Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury Converge

Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeSerene and dreamy, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa provides the ultimate Japanese retreat experience
Text and Photography | Emily Lee

Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeBlessed with serene natural surroundings, Karuizawa is the stuff that fairy tales are made of.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, consider this: Karuizawa’s highland is a place where mountains, forests, and rivers abound; where small picturesque villages are set beneath an active volcano; where wolves, deer and giant flying squirrels roam around freely.

To tie it all together, the Japanese Emperor and Empress first met in Karuizawa, and live together happily ever after.

It’s not surprising, then, that members of the Japanese Royal family are frequent guests of Karuizawa, which is located 150 km northwest of the capital city of Tokyo (or a one hour ride on the Bullet Train.)

The resort of their choice? HOSHINOYA Karuizawa.

Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeEpitome of a Luxury Retreat – Japanese Style

Built in the mid-2000’s, the prestigious HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is the flagship property of the legendary Hoshino Resorts Group. The resort was built on the same piece of land as where the first Hoshino Ryokan was founded, almost a century ago, by the ancestors of the current president. HOSHINOYA Karuizawa has an unrivaled heritage that lies deeply in the region.

To many Japanese people, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa represents the epitome of a luxury retreat, and it’s easy to see why. A glimpse at the stunningly beautiful villas nestled along the Yukawa River, provides the first clue. The resort is a perfect example of a modern Ryokan, where classic Japanese architecture fuses seamlessly with contemporary design. Zen-like and quintessentially Japanese, the settings and the villas don’t get prettier than this.

Better yet, beauty is not only skin deep in the case of HOSHINOYA Karuizawa. Built with an eco-friendly mindset, the resort has its own hydro power plant, which generates 75% of its electricity from nearby rivers.

Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeOnsen Hot Springs and HOSHINOYA SPA

HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, which is made up of 77 villas set inside a pristine landscape of 42,000 square meters, is also famed for its Hot Springs. Hot Springs, or Onsen, are treasured by the Japanese for their many meditative, healing and health benefits.

Onsen and vacation go hand-in-hand in Japan, and the two offered by HOSHINOYA Karuizawa are superb, and perfect reasons to visit the resort.

Tombo-no-yu, first discovered in 1914, is the main Hot Spring and sports both an indoor and outdoor open-air bath. Both baths are spacious and airy, and the spring water is sparkling clean with a temperature of 42.5ºC. Tombo-no-yu is a highly sought after destination and open to the resort guests and general public alike, although guests enjoy “guest-only” hours which grant them exclusive usage rights.

Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeFor a more intimate experience, try the smaller Meditation Bath. It features a “Hikari” (Light Room,) and a “Yami” (Dark Room), the latter for guests who may want to submerge themselves in a dimly lit and tranquil atmosphere. The water is slightly cooler here at a still warm and comfortable 39ºC.

HOSHINOYA Karuizawa’s onsen experience is further enriched by its award-winning spa. There’s nothing like indulging yourself in a luxurious spa treatment, especially after soaking in the silky hot spring water. Performed at either the resort’s exquisite spa villa or within the privacy of your own villa, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa offers special treatments using exotic Japanese essential oils such as Japanese cypress and ginger. “Heavenly” is the word that comes to my mind, when describing my experience at the HOSHINOYA Spa.

A Contemporary Expression of Japanese Ryokan

My “Mizunami – Riverside villa” was set along the riverbank and provided a gorgeous riverscape view. It featured an open-concept design with separate living and sleeping sections.

The living room was spacious and equipped with an L-shaped couch and coffee table. The bedroom, which was located on a slightly elevated level separated by a few stairs, had two twin beds sitting low to the ground in a rather traditional Japanese fashion.

The large bathroom featured a deep wooden bathtub and separate stand-in shower. The bathroom supplied natural spring water directly from the spring – a convenient feature for those times when you simply want to enjoy a hot spring experience from the privacy of your villa.HOSHINOYA-Karuizawa2

Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeThe highlight for me was definitely the wooden-deck balcony. Sitting atop the river and complete with a table, chairs and cushioned bench, it was accessible through an all-glass sliding door from the living room. I just loved sitting on my balcony and watching the ducks or listening to the sound of nature. I also enjoyed having a cup of green tea with my favorite book in hand on a lazy afternoon. The sheer beauty of the resort and its surroundings was mesmerizing.

Notably missing in the room was a TV set and DVD player– a reflection of the resort’s “back to nature” philosophy. Rest assured, however, that you are not completely cut-off from civilization, as in-room high-speed Internet access is provided.

