2018 has been quite the travel year so far. The summer was a huge step for us but in all the excitement and planning I forgot to write about the little side trip we went on at the start of the year. February was the perfect opportunity for us to explore yet another of the Hoshinoya chain – this time in Karuizawa. Karuizawa is a popular skiing town just 90mins outside of Tokyo. Easy and cheaply covered by the Tokyo wide pass (10,000yen for 3 days unlimited travel), it was an easy place to get to and with the hotel offering a resort shuttle bus from the station, the whole trip was a breeze.
What often draws me to the Hoshinoya hotels, is its high standards and their ability to make you feel truly welcomed and valued. On the bus we were given hot towels and when we arrived at the hotel, we were shown to a table in the Japanese restaurant and provided with sweet rice drink.
Once finished we were driven to our apartment. A member of staff gave us a detailed tour of our room then left us to enjoy our stay. The room was an apartment which was spacious and comfortable but the highlight was the traditional wooden soaking tub which was the equivalent of your own personal onsen.
Once arriving we naturally went for a wander and ended up sitting outside with blankets being served mulled wine and a toasted tangerine. Yes you read that correctly- a toasted tangerine. I had never thought to heat up my fruit before but it proved to be a pleasantly tasty idea.
We then headed inside where we took an opportunity to grab a free coffee and chill out in the library area to relax and catch up. A really nice setting for a chat.
Karuizawa has a very natural and outdoors feel. Being February the weather was cold and there was a constant threat of snow which only added to the charm. So the next day, wrapped up in coats, hats and scarves we explored the area walking through the woods and visiting the local shopping area. We grabbed a coffee and some lunch and even picked up some treats at a rather nice bakery before walking back via the local stone church. From the outside it was a simple and unusual curved shape and yes, made out of stone but the inside was a complete surprise. It was something out of Lord of the Rings- a fantasy elven place. All the pews were made out of wood and running down the walls were beautiful ivy and vines. Unfortunately you couldn’t take any photos but I could definitely see why so many couples were being shown round for potential wedding bookings.After another meal in the room, we headed to the front desk for a star gazing tour. This turned out to be a short guided walk out into the grounds where there was no light pollution and met by a rather cold (temperature not character) looking young man who served us a hot beverage. He proceeded to show us to our seating area. We were told to take our shoes off, in true Japanese fashion, before getting onto the large blanketed seating. Unbeknownst to me the seating area was in fact an air bed and when I tried to sit down to take my shoes off, instead of sitting on something solid like I expected, I lost my balance on the uneven surface and ended up rolling off onto the floor. To say that my husband and our friend, Kath found it hilarious would have been and understatement and the poor guide was trying to help me up whilst desperately trying not to laugh. Once he saw me giggling, he couldn’t help himself and we both spent a few seconds getting it out of our systems.
Once shoes were off and we were comfortably settled into the blanketed air bed with hot water bottles we had 15-20mins of uninterrupted star gazing and it was mesmerising how much you could see. Just by chance, I had taken the children on a trip to the planetarium the week before and was able to spot a few constellations with remarkable clarity which was great fun.
Once finished we said goodbye to the young man who bowed us on our way. It was then that we decided to check out the onsen before getting ready for bed. Onsens are often gender separated so I arranged to meet my husband back at the room whenever we were finished. Inside it was very different to other onsens I had been to. The shower areas were in semi-private alcoves and there was an onsen completely set in the dark. It was a little disconcerting at first but it was actually quite peaceful to sit in a dark room, in heated water with just the sound of waves to distract you from your thoughts. Needless to stay, I couldn’t stay in their very long but I am glad I tried it.
There is something about going to an onsen before going to bed. It seems to send you off into a deep sleep. Once back at the room it didn’t take long at all for me to crawl into my comfy and extremely fluffy bedding and nod off to sleep.
Breakfast was delivered to the room the next morning and it was a surprising feast. A mix of cooked breakfast mixed with a basket of fruits, breads and jams to fill up on. I just about finished my portion and that certainly kept me going until well past lunch time.
We had booked our trip on a national holiday weekend which meant the trains were really busy and so we were forced to book a train back late morning instead of late afternoon when we would have liked. This meant that straight after breakfast, it was time to head back home. Hoshinoya Karuizawa was as surprising and enjoyable as all my other Hoshino experiences. They were welcoming and the apartment was beautiful. The facilities provided showed an understanding of what is needed for their customer’s enjoyment and they certainly didn’t disappoint. They are not cheap to book but if you can find the money to treat yourself for a special occasion, they are without a shadow of a doubt good value for money and I hope to visit yet another one of their resorts soon. I have my fingers crossed for Takatomi island but that may take some saving!
Well that’s it for now!