With overseas travel shut down, we thought about where we wanted to travel within Japan, and the answer was obvious – Kyoto. We hadn’t been there in years, and now with fewer tourists in the city than ever, we jumped on a bullet train and made The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto, our base for three unforgettable days of culture, fine food, and exercise.
Read on and don’t miss your chance to win a two-night stay for two at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto. Details at the bottom of this page. As the C19 situation evolves we recommend readers stay up to date and make informed decisions about when and where it is safe to travel.
This long-standing luxury hotel consistently earns the highest rankings from international travel publications like Forbes Travel Guide and Travel and Leisure, and it easily surpassed all our expectations.
The easiest way to get to Kyoto from Hakata is by Shinkansen. We left Hakata Station at 9:30 and arrived in Kyoto in time for lunch. Since it was too early to check-in, we left our luggage with the front desk clerk and headed out into the city. The hotel is located away from the hustle and bustle in a quiet neighborhood dotted with chic shops and bars. But central Kyoto, with its restaurants, galleries, and shops, is only a 10-minute walk away.
For lunch, we went to Kawamichiya, a soba restaurant that’s been in operation since the Edo era. Housed in a traditional sukiya-zukuri residence, here, you can enjoy seasonal sobas like the soba with herring (¥1,600) and the soba with grated daikon (¥1,400)—just a 12-minute walk from The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto.
We headed back to the hotel to check-in. Our room offered a spectacular view of the Kamo River, the beloved waterway that runs through Kyoto’s center, and the people walking along its banks. The chic room uses handicrafts as accents, and its long, narrow design with a narrow entrance evokes a Kyoto-style machiya (the Edo era townhouses that were taxed based on the width of the entryway).
The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto is decorated with over 400 pieces of curated art, and if you like, the resident art expert will give you an art tour after you arrive (one hour; free of charge). Many of the pieces that you will see during your stay are based on the Tale of Genji, and once we knew what to look for, it seemed to make our stay that much more enriching.
The bonsai were crafted by Christian Tortu, whose floral arrangements have been featured at major fashion shows and the Cannes Film Festival.
Instead of an open lobby, the modest approach to the hotel helps create a calming atmosphere. That being said, you can’t overlook the eye-catching shippo, an auspicious pattern that refers to the seven treasures of Buddhism and is said to facilitate harmonious interpersonal relationships, that fills the wall along the entrance.
The pool overlooking the rock garden is also part of the art collection. The mosaic tile inlay on the bottom of the pool is a work by Jin Hasegawa called “Ultramarine Fountain.”
One of the best things about travel is food. At The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto, you can enjoy Japanese cuisine at Tempura Mizuki or the modern Italian delicacies of La Locanda. There is also an elegant lounge in the lobby where you can enjoy afternoon tea and other refreshments and a hotel bar that serves up original cocktails.
The head chef of La Locanda, Masato Inoue, painstakingly creates elegant Italian dishes with only the best ingredients, some of which are sourced locally. Inoue, who honed his chops in Italy and the world-renowned culinary mecca of San Sebastian, Spain, spares no effort to prepare ingredients, which he carefully pairs with seasonal meats and fishes.
If you’re in the mood for wine, the sommelier will be happy to assist you. The sommelier will recommend not only European wines but wines from all over the world based on each dish. For example, a Sauvignon Blanc from Kyoto’s own Tanba Winehouse goes great with the aged grouper. Other offerings include an orange wine from Georgia and several wines from the West Coast of the United States.
Tempura Mizuki is a renowned tempura restaurant that has earned a one-star Michelin rating for four years in a row. Head chef Taisuke Kojima, who has dedicated his life to tempura, carefully selects seasonal ingredients, including Kyoto vegetables. He alters how he prepares and serves each ingredient to ensure the best possible dining experience. At the counter, you can enjoy a front-row seat where you can hear the sizzle of the tempura and the chopping of the chef’s knife. And remember: it’s best to eat tempura as soon as it’s served.
Good morning Kyoto!
Wake up early enough, and you can catch the sunrise from your window. We also recommend joining a cycling tour of the city’s famous sites while the streets are still quiet. A guide will take you along the Kamo River to see Tofukuji Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu Temple, and other famous sites. It’s a great way to hit several attractions while getting some exercise (one hour and free of charge.)
Another activity we recommend is hiking up Mt. Daimonji to get a view of the entire city. Mt. Daimonji is the alternative name of Mt. Nyoigatake in the Higashiyama neighborhood. It gets its name from the character dai (big), one of five characters etched into the mountains around Kyoto, lit on fire to guide the spirits home at the end of Obon in summer. It only takes between 30 minutes and one hour to reach the summit, which makes the mountain an easy climb even for beginners and even children, and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of the city when you get there. No special gear is needed. You can hike the mountain in sneakers and comfortable clothing, which makes this a great activity to undertake during your stay.
Breakfast after some brisk exercise tastes even more delicious.
At The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto, you can enjoy croissants from the PIERRE HERMÉ PARIS Boutique and have your eggs made any way you like. Of course, you can also have breakfast delivered to your room. Nothing beats a relaxing breakfast while enjoying a view of the Kamo River.
Decisions, decisions: A spa or afternoon tea?
The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto is a popular spot for an afternoon tea accompanied by sweets from Pierre Hermé, the French pastry chef who is known as the “Picasso of pastry.” Here you can sample the latest flavors from PIERRE HERMÉ PARIS, the shop known for constantly innovating and creating new kinds of pastries. You can also stop by the boutique inside the hotel to pick up some macaroons, cakes, or other pastries to go.
Pierre Hermé is most famous for his macaroons.
The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto teamed up with the British spa brand ESPA to offer guests a unique combination of European spa therapy and Eastern philosophy. For example, the Kyoto Bamboo Ritual, which utilizes heated bamboo stalks and oil to release the tension in your muscles, is only available at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto (90 minutes, ¥26,000).
Looking for a good night out?
Kyoto, where the old and new have always coexisted, has never suffered a shortage of places to enjoy a drink. One of the hottest spots in Kyoto right now is K36 Rooftop. Its biggest draw is the 360° panorama of the city from its rooftop location. You can catch the sunset or enjoy the nightscape, including the lit-up Yasaka Pagoda at Hokanji Temple.
And last by not least, don’t forget the maiko! Kamishichiken, the oldest of Kyoto’s five hanamachi (geisha districts), is located on the approach to Kitano Tenman-gū Shrine. If you would like to dine at a traditional tea house, ask the concierge desk for a recommendation. The experience is sure to be unforgettable.
With the storied Kamo River and mountains on three sides, Kyoto is a city that beautifully blends nature with the urban landscape. It is a truly fantastic city where you can experience the scenery of the four seasons, history, tradition, culture, and innovation all in one place. And now, with so few tourists visiting, is a great time to go and experience without crowds.
Win A Free Stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto
Thank you for reading our report and for watching our video. Are you feeling lucky? Good, because we are giving away a two-night stay in a Grand Deluxe Kamogawa River View room at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto, including breakfast for two. Voucher valid for use between February 1 and June 31 (subject to availability.) To enter the contest, simply fill out this form, and we’ll select a winner on January 31, 2021! Hint: to increase your chances of being selected as the winner, be sure to fill out the comments section. Enter here.