Another “omission,” for guests who might be more accustomed to a Western-style resort experience, is a swimming pool. My personal opinion is that TVs and a pool might become distractions amidst the rich and diverse offerings of HOSHINOYA Karuizawa. Actually, the fact that they were missing was hardly noticeable during my stay.Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury Converge

Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeHOSHINOYA-Karuizawa-62Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeHoshino Area: Stylish and Picturesque

In addition to relaxing in my villa, and going through my daily therapeutic Onsen rituals, I found joy jogging around the beautiful grounds, and the adjacent Hoshino Area.

Owned and developed by the Hoshino Resorts Group, Hoshino Area is a stylish enclave of boutique shops, restaurants and even some beautiful churches. It provides resort guests and locals alike a one-stop leisure experience in a picturesque setting reminiscent of a small village.

Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeHOSHINOYA-Karuizawa-46With its natural beauty, Karuizawa is a much sought after wedding destination for Japanese and even international couples. The Avant-garde Stone Church, which utilizes elements such as natural stone and glass to symbolize male and female respectively, is especially popular. Karuizawa Kogen Church, a beautifully designed church in a more traditional style, is another popular choice for visitors.

Harunire Terrace is an open area courtyard where you will find a collection of 14 fine shops, a gallery, beauty salon and restaurants. I especially enjoyed the famed Maruyama Coffee cafe and bookshop, where I relaxed with a cup of their specialty coffee.

HOSHINOYA-Karuizawa-16Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergePicchio eco-tour are the resident nature experts and provide workshops and guided tours. Want to see giant flying squirrels? Picchio eco-tour provide an evening workshop for guests to observe these magnificent creatures right inside the resort grounds. They also offer a guided downhill mountain biking experience at nearby Mount Asama. Participants will be taken by car, to 2000M above sea level atop Mount Asama, where they will embark on an exhilarating downhill journey with a high-end GT mountain bike. It was another highlight of my stay, albeit an exhausting one I must admit!

Gastronomic Delights: Kasuke and Yukawatan, Hotel Bleston Court 

One of the true pleasures of staying at HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is the gastronomic experience that it offers. The resort and its neighboring Harunire Terrace, provide a wealth of culinary options for every taste. Guests have a choice of Japanese, French, Chinese, and Italian cuisines in seven restaurants.

Fine dining at HOSHINOYA Karuizawa is characterized by their inventive use of local ingredients and stunning presentation, not to mention food that is tantalizingly tasty.Kasuke, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa

Kasuke, HOSHINOYA KaruizawaYukawatan-Hotel-Bleston-Court-2Yukawatan, Hotel Bleston CourtYukawatan, Hotel Bleston CourtOne evening I dined at Kasuke, the resort’s Japanese restaurant, and was rewarded with a sumptuous set of authentic Japanese Kaiseki dinner. (Click HERE to read Kasuke, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: A Photo Tour)

Likewise, I was equally smitten by my French dinner at Yukawatan, Hotel Bleston Court (sister hotel of HOSHINOYA Karuizawa located minutes away), which provided another inspiring gastronomic experience. (Click HERE to read Yukawatan, Hotel Bleston Court – A Photo Tour)

Worth noting especially is Chef Noriyuki Hamada, Executive Chef of Yukawatan, who is the 2013 Bronze recipient of the prestigious Bocuse d’Or. Bocuse d’Or, held every two years in Lyon, France, is generally regarded as the culinary equivalent of the Olympic Games. Chef Hamada is the only Japanese winner since the contest’s inception in 1987.

Suffice it to say that Chef Hamada deserves all of the honors, as his passionate creations were one of the best French fine dining experiences I’ve ever had.

Review: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeReview: HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Where Nature and Luxury ConvergeHOSHINOYA-Karuizawa-15HOSHINOYA Karuizawa: Editors’ Choice

So, are there any downsides to the resort? Well, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa’s charm lies in the fact that it is the perfect blend of a nature retreat, a classic Ryokan and a modern luxury resort. It is this delicate balance that holds a strong appeal for many but possibly not all. I could imagine that, at this price level, some people might prefer an all-out luxury experience, especially those who are accustomed to a more Western-style resort experience.

For the rest of us, HOSHINOYA Karuizawa provides an exquisite retreat experience. Amidst a marvelous backdrop of scenic mountains and cascading rivers, the resort offers an unforgettable Ryokan experience, which is uniquely modern, and uniquely Japanese. Equally enticing is the warm hospitality offered by the staff. It’s the kind of service that separates the best from the rest.

HOSHINOYA Karuizawa has won me over and earned our Editors’ Choice award for its unique beauty and charm.

The Macaron Magazine Editors’ Choice award is an accolade that is awarded to vendors and products that provide exceptional and unique experiences to their guests and users. 

CONTACT INFORMATION:

HOSHINOYA Karuizawa

Address:
Hoshino, Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun,
Nagano,389-0194

Tel: +81-(0)50-3786-0066 (8:00~21:00)