The Zenbu Haru Kyoto Food Tour is not your average Japanese spring tour…. for one we are carefully side-stepping the jostling tourist madness of peak sakura (cherry blossom) season and instead immersing ourselves in Kyoto’s divine late spring colours and fragrance as the weather begins to warm up – enticing a wider range of flowers to show their pretty faces. Think Iris, Azalea, Water Lily, Wisteria and roses – possibly early lotus if we’re lucky! Young, vibrant green Ginko leaves breezily wave at passersby as they acknowledge the on-coming summer and lesser-known maples glow in shades of red which are rarely seen outside the autumn months. Secondly – while we’ll certainly witness a variety of vibrant gardens, green spaces and serene mountain vistas they more-so form a majestic backdrop to the greater cultural experience and our culinary enjoyment!
We shall kick off our tour in style this evening with a welcome drink in the bar of the stunning Hyatt Regency Kyoto – our home away from home for the next 14 nights. Afterwards we’ll watch a mesmerising sashimi & sushi demonstration by the Hyatt’s skilful chefs before moving into the elegant Touzan Restaurant for our first meal together and your introduction to traditional Kyoto home-style dishes or Obanzai. Tonight not only provides with the perfect opportunity to get to know your hosts and each other a little but also to become acquainted with fascinating Japanese customs and culture as you begin your Kyoto experience. (Welcome Drinks & D)
After a sumptuous breakfast overlooking a tranquil Japanese courtyard garden your hosts will walk and talk you through the bountiful Nishiki-koji food market, known to the locals as Kyoto daidokoro or Kyoto’s kitchen. Expect an eye-popping assortment of supremely fresh seafood, meats, pickles, tofu, miso, Kyoto’s renowned vegetable varieties (Kyo-yasai) and many other local delicacies – and of course there will be plenty of wondrous new foods to sample! If hand-crafted knives and kitchen utensils are your thing be sure to bring along some yen as we will visit a store famous for traditional cookware.
We’ll spend some time exploring the local vicinity including visiting an excellent design store, one of our favourite gallery stores, a few antique shops and perhaps the awesome Depachika(underground foodhall) of one of Kyoto’s best Department stores – of course stopping for lunch in between.
There will be a little time back at the hotel for ‘putting your feet up’ (code for sipping martini’s in the hotel’s handsome Touzan bar) before dinner in a private restaurant – an experience to remember!
We’ll start the day with a gentle wander through the cobblestoned and smooth wooden laneways of historical Higashiyama (Eastern Mountain) area popping into shops lined with traditional arts, crafts, sweets and pickles.
We’ll break for a short but mesmerising Tea Ceremony (with a bi-lingual local who’s fluent in English) before visiting a small, tucked away temple in the area, once home to a key cultural figure, before walking along the quiet backstreets to our tempura lunch of seasonal seafood and local vegetables.
In the afternoon we’ll spend some time in Gion – Kyoto’s most famous Geisha quarter – including a visit to the sublime Kenninji temple and its zen rock garden. We’ll have a little time to rest at the hotel before our relaxed Izakaya dinner.
After breakfast we’ll venture to the striking Heian shrine – built in the late 1800’s in celebration of Kyoto’s (once known as Heian-Kyo – or city of eternal peace) 1100th year as Japan’s capital. The sprawling stroll garden is brimming with over 200 plant species many of which will flower in May. Simply stunning. Afterwards we’ll visit a splendid museum of traditional crafts discovering how some of Japan’s most beautiful and artisan objects are made and what they are used for. We’ll take a peek into a couple of excellent gallery stores and lunch in an elegantly restored cafe space.
We’ll spend a little time browsing through a stylish book store before making our way to a traditional teahouse for a very special, private meeting with a Maiko-san (Geisha in training) who will perform traditional dance and chat with us about her life – as we sip sake and shochu.
