THE PERFECT PAIR
SERYO, OHARA: An hour’s drive north of Kyoto, but still within city limits, Ohara is home to Sanzen-in Temple, where beams of sunshine filtering through maple and cedar trees highlight a stunning moss garden. Next to the drawcard temple is Seryo, a cosy ryokan with accommodation in Japanese, Western or a fusion style with beds and tatami floors. Several guestrooms feature an open-air tub; the ryokan also has two openair baths for all guests (the women’s side looks out on the more impressive garden). First-timers will find etiquette tips taped to the onsen doors ( kakeyu, or pouring hot water on your body before entering the bath, is a great pre-soak). It’s said Seryo’s waters are good for the skin, muscle and joint pain, circulation and fatigue. The kaiseki dinner showcases seasonal fare, including vegetables from the ryokan garden. My winter’s feast includes tempura crab leg, pumpkin and perilla leaf, while breakfast, starring Kyoto’s famed boiled tofu, is a notch above. More: seryo.co.jp.
KATRINA LOBLEY TAKEFUE, KYUSHU: This retreat in the mountains of central Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island, is onsen paradise. Twelve cabins, styled to look like rustic huts from the outside and totally luxurious within, are hidden amid a bamboo forest and tall maples. I stay in one of the smallest, with a dining room and tatami-mat bedroom, shower, minibar, sound system and my own big, constantly brimming tub of spring water in a stone-clad room, lit by glowing onyx cubes and open at one end to rain dripping through bamboo. A kaiseki meal is cooked for me by an attendant who assures I can order a bottle of sake wine. “No worries,” he smiles, which is a giveaway about where he’s polished his English-language skills. It is so peaceful that when checking out, I am surprised to realise there have been other guests. More: takefue.com; ryokancollection.com.
ROBIN POWELL Zaborin Ryokan, Hokkaido; Amanemu, Ise-Shima National Park; Gora Kadan, Hakone; Gora Hanaougi, Hakone; Roten-no-Yu Kinkaku, Ishikawa.