On our recent trip to Japan, we chose to spend a few nights relaxing in the Hakone region, where we stayed at a beautiful boutique hotel, Hakone Gora Byakudan. Hakone is well known for its breathtaking natural scenery, great hiking trails and therapeutic hot springs. Hakone is only a 45-minute train ride from Tokyo and is a very popular weekend getaway for those wanting to escape the city in search of a slower pace. It’s possible to visit the Hakone region on a day trip from Tokyo, but for a truly unforgettable experience, we recommend spending a night or two at the Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan.
The Beauty of the Hakone Region
Surrounded by thick lush forest and towering mountains, the Hakone region is possibly one of the most beautiful places I visited in Japan. There are so many things to do in Hakone. The region boasts epic waterfalls, hiking trails, the world-class Hakone open-air museum, all surrounding the beautiful Lake Ashinoko. On a clear day, views of the nearby Mount Fuji can be seen from several spots around Hakone. We visited in November, which is autumn in Japan and it turned out to be a spectacular time to year as the entire region was a covered in a mixture of red, orange, yellow and green foliage. Mount Hakone is an active volcano which supplies the region with natural hot spring water. This water is collected and fed directly into the natural hot spring onsens.
About the Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan
The Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan is a natural hot spring hotel, offering breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys that make up the Hakone region. The hotel name Byakudan means Sandlewood in Japanese, aptly named for the scent that wafts throughout the hotel. Hakone Gora Byakudan is centrally located, only 2km from Kowakidani station and close to Hakone Gora Park and the Hakone Open Air Museum. The hotel features 16 spacious suites all with a slightly different layout and a mixture of Japanese and Western minimalist styling. Each suite features a deck with natural open-air onsen spa bath complete with his and her bath products. The Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan offers a modern take on a traditional Japanese Ryokan experience and is the perfect base to explore the Hakone region.
The Best in Japanese Hospitality
From the moment we arrived at Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan, we were greeted with friendly and attentive service complete with an oriental touch that made our stay all the more unique. After removing our shoes and slipping into traditional Japanese Geta (wooden-soled sandals with stilts on the bottom), we were shown into a beautiful airy room with floor to ceiling windows and a panoramic mountain view. Whilst most of the staff spoke very little English, the communication difficulties we may have experienced was certainly made up for with the wonderful service we received. The staff went out of their way to make us feel very welcome and treated us like a celebrity. We experienced special little touches such as being greeted with a bow everywhere we went and daily home-made sweets delivered to our room. We were very well looked after during our entire stay at Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan.
A Modern Japanese Ryokan Experience
If you’re looking for a traditional Japanese Ryokan experience mixed with the luxury of modern amenities, then Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan ticks all these boxes. Upon arriving at the hotel, we were presented tea and sweets in a traditional Japanese welcoming tea ceremony. We were then shown to our room, which featured minimalist decor with traditional Japanese finishes like tatami floors, a chabudai dining table, rice paper shoji screens and private deep soaking tubs, fed from natural hot springs. We opted for a room with a Western-style bedding but they also have rooms featuring Japanese futons if you prefer the full Japanese experience. The rooms also feature modern amenities like wifi, flat-screen TVs, mini fridges and a fully automatic toilet.
The Perfect Onsen Experience
Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan is built on a foundation of peace and relaxation. The Hakone region is one of the most active volcanic regions in the world, where there are many natural hot springs offering the ultimate relaxation and therapeutic benefits. The hotel collects natural hot spring water and feeds it directly to the Japanese-style onsen bathtubs located on an open-air deck in each room. There is also communal male and female segregated onsen baths available at the hotel, however, we found the private onsen was certainly one of the standout features of Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan. The public onsen generally requires you to bath completely naked, no swimsuits allowed. Having grown up in a society where public nude bathing is not commonplace, I found the privacy to be more relaxing. After a long day spent sightseeing in the Hakone region, retreating back to the privacy of our own hot tub really topped off the perfect day.
Dining at the Hotel Gora Byakudan was the ultimate Japanese culinary experience. We were provided with traditional Yukata robes to wear to dinner and around the hotel during our stay. After changing into our robes we headed down to the restaurant which featured high ceilings and views over the Japanese style garden. Our stay included half-board – Japanese style breakfast and traditional kaiseki evening meals. The kaiseki meal is a delectable multi-course degustation carefully prepared using fresh local and seasonal ingredients. The meal includes seafood (raw and cooked), pickled vegetables, Kobe beef and rice, served with a range of sake, beer or local and international and wines. I personally am not a huge fan of raw seafood, but after experiencing the kaiseki meals at Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan, I consider myself a convert!
Accessing the best sights that the Hakone region has to offer was very easy to do from the Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan. We spent two days exploring this region and wrote a guide about what to see and do in Hakone. The staff were more than happy to drop us at the nearby attractions or the local train station. Purchasing a Hakone Free Pass will give you access to most of the public transport in the area including the Hakone Ropeway, cable car, buses, trains and the sightseeing cruise. There is so much to see and do in this area, after spending a day or two exploring you’ll surely want to come back for more!
Useful Information to Plan Your Trip to Hakone
Hakone is a great place to make an overnight stopover when travelling between Tokyo and Kyoto. The area can be easily explored in a day, but if you have the time we would recommend spending an extra night at Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan to really enjoy the onsen experience.
How to Get There:
From Shinjuku, catch the Limited Express Romance Car, on the Odakyu Line, direct to Hakone Yumoto Station. From here, you will need to transfer onto the Hakone Tozan Line, using the Hakone Free Pass, and get off at Kowakidani Station.
Alternatively, you can use the Japan Rail Pass from Tokyo Station and catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Odawara. In Odawara, transfer to the Hakone Tozan Line to Hakone Yumoto Station and then onto Kowakidani.
Hotel Hakone Gora Byakudan is located 2km from Kowakidani Station and is the perfect place to base yourself while exploring the Hakone region. A private shuttle from Kowakidani Station is available by making prior arrangements with the hotel.
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Have you ever been to Hakone? We’d like to know your recommendations on things to do in the comment section below!