We’ll walk it off on the way to our dinner nearby where we’ll enjoy a relaxed chicken-on-a-stick dinner at the finest yakitori-ya you can find in Kyoto town!
Today is all yours – a full day at leisure.
Kyoto shares with us more temples, shrines and gardens than you can poke a stick at but there are many photogenic laneways and hidden pockets to discover too. Gently take your time to discover a little of Kyoto on your own – roam along the Kamogawa (river) the fluid heart of Kyoto city, take in a gallery or museum, try your hand at Shibori, visit NijoCastle and nearby Ninja house – or simply relax in one of Kyoto’s wonderful cafes with a good book.
You might just wish to stay close to the hotel so you can make the most of your Riraku Spa Voucher!?
Whatever you do just be back in time for an early evening stroll along lantern-lit Pontocho on route to a spectacular Japanese-French meal.
Today we take a relaxing drive to sleepy Ohara in Kyoto’s northern mountains through farming area famous for supplying some of the city’s finest restaurants. Our first stop will be spiritual Sanzen-in(temple) and its serene and grounding surrounds.
We’ll wander back down the hill via a pleasant lane flanked by a stream on one side and folk-craft and pickle vendors on the other – and take a scenic
stroll through farming land in the valley before being making our way to a leisurely Sunday lunch where we’ll dine on the unusual-sounding, yet, superb coupling that is Japanese-Italian cuisine – umami to the max!.
In the late afternoon we shall we meander (waddle) along the contemplative tree-lined Path of Philosophy before leaving you to your own devices for the evening.
Our first stop after breakfast this morning will be one of our favourite, lesser known temples for quiet contemplation – there will be time to wander alone in the impressive garden before we walk through the backstreets
of a quiet residential neighbourhood.
We’ll enjoy lunch nearby before strolling through an old-school shotengai (shopping strip) – where the locals have been purchasing everyday household needs for many decades -on route to the antiques district and Higashi Gion, a picturesque north eastern pocket the famous Geisha quarter – great people watching and photo opportunities (and a couple of gorgeous design stores too!).
The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure to continue exploring or return to the hotel for a wee nap before we sample some of Japan’s finest whiskey (or perhaps some aromatic plum wine) prior to a divine Wagyu (Japanese Beef) dinner!
(B,L, Whiskey/Plum wine, D)
The morning is yours for a sleep in….
…OR join us earlybirds as we take off in our private bus to explore the famous Tezukuri (Handmade) Craft Market – packed with stalls selling an eclectic mix of quality handicrafts, foodstuffs
and artsy bibs ‘n bobs – traditional tea bowls, contemporary jewellery, pretty things made from traditional textiles, bamboo utensils, clothes by local designers, ceramics, antiques, wooden boxes to keep your newly acquired trinkets -and even prettily packaged chocolates or coffee.
While we are in the northern part of the city we may be fortunate enough to spot some of the preparations for the AOI (wisteria) festival parade. We’ll drop our goodies back to our hotel before lunching nearby.
The remainder of the afternoon is yours at leisure until we meet up again for dinner.
Today is another full day at leisure for you to wander as you wish. Why not visit nearby Nara (an ancient capital) – for her quaint ‘old town’, giant statue of buddha (daibutsu), the lantern-lined Kasuga shrine and to witness the sacred deer run free! Don’t forget to buy your special deer cookies to feed them with – otherwise they’ll raid your pockets! Or take a short trip to Uji in Kyoto’s south – the setting for classic Japanese novel The Tale of Genji – boasting the magnificent Byodoin Temple area, and quality, fragrant green tea. Perhaps simply indulge in another Shiatsu (traditional massage), Hari (Acupuncture) or facial in the hotel’s spa ?
We’ll share our experiences over a relaxed and convenient dinner tonight -in our very own hotel!
After breakfast we’ll visit the nearby neighbourhood of Fushimi where will glide through the famous vermillian tunnels formed by thousands of torii gates at the sacred Fushimi Inari shrine. We’ll have a little time to peek into the local stalls selling souvenirs and fox face cookies before heading back into the heart of the city.
