I used to be one of those travelers who likes to check the boxes – Louvre check, Tokyo Tower check, Empire State Building check etc. Then I realized that I was starting to feel very real burnout. Packing up each day to move to a new city or room is a very tedious process, and very unrewarding. If you calculate the sheer number of hours spent on transport vs the number of hours actually spent in a city, it’s absolutely not worth it. So I take my trips slower now, with time to sit and people watch.
Also, who wants to be the person who creates an album of the exact same photos from Instagram, Pinterest, and travel blogs?
Time to take my blog to Asia (home and most wonderful continent)!
Hoshinoya Karuizawa 軽井沢町 (December 2015)
I adore Japan. I’m always up for a trip to Japan, because the food, the people, the scenery, and the hotels are all very top-notch. As a result, I have been to the country several times – pigging out on ramen, wandering the temples of Kyoto, skiing down delightful powder of Hokkaido, etc.
This time, however, we took a 2 day luxury detour to Karuizawa, a picturesque town about 1 hour west of Tokyo, by the Shinkansen (high speed rail in Japan). Fun facts: Karuizawa is one of the most popular high-end vacation towns in Japan, frequented by celebrities. In addition, Karuizawa is the only city in the world to have hosted events in both the Summer and Winter Olympics! In particular, the onsens are wonderful because Karuizawa is at the foot of Mount Asama, one of the most active volcanoes in Japan.
One does not get on the Shinkansen without a delicious bento box of some sort. The basement of the Tokyo station is filled with wonderful stands of sashimi, hot food, and salads that are available for quick pick up, as well as a large assortment of vending machines for drinks.
A little over an hour on the Shinkansen, we arrived in Karuizawa station. The station itself adjoins a very popular premium outlet. We were picked up in a bus by our hotel, Hoshinoya Karuizawa. The Hoshino resorts are a chain of high-end resorts mostly in Japan, as well as an additional location in Bali. As with most things in Japan, we were greeted by excellent service. A very nice attendant walked down the aisle checking our names and handing out warm towels and drinks. Clearly, the two days would be a pleasant check-out from reality.
The entire resort exudes a sense of tranquility. Elegant muted tones throughout the hotel lobby, with comfortable grey seating, and vaulted ceilings. Resort rooms line up on two sides of the Yukawa River, and feels almost deserted as another attendant walks us to our room. As the flagship of the Hoshino Resorts Group, Hoshinoya Karuizawa blends together elements of class Japanese ryokan with elegant modern details for a distinctly tranquil feel. To further lessen the guilt of enjoying the hotel, Hoshino Resorts generates 70% of energy needs of the property from renewable resources.
As it was December, leaves were browning, and there was a crisp chill settling in as the sun set. Against a vividly blue sky, the softening rays cast a muted orange shade on the horizon.
The room had comfortable seating areas, along with a wooded platform outdoors for warmer weather. For the lazy traveler who enjoys hotel amenities, the room comes with outdoor & indoor yukatas (robes), wooden Japanese slippers, all necessary toiletries, as well as crackers and tea. Each room sleeps up to 5 guests. Within the Hoshino controlled area, guests are more than welcome to wander around in the yukatas and slippers provided. In the evenings during dinner, attendants will enter the room and set up bedding in the seating area.
The resort grants free access to two onsens. The bathroom within each villa also supplies water from the springs nearby. One of the onsens, Meditation Room, is located in the resort, only for resort guests. Very quiet, the onsens are split by gender. Each contain a dressing room with lockers, showers, and onsen. There are two separate areas within the onsen, which provide Hikari “light” and Yami “dark” atmospheres. For those who desire additional features, there is an award-winning spa located next to the Meditation Room.
The second onsen Tombo-no-yu is open to the public, a short walk outside of the gates of the resort. This one, as with most onsens in Japan, also split by gender. Resort guests have exclusive access in the morning for a few hours before public opening. This one has a larger locker room, with the actual onsen split into an outside and indoor area. Sitting outdoors breathing fresh air while steam continually rises around you is a must!
FYI to those unfamiliar with Japanese onsens: No clothes allowed!
In warmer weather, there is a far greater variety of activities available. Horseback riding, eco tours, hikes, etc. In the winter, there is a cute shopping area at Harunire Terrace. TV addicts may want to have their second thoughts now, as the resort does not have TVs in the rooms. The resort has cars that shuttle resorts guests within the resort bounds, or to and from Harunire Terrace – just a phone call away.
But ultimately, a weekend in Japan would not be complete without the delicious food.
Within the resort, food is served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (make reservations!) in the vaulted ceiling dining hall, Kasuke, photographed above. Alternatively, for a truly lazy luxury experience, there is an option to order food to eat in the room.
In the main building, there is also a small lounge with light snacks and drinks throughout the day. Depending on the hour, there may also be wine. Sometimes the snacks were more exciting, warm Japanese mochi.
Alternatively, Harunire Terrace has many options! Between the 5 cafes and 8 restaurants on offer, options range from Japanese to Western food.
Japan has wonderful milk (whole milk only, please) – and therefore, wonderful gelato. It’s definitely different from Italian gelato, but equally delicious. We tried out the Soba restaurant, Kawakami-an, and the “casual Japanese restaurant” Sonmin-Shokudo. While I definitely recommend the soba restaurant (so many options!), I can’t say the same for Sonmin. The French restaurant Cercle did, however, smell delicious.
As a wrap up to the trip, it is absolutely recommended to take an earlier shuttle back to the train station. The outlet mall also has tons of food options, as well as a good mix of Asian / Western brands in one place. Obviously, the right choice is a Japanese restaurant, but to each their own!