Captivating, elegant & relaxing: celebrate the fragrant and wondrous beauty of Kyoto and surrounds in full bloom & blush during this exclusive 16-day, luxury cuisine & culture tour hosted by food & travel writer Jane Lawson and fellow Japanophile Gerard Kambeck. Blooming, Fragrant and Delicious.
Our third and final tour for 2019, is our stupendous ZENBU HARU (spring) tour. Visit Japan in the most underrated month of the Japanese travel calendar for beauty beyond your imagination, exotic foods, unique day trips and a cultural extravaganza! The Zenbu Haru Kyoto Food and Culture Tour is not your average Japanese spring tour. Firstly – we are carefully side-stepping the jostling tourist madness of peak sakura (cherry blossom) season – instead immersing ourselves in Kyoto’s divine late spring colours and fragrance as the weather warms in the leadup to June’s rainy season – enticing a wider range of flowers to show their pretty faces. Think Iris, Azalea, Wisteria, Water Lily’s, young Hydrangeas and 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 rarely seen outside the autumn months. Secondly – while we’ll certainly enjoy vibrant gardens, green spaces and serene mountain vistas they merely form a majestic backdrop to the greater cultural experience and our culinary enjoyment! Thirdly – for those who love local markets we have really hit the trifecta with this tour – as the dates encompass 3 of the top markets in Kyoto for handmade crafts, vintage and antique goods and good ol’ flea paraphernalia plus we never miss at very least a quick visit to Nishiki food market.
Recommended for: Returning (or first time) visitors to Kyoto – desiring a leisurely paced, deeply engaging and delicious cultural and culinary experience with two friendly and flexible Japanese-obsessed part-time locals by their side.
10 guests maximum. Please note the tour requires 7 guests to depart.
16 days/ 15 nights fully-escorted tour
Luxury accommodation at the Kyoto Hyatt Regency Hotel
All meals included except where noted (so you can catch your breath!)
All transport for the duration of the tour are included (taxis/comfortable private bus)
All activities, entrance fees, guide and host fees and more are included – see below for details.
Activity Overview: Kampai Connection – Welcome drinks/Sushi demonstration & tasting/welcome dinner
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 15 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 dinner together and your introduction to traditional Kyoto home-style dishes or Obanzai. Tonight not only provides 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. We might just have the opportunity to meet briefly with a maiko-san (geiko/geisha in training) after dinner too..
Overview: Feast for the eyes/ Food market/ design stores and galleries/ lunch/ food hall / craft/ private restaurant dinner
After the first of our gorgeous buffet breakfasts (including freshly baked croissants – still warm from the oven) 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 no 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 design and gallery stores, local washi (paper) makers, a famous Tea shop and perhaps the awesome Depachika(underground foodhall) of one of Kyoto’s best Department stores – of course we’ll be stopping for a casual Lunch for sustenance… 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 a wonderful dinner at a private restaurant where only the freshest picks from the day’s market will be showcased – we never know what delicacies we’ll encounter at this welcoming venue and we don’t care because the food is always amazing and the hosts equally delightful. They also serve very high grade, delicious and addictive Nihon-shu (sake) just quietly…
Overview: Crafty foxes and Indigo Blues/ Handmade market/ Lunch/Indigo artisan /relax/Dinner
We’ll be up with the sparrows this morning as we take off in our private bus to explore the famous ‘Handmade Craft’ Market – packed with stalls selling an eclectic mix of quality handicrafts, foodstuffs and artsy bibs ‘n bobs. Contemporary jewellery and accessories, ceramics, locally designed and made clothes and accessories from traditional and contemporary Japanese textiles, hand-carved wood and woven bamboo homewares, locally roasted coffee and hand-dipped chocolates. We’ll enjoy a lunch as pretty as it is delicious before an afternoon visit to the 160-year-old residence and workshop of 4th generation Indigo artisans. Learn about the process and admire stunning woven or shibori textiles – lengths of fabric, some apparel such as jackets, scarves, cushions, table mats etc. Warning – this stuff is to ‘dye’ for and it’s incredibly easy to spend a small fortune… Before a sumptuous Japanese Italian dinner (yeah we know, but trust us – it’s umami to the max and elegant as all get out) there will be time to rest a little (and recover if you’ve gone wild with the credit card).
Overview:Meditations on Tea / temple and garden visit/ Zazen / Tea ceremony/Shojin lunch/incense/ Wagyu dinner
We’ll wander a lesser known temple district before visiting a private temple and garden for some brief instruction on zazen (seated meditation). We’ll also enjoy a zen-inspired tea ceremony and learn about tea sweets before our shojin ryori (‘enlightened persons cuisine) lunch on exquisite vegan cuisine – enough to ‘turn’ the most steadfast carnivore. Seriously. We’ll visit a Japanese incense producer (and if you think you don’t dig incense just wait and see!) before returning to the hotel for a little time to rest and reflect before joining us for pre-dinner drinks in preparation for our sensational Wagyu (Japanese beef) dinner by one heck of a grill master. It’s all about balance…
Activity Overview: Leisure-suits Are Go!
