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Ryokans are Japanese traditional Inns. The word ‘inn’ conjures up an image of a dusty old tavern type of place with an old inn keeper holding an oil lantern, like something out of a J R R Tolkien book. However, Japanese Inns are slightly higher cut than that! With traditional Japanese decor, exceptional service, amazing food and hot spring baths, it's a treat to come and stay, especially in winter!
Here are my picks of the best Ryokans to stay this winter in the Kansai area.
â–ºPrice range: roughly £200/ €225/ $275 per person
Set in the Takao Mountains, outside of Kyoto, surrounded by stunning mountain scenery with the river running alongside the establishment, you can't get anywhere prettier than this. In the evening, lanterns illuminate along the riverfront of the ryokan, and the smell of food starts to drift around the river valley. It really is a magical place, and perfect to come to relax and rejuvenate being so open and surrounded by nature. The rooms are all traditional Japanese styled with tatami floor and hot spring baths. A short walk from Jingo- ji and Kozan-ji, it is easy to get to, and there is free parking.
Kinosaki is an onsen village around 2 and a half hours north-west of Osaka and Kyoto. The village sits on a tectonic fault line meaning that the whole area has many natural hot springs. It is a fantastic day out, but I recommend you stay over there during the night time as you'll need a day and night to fully enjoy it. The village has around 15 bath houses that you can visit, all within walking distance of each other. The speciality food of the area is Japanese spider crabs. They are incredibly fresh as the village is right by the coast. I recommend staying in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and you can walk around the village in Yukata and pop into any of the bathhouses. Your Ryokan will give you a ticket that you can use to get into any of the bathhouses. If you don't stay in a Ryokan and get the ticket, you can buy one very cheaply.
â–ºPrice per person: around £250/ €280/ $345 per person
♦♦♦♦♦ 5 Star
If your budget stretches, I highly recommend spending a night in Nishimura Ryokan. A beautiful family owned ryokan, steeped in history and tradition. The service is incredible, the food is traditional kaiseki, and the whole experience is amazing. The Ryokan has two of its own bathhouses, but you will also receive a bathhouse ticket from the front desk that allows you to use any of the bathhouses in the Village. Just scan the ticket at the entrance of the bathhouse and enjoy!
Nishimura Ryokan is the definition of exquisite Japanese hospitality. You will be treated like royalty by the staff and it is the perfect place to come and be pampered and unwind.
â–ºPrice per person: around £200/ €225/ $275 per person
♦♦♦♦ 4 star
A romantic, more modest ryokan based in the heart of the village. I recommend this for couples and small families as you can still get the amazing Ryokan experience for less of the price. This ryokan has its own bathhouse but you can get a bathhouse ticket to allow you to use the other bathhouses for free.
My Brother, Step Father and I dressed in our bathrobes, going for a wonder around the town. All Ryokans supply bathrobes
A great day trip is to head to the famous lake Biwa. Aside from the fact that it's the largest freshwater lake in Japan, its famous for its beauty, fishing, onsens, and other infrastructure factors like historically supplying Kyoto and surrounding towns with fresh water, as well as being very culturally significant.
A fun thing to do, however, is to check out some of the onsens in the area. There are a few dotted around however I recommend checking out Ogoto Agaryanse. Located on the southwestern top of the lake, roughly a 30 min train ride from Kyoto station, it’s close and a great day out. Entrance to the onsen costs around 1000 yen and you can spend all day there. They have lots of restaurants, loads of massage chairs with great views across the lake, souvenir shops, fun vending machines selling everything from soda to Japanese local made milk, and of course the actual hot spring baths. There are around 10 or 15 baths and 2 saunas and steam rooms, all with different water properties and, a few of which are outside and look over the lake. They have vending machines in the bathing area that sell beer too! Massages are also available. I haven't got any pictures of the actual baths because cameras aren't allowed in the bathing area for obvious reasons.
How to get there: Jump on the JR Kosei Line from Kyoto station to Ogotoonsen (click here for google maps). Then walk from the station (15 mins walk)
It is also worth noting that there are many very pretty hotels and spa resort / Ryokans dotted around here which would be really nice to stay overnight at. Relax in a bath with great views over the lake and eat awesome Japanese food.
Biwako Ryokusuitei is a beautiful Ryokan that is close to Ogoto Agaryanse. I recommend staying here a night!
The Yoshino Mountains (Yoshino Yama) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area has outstanding beauty, cultural and historical importance. Among the ancient temples and shrines, amazing local shops, fantastic local food and great scenery, there is much to do here.
Part of the experience of being in the Yoshino mountains, is in my opinion, spending a night at one the very beautiful and traditional ryokans in the area. While prices may be slightly higher than your average 3 or 4-star hotel, it really is an experience in itself. The service is incredible, the food is amazing and traditional, and the settings are fantastic. You can expect immaculate Japanese style rooms with Tatami, Ryokan staff to be wearing traditional yukatas and who treat you like royalty, and fantastic hot spring baths. For a holistic, spiritually cleansing and entirely relaxing experience… you need to stay at a ryokan.
Yoshino mountains have a handful of amazing ones and below I have laid out my handpicked favourites.
Please note that when you book the hotels by clicking on the links, the hotel star rating system isn't correct as these hotels and Ryokans are relatively untouched. I have personally stayed and visited these hotels and Ryokans, and have rated them myself.
Note: All prices vary tremendously depending on the season. Click on the links to check prices and book.
♦♦♦ 3 star
Ryokan Kato is a located a few minutes down the road from Sakoya and is a very pretty Ryokan. Priced slightly cheaper than Sakoya, it still is outstanding. The food here is amazing, and the rooms are very cosy. The establishment has its own hot spring bath house. Only a few minutes walk from the main village area, it is very well located.
♦♦♦♦ 4 star
Another very pretty little Ryokan, based in the heart of Yoshino mountains, with incredible views and amazing service. With outdoor hot spring baths, you can relax and soak in the scenery. The food here is traditional Kaiseki and the rooms are relatively reasonably priced. One of my top recommendations!