If you’re looking for a post-wedding escape, then Japan is the perfect place. Nowhere could feel further removed from normal life: a country where tradition rubs shoulders with mega-cities – and nowhere encapsulates full cultural immersion better than Kyoto, a city of cherry-blossom swept streets, ancient temples and mesmerising geishas.
The chic surroundings at HOSHINOYA Kyoto
We headed to the fringes of Kyoto, to Arashimaya, a district famed for its bamboo forest and impressive sculpted temples. From here, our journey continues by boat – the end destination being HOSHINOYA Kyoto, a luxury ryokan (Japanese inn) nestled in the secluded depths of the stunning Arashi Gorge.
Leaving Arashiyama behind, the boat slips along the turquoise-tinged Ôigawa River. Distracted by the view of the mist encroaching on the mountains, I almost miss my first glimpse of the resort. Perfectly blended with the river bank, only the glittering lanterns and a little boat jetty give its location away.
Stepping off the boat, we are led up the slope and through the beautifully landscaped gardens. From there, a softly lit pathway weaves between the scattering of wooden houses. We reach the end house, which is our luxury bolthole for the next few days. The doorway is part-obscured by a gathering of little bamboo trees, our secret haven!
Dinner at HOSHINOYA Kyoto
Full of anticipation, we explore every inch of our new home. Inside our Japanese-style tatami room, the original wood beams blend seamlessly with the more recent, locally commissioned woodblock-printed screen doors and the unique tatami sofa with its arches of cedar branches. It’s utterly peaceful. Through the window, a cherry blossom tree is in early blossom and it frames a view of the gentle river below.
Peeling ourselves away from the relaxing ambiance of the room, we head out for dinner at the resort’s highly regarded restaurant. In the private dining room, we perch up at the dark-grained bar – a front row seat to watch Michelin-starred Head Chef, Ichiro Kubota at work in the open kitchen. What follows is Kubota’s carefully crafted tasting menu, a journey through Japanese cuisine, infused with textures and flavours of the season: fresh octopus; chicken and spring burdock root dumplings; sashimi placed on shards of ice topped with a cherry blossom branch. And my favourite dish: perfectly cooked slices of steak served on hot coals, accompanied by grated wasabi. It was divine!
The next morning, the food odyssey continues with a traditional Japanese breakfast served in room. After last night’s indulgence, this just what we both need: the clean flavours of pak choi, leek and pickled daikon immersed in a bubbling broth and accompanied by a cup of rose-hinted hōjicha tea.
After breakfast, it’s time for a more cultural immersion. Two ladies arrive to dress me for my kimono and tea experience: one pins-up my hair while the other wraps me in layer-upon-layer of luxuriously folded champagne-coloured silk. Looking the part, it’s now time for the tea ceremony. Kneeling on the floor, I learn more about this Japanese tradition, while watching as the vivid-green matcha powder is carefully whisked and brewed.
Fushimi-Inari Taisha. Image: Olivia Rawes
With a good portion of the day still ahead of us, we venture beyond HOSHINOYA Kyoto. Despite feeling like it’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s surprisingly well connected. We travel further into the city and head for the Philosopher’s Path: a cobbled pathway that’s lined with pale-pink cherry blossom. We meander along the path, stopping off at the cute cafés and little shops that dot the route.
Then it’s time for a different, but equally compelling, walk. Swapping dusky pink surroundings for flame-orange ones, we discover the ultra-bright Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a shrine dedicated to the god of rice, which is set around (and up!) a mountain. The paths are lined with thousands of red torii (shrine gates) and it’s really worth making the effort to walk at least part of the way up the ascent, as the views are incredible.You can always stop at one of the restaurants en route if needed.
Legs now completely tired out, we make our way back to the resort. A long soak in the bath is exactly what’s needed. And it’s not just any old bath: it’s carved from smooth cedar wood and has a whole room devoted to it, cut off from the rest of the vast bathroom. The steam-filled air is infused with the sweet scent of cedar wood – a lesson in true relaxation.
From idyllic serenity to cultural exploration, Kyoto has it all. Head to this Japanese gem for a honeymoon destination with a difference.
Olivia Rawes was hosted by HOSHINOYA Kyoto, a luxury resort in Kyoto, Japan, nestled in the peaceful Arashi Gorge on the banks of the beautiful Ôigawa River. The contemporary Japanese ryokan has 25 elegant pavilion-style bedrooms, a renowned restaurant serving seasonal Japanese cuisine and a range of complimentary activities including early morning stretching/breathing exercises, introductory tea-drinking ceremonies and incense burning appreciation. An overnight stay costs from £527 per room per night (two sharing, room only).