Today is a full day and evening at leisure for you to wander or retreat as you wish. Kyoto shares with us more temple and shrines gardens than you can poke a stick at but is also full of photogenic laneways and hidden pockets. Take a walk through the well-preserved Higashiyama district and Kiyomizu temple area, the streets of Gion for gorgeous old tea houses and shops, roam the banks of the Kamogawa (river) – Kyoto city’s fluid heart or take in one of the many galleries or museums. Keen to glide beneath the red torii gate tunnels of Fushimi Inari Shrine? Luckily it’s very close to the hotel – just a short taxi or train ride – but go early to avoid the crowds. Perhaps you’d prefer to slow it right down and locate one of Kyoto’s relaxing cafes to read that book you haven’t been able to get to – or simply indulge in a Shiatsu (traditional massage), Hari (Acupuncture) or facial in the hotel’s spa – using your included treatment voucher. Be sure to ask your Zenbu hosts or the hotel concierge for any assistance you need in planning your day or evening.
Overview: The Great Lake. Biwa-ko/ garden/lunch/oldschool village/Yakitori dinner
We’ll reconnect during an al-Fresco breakfast today before driving to the shore of enormous Lake Biwa neighbouring Shiga prefecture for morning tea with a view. After we’ll make our way to a handsome town in Shiga prefecture – a hidden gem unfrequented by tourists before lunching on incredible sushi made in front of us by the hands of a 3rd generation sushi master. We’ll visit a beautiful garden and villa, the historic sites of the old town area and ponder its intriguing architecture. There will be time to wander the atmospheric laneways for arts, crafts and antiques before returning to Kyoto to freshen up for a lip-smacking Yakitori Dinner on the best chicken on a stick in town!
Overview: A Spring Kitchen /Temple garden / Cooking lesson/ Lunch/ Shotengai stroll / dinner
This morning we’ll wander early through a small but beautiful, relatively unknown garden before attending our Japanese spring cooking lesson in a private, traditional dwelling before dining with our host who is so very knowledge about traditional and contemporary Japanese foods, fermentation and food culture. Afterwards we’ll stroll through the local shotengai (a covered shopping arcade built in the late 1800’s) where there will be time for wandering past old-school butchers, grocers and fishmongers. There also happens to be some great coffee and award-winning gelato to be had… We’ll have a little time for relaxation, perhaps sampling some Kyoto Ume-shu (plum wine) together before a delicious contemporary Japanese dinner.
Overview: Mountain Highs & Earthy Clay/ Scenic alpine drive/Hyogo villages/lunch/ceramic and craft shopping/dinner at hotel
We’ll sneak away early today for our drive through the lush green of the Japanese Alpine countryside. Vistas filled with sunshine and dotted with wild flowers will be our entertainment as we make our way to two quaint villages in Hyogo prefecture where we’ll explore the local lifestyle – including traditional architecture, pottery, sake and foodstuffs of the region. We’ll break to enjoy a relaxed lunch of local cuisine and when we’ve filled our shopping baskets with irresistible pickings – we’ll commence the return drive to Kyoto in the early evening. After a long day, you’ll be pleased to know we don’t have to go anywhere tonight as dinner is at our very own hotel.
Overview: Marketing Guru/ Antique and Flea market/ lunch/afternoon at leisure/Pontocho/izakaya dinner
Grab yourself an early breakfast this morning as we’ll want to beat the crowds visiting one of Kyoto’s largest and most famous markets. We’ll peruse the lively temple grounds bustling with vintage textile vendors and antique dealers accompanied by a local friend who is rather expert in scouring the markets for treasures – with his eye for quality and knowledge about traditional textiles (particularly Kimono!), history and culture he’s sure to help us uncover some rewarding finds. We’ll return to the hotel to drop off our goodies before enjoying lunch together in a gorgeous café. Afterwards you’ll have the afternoon at leisure for exploring, shopping or relaxing. We’ll take an early evening stroll through lantern-lit Pontocho alley before heading to a lively izakaya dinner where you may wish to continue to grow your sake appreciation or sip on G&T’s made with Kyoto’s own gin!
