(All photographs courtesy of Gora Kadan)
There was only one consistent advice we got when we were planning our Japan trip: stay in a Ryokan with an onsen (a traditional inn with hot springs). Ryokans by any standard are expensive and if I was to strip naked with others and dip in and out of a hot natural spring I was keen to stay at one of the best.
Just an hour and a half away from Tokyo, a once imperial family summer retreat is now home to one of Japan’s most luxurious and peaceful Ryokan’s . Set at the foot of Mount Fuji in the Hakone National Park, Gora Kadan has ensured every view from every angle captures the beautiful vistas of Hakone.
At first it is hard to justify the equivalent of a return flight ticket to Japan on just one night at Gora Kadan. By Western standards you could describe the rooms as basic and bare. By Japanese standards, however, I would describe the room as carefully thought out, with the emphasis on simplicity and comfort. Woven straw tatami mats, shoji screens and a low table to eat on. One delicate and simple Japanese painting on the wall. Through the shoji screens a perfectly manicured zen garden with our private onsen. On the futons where we are to sleep are two Yukutas (Japanese gowns) and a pair of Japanese socks.
It takes some time to understand what Gora Kadan has to offer. Whilst the property itself is beautiful it does not throw out all the show stoppers from the moment you arrive. Gora Kadan is a holistic experience, it is about the subtle perfection and service, the simplicity and minimal distraction that cleanses your mind and allows you to concentrate on yourself; the exceptional Kaiseki cuisine and most importantly it is about what Gora’s breathtaking onsen can do for your mind, body and soul.
The outdoor onsen hugged by the magical Japanese gardens is what makes Gora Kadan a truly special retreat. The majority of our stay at this oasis involved soaking our tired bodies in the hot onsen, resting our back against the rocks and taking in the crisp fresh air.
Not a noise to be heard. Perhaps the occasional petite Japanese woman, walking into the onsen with a white towel on her head. After floating in 15 minutes of kettle hot water, my husband and I would meet each other in the communal relaxation room, lie back in the massage chair and sip on green tea. 30 minutes later we would each go back to the respective single sex onsen, indulge in mineral rich waters and meet again in the relaxation room; and repeat this cycle until our dinner was served in our room. To complete our pampering for the day we had a shiatsu massage in our room; which set us off for perhaps the best night’s sleep we have ever had.
A review of a Relais Chateaux property is not complete without a mention of the outstanding cuisine. I shall not give away all the magic and splendour of Gora Kadan. Rest assured that the kitchen can pull together an elaborate vegetarian seven course Kaiseki cuisine, served in the comfort of your room, so you don’t have to take off your Yukuta till you leave the property.
One night is enough to recharge and revitalise you. However long you stay you will wish you had just one more day.