays in historic ryokans
- Between speedboat launches, bullet train bursts, Osaka’s bright lights and Kyoto’s history, you won’t miss out on Japan’s main island favourites
- 3 Nights Kyoto Prefecture
- 2 Nights Hiroshima
- 1 Night Matsuyama
- 2 Nights Kochi
- 1 Night Iya Valley
- 1 Night Kotohira
- 2 Nights Takamatsu
- 1 Night Tokushima
- 1 Night Osaka
City | History & culture | Natural world
As the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, off the beaten track Shikoku is ideal for those looking to slow down and experience authentic Japanese culture at its rural best. You’ll start on mainland Honshu with Kyoto’s temples, shrines and Zen gardens before moving onto peaceful Hiroshima’s famed floating sights and teahouse parks, the gateway across the Sento Inland Sea to Shikoku. Here, coastal train routes will bring you to original medieval castles, beaches and secret onsen reached only by cable car. In Kotohira a cooking class will teach you the art behind local specialities and hill walks will bring you to much-revered Meiji period shrines. Then, the Edo period Japanese gardens of Takamatsu and the world-renowned art installations of Naoshima await before the puppet theatres and energetic dances of Tokushima introduce you to more traditional entertainment. And, while you’ll stay in historic hot spring ryokans – Japanese inns once set up for itinerant samurai – Osaka’s bright lights, speedboat launches and bullet train bursts will ensure that you don’t miss out on modern Japan.
Day by day itinerary
Your trip will start with an overnight flight, arriving on day two.
Flying into Osaka, a private car will meet you at the airport to bring you to your accommodation in central Kyoto. Possibly Asia’s most culturally rich city, it’s home to thousands of Buddhist temples and hundreds of Shinto shrines spread across 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spend your first day relaxing after the flight, perhaps in a traditional teahouse, with a steaming bowl of ramen noodles or with a stroll through the Imperial Palace gardens. The next day, an expert guide will tailor-make an 8-hour private tour that takes in the sites that most interest you. Perhaps it’s immaculately raked rock gardens and geisha ceremonies that excite or hilltop temples and hidden sushi bars that intrigue. You’ll then have one last day in Kyoto to explore at your leisure; don’t miss out on the endless red torii gates at Fushimi Inari-Taisha.
Stay: Granvia Kyoto (Superior)
Travelling the 400km west along Japan’s eastern seaboard to Hiroshima will take just over an hour and a half by Shinkansen bullet train. It’s a scenic coastal route that rushes through several major cities. On arrival, you’ll have the day to explore. Despite its tragic past – venerated in still-standing dome ruins and the excellent Peace Park and Museum – Hiroshima is a vibrant city. There’s plenty of neon bustle to impress along with quiet park gardens dotted with teahouses to take some time out in. Don’t skip the city’s multi-tiered castle. Dating back to 1589, it was – like much of the city – destroyed in 1945 before its five storeys were rebuilt in all their Meiji Restoration-era glory.
Stay: ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel (Superior)
Today, we recommend making a trip out to Miyajima – the ‘Shrine Island’. Set in the Inland Sea National Park, it’s famous for its World Heritage floating torii gate that welcomes ferry passengers to the island. Its shocking vermillion is picked out against the island’s green interior and mirroring waters. After making land, be sure to take a cable car to the summit of Mt. Misen where friendly deer roam around Buddhist temples and views look back over the island-studded bay to Hiroshima.
Stay: ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel (Superior)
After making your way to Ujina Port, you’ll board the Super Jet Ferry – Japan’s nautical answer to the bullet train – to hop over to Matsuyama in northwest Shikoku. The city is best known for its Dogo Onsen, Japan’s oldest hot spring and the site of your traditional ryokan stay. Just en suite baths are fed from the same geothermal source that saw mentions in Japanese classical literature, your authentic timber accommodation comes complete with tatami mats and sliding paper screens. While you’re in Matsuyama, don’t forget to call into the 17th century castle – one of the country’s dozen originals – for views over the town.
Stay: Umenoya Ryokan, Matsuyama (Superior)
Meals: B D
From Matsuyama, an express train will bring you across the island. After a change at Tadotsu, you’ll pass the hilltop shrines and ancient burial grounds of its rural interior before reaching Kochi City on the south coast. You’ll then have two days to explore what is one of rural Japan’s prettiest regions. After hiking up to mountain temples, stop off at Katsurahama Beach, where golden sands are sandwiched between pine tree forests and rocky coastal scenery. Its waters – from April to October – make for excellent whale watching trips. Back in laid-back Kochi, the prefectural capital, you’ll find that palm tree lined streets lead to daily fruit markets and a carefully preserved 18th century castle.
