Hoshinoya Kyoto Is An Elegant & Traditional Riverside Retreat

By Nicola Venning

2 weeks ago

'If you wish to leave the hurly-burly for a while and imbibe all things Japanese, then this is the place to be'


There can be little more beguiling than taking the 10 minute boat journey from Togetsu-kyo Bridge to  Hoshinoya, in the countryfied outskirts of Kyoto. Hugging the banks of a deep river gorge, surrounded by verdant jungle, Hoshinoya Kyoto transports you to a bygone age that feels as authentic as its traditional Japanese hospitality.

C&TH Guide to Responsible Tourism

Hotel Review: Hoshinoya Kyoto, Japan

A boat outside HOSHINOYA Kyoto in autumn

STAY

Once the home of a wealthy Kyoto merchant, Hoyshinoya has been reimagined as a ryokan-like, 25-room Japanese inn. Shoes are replaced with slippers at the bedroom entrance, there are dark wooden floors and sliding paper screen doors, and in my suite – a simple, tatami room with traditional grass mat flooring –an ikebana display (a seasonal flower arrangement) and neat sofa.

Tea and coffee making facilities as well as a mini bar are provided, and the hotel is proud of the fact that there is no TV. Nor is it needed. The views over the river are stunning.

The bedroom is snug but very comfortable with traditional touches such as lantern-like bedside lights and a large inviting window seat from where I could have spent hours watching the greeny-blue water and boats sliding past.

Windows overlooking cherry blossom at Hoshinoya

Yamanoha guest room

The bathroom is ryokan-style with a handheld shower and stool for washing, prior to a soak in the wooden tub. I topped mine up with lemons and a spice pack – both of which are, apparently, good for the skin.

There are also light cotton pyjamas along with heavier blue ones, inspired by noble court dress during the Heian period, which many guests slip into for day wear, strolling around the lush, if narrow, grounds. A water garden stretches along the back of the hotel, and the sound of running water is a soothing constant.

DO

Complimentary yoga classes are offered each morning in the zen-style Hidden Garden under a 400 year old maple tree so graceful that one non-exercising guest spent most of his time painting it.

Do try some of the typical Japanese experiences offered by Hoshinoya Kyoto, such as the incense ceremony (historically popular with Japanese aristocrats), summer evening firefly viewing, or a visit to a Kyoto tea house.

A boat in Kyoto

Hisui boat trip

Arashiyama, the former the playground of Kyoto nobles and a temple district surrounded by parkland, is a short boat ride away. I enjoyed being punted along the river in Hoshinoya’s private Yakatabune boat amidst the smaller public boats available for hire. A visit to local sites such as the UNESCO-listed sprawling Tenryu-ji Temple and its beautiful garden is a Zen-inducing must. The nearby Bamboo Grove is an ethereal experience if you can visit early and avoid the crowds.

The first boat leaves Hoshinoya at 9am and the last back is at 5.30pm, though the hotel also offers a car shuttle service during the evening.

For something less touristy, head up the forested hill behind the hotel; there, you will find the peaceful Daihikaku Senkoji temple. Far more quiet, it is very pleasant with stunning views over much of Arashiyama.

Hoshinoya Kyoto's Floating Tea Room

Hoshinoya Kyoto’s Floating Tea Room

EAT

Guests have their own private room within the dining pavilion to enjoy kaiseki, a multi-course traditional Japanese meal with seasonal food from Kyoto. It is, quite simply, art on a plate. We slowly savoured and swooned over delicious morsels such as sesame tofu, yam and sea urchin, deep fried young sweet fish, venison meatloaf and tiger prawn, all presented exquisitely. To accompany this feast, we drank local plum wine and sparkling sake – both delicious – though European wines are also on the menu.

Breakfast is enjoyed in the suite’s tatami room where the sofa is magicked into a table. I enjoyed hotpot, a broth of aubergine and mushrooms to which, once the vegetables are eaten, rice is added to make a savoury porridge. If this sounds too complicated, western-style breakfast is also available.

The Tsukihashi guest room set up for breakfast

The Tsukihashi guest room

Kura Parlor, in a former storehouse, is a simple relaxing room where, every afternoon, new guests are offered welcome drinks and sweets sourced from Kameya Kiyonaga, a traditional Japanese confectionary store dating back to 1617. The best spot, however, has to be on the balcony – also known as the floating tea room – which hangs over the river at the front of the hotel. Ensconced here, I spotted hawks swooping fish and chattering monkeys on the opposite bank.

FINAL WORD

Hoshinoya Kyoto is an elegant, traditional hotel which makes the most of its beautiful, private river setting. If you wish to leave the hurly-burly for a while and imbibe all things Japanese, then this is the place to be.

BOOK IT

Rooms start from 136,000 JPY per night (approx. £684). hoshinoresorts.com

Nicola was already travelling in Japan when this review was conducted.