We’ll walk through the all important Yasaka shrine on route to the lovely Maruyama Park where we’ll enjoy a picnic lunch of seasonal goodies. Afterwards we might stop in a lovely cafe or for something sweet and while away the rest of the afternoon shopping for pickles, intoxicating incense and traditional sweets.
For those who are interested, on return to the hotel we will make a short detour to one of the best places in town to buy camera equipment, quirky Japanese toys and figurines, fun (‘only in Japan’) phone cases and the like (those who wish to linger on their own are welcome to) before perhaps dropping in on Kyoto station for a peek at it’s incredible structure and one fantastic view over the rooftops of Kyoto. There will be a short break before dinner.
Today, with a renowned ceramics expert by our side, we’ll take a day-trip to the spectacular and architecturally astounding – Miho museum in neighbouring Shiga prefecture.
After lunch we’ll visit Shigaraki – one of Japan’s original ceramics villages (also responsible for local mascot Tanuki san… ) where you’ll have the chance to meet some of the local potters (and perhaps snaffle yourself a piece of ceramic art or two… ) before returning to Kyoto.
Dinner is on your own tonight giving you the opportunity to order in room service and pop on a free in-house dvd! Of course if you feel like getting out and about Jane or the hotel concierge will be happy to recommend a variety of restaurants.
Today we’ll take a morning stroll around scenic Arashiyama area in western Kyoto including the lushly green bamboo forest, moon-crossing bridge and a spectacular, sprawling garden around an old villa, once home to a Japanese black and white movie star– blessed with an incredible bird’s eye view over the city. If there’s time we’ll walk further west into the Saga Toriimoto area past local craft stores specialising in bamboo products…. or perhaps just relax over a coffee in Arashiyama village.
The morning’s exercise promises to help us work up an appetite for leisurely lunching on some of Kyoto’s most creative Kaiseki fare – bring a sense of curiosity and an open mind for this stunning only in Kyoto experience.
Late afternoon will be yours for soaking in your deep bath, or getting through a few more pages of that book you haven’t had time for before a light dinner.
Today we will celebrate spring with a visit to the home of our charming friend Mayumi san – a truly traditional cook with a wealth of information on Japanese cuisine and culture.
She’ll talk us through the foods and rituals connected to the season before we enjoy lunchtogether.
In the afternoon, if we ask her nicely, she might also show us a few of her favourite artisan craft and/or food businesses. This promises to be a memorable, connected experience.
We’ll return to downtown Kyoto for a casual dinner.
After breakfast this morning our first stop is a truly covetable, traditional dark wooded Kyoto house, once the home & studio of one of Kyoto’s famous mingei(folkart) potters – now a wonderful museum. You’ll want to stay here forever…
But we have other plans! Next we’ll head uptown to a few excellent little shops including a famous senbei(rice cracker) store, a modern bamboo shop and a local fashion designer who sells everything from contemporary tabi (split toe socks) to cool carry bags to long flowy Kimono-inspired jackets…trust me – male or female – you’ll be wanting a little bit of this Kyoto action for swanning around in back home!
We’ll grab a quick lunch before you are let loose in some rather extended shopping arcades – the perfect place to pick up some last minute gifts for friends at home (or for yourself..)
Just be back in time for our fancy dinner tonight… (and a farewell drink of course!)
The tour will come to a close after breakfast and goodbye’s this morning. The day is at your leisure until your departure homewards or onwards. Your hosts will be available at the hotel for any last-minute assistance and advice if you are staying on in Japan.
If you are leaving later today why not take one last un-hurried opportunity to soak up Kyoto town’s magical atmosphere – it’s not hard to do – only seconds from the hotel is the breathtaking Sanjusangendo temple and the Kyoto National Museum is situated directly across the road.
Sayonara! Until we meet again.