Stay: Nikko Hotel Kochi Asahi Royal (Superior)
As one of Japan’s three ‘hidden regions’, Iya Valley is a far cry from Tokyo’s city lights. Vine bridges cross narrow river gorges and cragged peaks covered in thick vegetation make for scenic hikes and boat trip backdrops. And, thanks to winding narrow roads and newly blasted train tunnels, it’s an area that’s just opened up. An express train out of Kochi will bring you to your home for the night, Iya Onsen Hotel. Combining modern luxuries with traditional ryokan features – think designer rooms and traditional prints – the hotel features a private cable car that brings guests from its pretty hillside location down to its valley floor onsen.
Stay: Iya Onsen Hotel, Iya Valley (Superior)
Meals: B D
After a short train transfer, you’ll arrive at Kotohira, a small pilgrim town in the island’s north. While it’s been sorely overlooked by Western tourists, Shikoku’s most sacred shrine, Kompirasan, is a firm Japanese favourite. Make the 800-step ascent to its summit perch where you’ll be rewarded with intricately decorated halls and stunning vistas. Kotohira also features Japan’s oldest kabuki theatre, which has been staging performances since the 1800s. We’ve also arranged for you to try your hand at creating the local speciality, Sanuki udon. In a group lesson, you’ll learn how to knead and cook these thick wheat flour noodles before enjoying them served in a hearty broth with seasonal accompaniments.
Stay: Sakuranoshou Kotohira Grand Hotel, Kotohira (Superior)
Meals: B D
A short, 40-minute express train hop will bring you to Takamatsu. A garden city tucked away in the northeast of Shikoku, it has a long history as the main link to the Honshu mainland. Its best-known attraction, Ritsurin Koen, is a park first landscaped by the feudal lords of the Edo period whose ponds, hills and lakeside pavilions make it one of the finest gardens in Japan. Nearby flat-topped Yashima Mountain and Shikoku-Mura – a collection of traditional buildings brought from across the island – are equally delightful.
Stay: JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu (Superior)
Today, a return ferry trip will bring you to Naoshima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea. Once just another fishing colony, it’s now host to a unique art project that has garnered global recognition. Coastal installations, contemporary galleries and innovative exhibits combine cutting-edge architectural expression with the island’s own natural beauty in works that showcase the best in Japanese and international modern art. Galleries feature such heavyweights as Turrell, Warhol and Monet. We’d recommend hiring a bike to explore and, after a busy day’s sightseeing, easing your aches with an onsen bath soak.
Stay: JR Hotel Clement Takamatsu (Superior)
Your next express train will bring you east to Tokushima. This picturesque coastal city is backed by an imposing mountain range and bisected by the gentle Yoshino River; it’s the relaxed home of bunraku, Japanese puppet theatre. If you’re here over summer, the streets come alive with traditional dances for the O-Bon Festival, performances that can be watched year round at the Awaodori Hall. It’s a brash and exuberant spectacle that’s not to be missed. Be sure to also sample the local fare, delicately flavoured with sudachi lime and seaweed from nearby beeches.
Stay: JR Hotel Clement Tokushima (Superior)
An intercity bus journey will bring you to Osaka, where you’ll end your trip in style with a stay in the top floors of what is Japan’s tallest building. As the country’s commercial heart, Osaka knows a thing or two about entertaining with its canalside Dotonbori district crammed full of high end restaurants, intimate bars and karaoke joints. And, between its moated castle, giant wheels and skyscraper views, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy sightings of its imposing skyscape. You’ll also find a collection of world-class exhibitions at museums, aquariums and galleries.
Stay: Marriott Miyako, Osaka (Deluxe)
A private transfer will bring you back to Osaka’s Kansai Airport, where you’ll board your flight back to the UK.
Any element of this itinerary can be adjusted to suit your needs. Just contact us to find out more.
from £4,285 pp. incl. flights
from £4,600 pp. incl. flights
- Complimentary UK lounge access
- Return flights between London and Osaka
- Return private airport transfers in Osaka
- 14 nights accommodation staying in 4* (Superior) hotels on a mix of B&B and half-board basis
- 8 hours private guiding in Kyoto
- Day trip to Miyajima Island & group Noodle making session
- Rail travel between; Kyoto to Hiroshima, Matsuyama to Tadotsu, Kochi to Iya Valley, Iya Valley to Kotohira, Kotohire to Takamatsu, Takamatsu to Tokushima
- Super jet ferry between Hiroshima and Matsuyama & ferry from Takamatsu
- Travel by bus to Osaka hotel
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Prices are per person based on two people sharing a twin/double room; prices are subject to availability and possible change; normal booking conditions apply.
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