An elegant Kyoto ryokan inn with contemporary touches run by charismatic fifth-generation family owners. There are seven guestrooms, with tatami mat flooring, aromatic cypress wood bathtubs and modern artworks, plus a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Quiet and calm but central, set in a prime location Tominokoji Street, among the neat grid layout of downtown Kyoto (a 12-minute taxi ride from Kyoto Station). A string of generations-old artisan businesses are just minutes away on foot, selling everything from fans (a local specialty) to incense, with other accessible attractions including Nishiki Market and Teramachi Street shopping arcade. There is also a bicycle rental shop just around the corner.
Style & character
The experience starts the moment guests arrive: a lattice wood gate slides open at the side of the ryokan’s clean-lined façade and a serene bamboo-lined pathway leads to a stone genkan entrance, where shoes are swapped for slippers. The atmosphere inside the inn, which dates back to the mid-late 1800s, is quintessentially Japanese and homely with contemporary touches, thanks to the charismatic owner Kazuo Nishida and his wife Kyoko.
The Relais & Chateaux property has sliding paper screens, tatami floors and cotton yukata gowns provided in each of the seven guestrooms, which overlook a courtyard garden. Less conventionally, jazz plays constantly in the background (Mr Nishida’s favourite music), the library is crammed with architecture tomes, modern paintings hang on walls and the meals are not served in guestrooms at low tables (as is often the case in ryokan inns), but in private dining rooms with Western-style tables and chairs.
Service & facilities
As in all high-end ryokan, life revolves around the concept of omotenashi – the near-intuitive art of Japanese hospitality. And so staff are either invisibly discreet or bend-over-backwards helpful, depending on the situation – and always quick to help navigate the maelstrom of ryokan rules (for example, explaining which side folds over the top of the yukata gown when dressing for dinner or whether socks or slippers should be worn depending on the flooring).
Mr Nishida adds a charismatic touch: over welcome matcha green tea and seasonal sweets in the library, he happily discusses everything from the inn’s history and places to visit (providing an illustrated local map) to his views on contemporary Japanese design. The Michelin-starred dinner is another highlight, while there are also communal sento baths in the basement with free tea and beer.
Seven spacious rooms span two levels, each named after a character from the historic 11th-century novel Tale of Genji, from Wakana to Aoi. They are unique in layout yet share a similar ryokan aesthetic: sliding paper screens; calligraphy scrolls; tatami mat floors; asymmetric ikebana flower arrangements; minimal furnishings; fluffy futons laid out during dinner. Bathrooms stand out owing to the presence of deep wooden Japanese-style hinoki cypress wood baths, some of which overlook the garden, where a haiki-inspiringly pretty plum tree takes centre stage – plus of course, an ubiquitous multi-buttoned high-tech WC.
Food & drink
It’s easy to see why the ryokan is crowned with a Michelin star: set against a jazz background in a private room, dinner is as visually memorable as it is tasty. A kaiseki banquet-style feast of around nine ever-changing seasonal courses are presented on a flurry of exquisite ceramics and lacquerware dishes, decorated with local flowers and leaves. Highlights of my meal included spring cabbage soup with yuzu fruit flowers and asari clam risotto, each course paired with an expert selection of nihonshu sakes.
Breakfast includes both Western and Japanese options, the latter being particularly tasty, with its medley of small dishes of grilled fish, rice, egg roll, soup and pickles.
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