Overview: Bamboo Cool /forest stroll/local sites /garden visit/ village/Kaiseki lunch/ evening at leisure
Today we’ll take an intoxicating morning stroll through a verdant bamboo forest on Kyoto’s outskirts where we’ll pop into local historical sites, a stunning garden and then enjoy a little free time in the nearby village area for crafty souvenir shopping … or a bowl of frothy matcha. 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. This evening will be yours for soaking in your deep bath, room service and a movie – or for getting through a few more pages of that book you haven’t had time for lately.
Overview: R & R and R. Full Day at leisure/ Fancy dinner
Yes that’s right – another whole day for your to relax or roam at your own pace… Why not take a bus or train up to Kibune for a walk in the cool cedar forest or lunch in a pontoon over the river. Or visit Uji’s Byodoin temple and matcha mecca. Perhaps visit Nijo castle and its extensive garden or wander the boutiques in the city back streets. If you haven’t had an opportunity to use your Riraku Spa voucher yet – we suggest you don’t leave it too late. You won’t know why you waited so long. But, whatever you do today, just make sure you are back in time to glam up for a pre-dinner drink and a fancy French/Japanese dinner tonight.
Overview: Peace, Prose and Pretty/ Stroll garden/books/museum/lunch/
This morning we’ll enjoy a leisurely meander through a sprawling, magnificent yet peaceful garden in full bloom in the Okazaki area before visiting a superb bookstore featuring illustrated tomes on Japan-centric subjects from design to food to fashion. We’ll visit one of the local art museums or galleries before relaxing over lunch. In the afternoon you are free to wander this delightful local area or walk with us along a tranquil, willow-lined stream – to one of the prettiest traditional pockets in Kyoto town – be sure to bring your camera. We’ll return to the hotel to put your feet up and relax before dinner by one of Kyoto’s cutting-edge young chefs.
Overview: Festivities & Flowertown/ Shrine festival/flea market/Hanamachi /lunch/ garden meditation/open air restaurant dinner
After an early breakfast this morning we’ll visit Kitano Tenmangu Shrine and take a walk through their May festival flea market before taking a relaxed walk through a lesser frequented Hanamachi (flower town) commonly referred to as a Geisha district. We’ll enjoy lunch in the area before being driven back to our hotel to drop of any purchases. We’ll have some time to freshen up before a late afternoon visit to a tranquil garden in a quiet villa where we might practice some of our newly learned zazen meditation skills… Tonight’s fun dinner will be in an open-air izakaya and craft beer garden where we’ll dine under the stars in the cool of the evening.
Overview: Archicture, Art & Awe/ Miho/Shigaraki/Lunch/Ceramics and craft shopping/Feet up/Creative dinner
After breakfast we’ll drive to the spectacular and architecturally astounding – Miho Museum today in neighbouring Shiga prefecture. The collection and exhibitions are excellent – but the building and the access to it is out of this world. On the way to Shigaraki – one of Japan’s original ceramics villages (also responsible for local mascot Tanuki-san…) we’ll enjoy lunch in a groovy organic café before stopping by a hand-picked selection of shops and galleries run by local artists – featuring ceramic and other exquisite handmade wares. We’ll return to the hotel where you’ll have a little time to rest your feet (with something cool in hand of course) before dinner at a local favourite for creative Japanese cuisine in a hidden away location.
Overview: Blossom and Flow/ Botanical garden/lunch/river walk/Farewell Drinks and Dinner
As the rainy season approaches and the days grow warmer and more humid in Kyoto town we’ll be sure to be at the gates to Kyoto’s stunning botanical gardens in time for them to open… we don’t want you getting too hot and bothered on your last full tour day! You’ll enjoy a relaxing time, wandering at your own pace, exploring the many varieties of blooming, colourful plants, shady green trees and an excellent bonsai garden. The conservatory is a wonderful showcase for exotic plants from around the world if that is of interest. Once the sun is high we’ll side step to a beautiful spring lunch and a little wander around the shops and cafes of a northern Kyoto village with a distinctly French Accent. Perhaps we’ll pop our feet in the cool, flowing river as we take a last long look at beautiful Kyoto town and inhale the perfumed breeze. After a morning in the sun we may all need a nanna nap in order to be fresh for our Farewell Drinks and Dinner tonight.
Overview: Sayonara Tears/ breakfast /fond farewells/ check out
Sadly the tour will come to a close today. Perhaps we’ll enjoy one last breakfast in the courtyard together? We’re not required to check out until the early afternoon so take some time to relax, pack or find a nearby temple deck to meditate. Or maybe enjoy soaking up just a little bit more of Kyoto town’s magical atmosphere – it’s not hard to do – Sanjusangendo temple is just next door and the Kyoto National Museum is situated directly across the road … plus there’s so much more, you’ll simply have to return… Whether your journey is homewards or onwards your hosts will be available to assist you with your plans. Arigato and Sayonara for now… Ja, mata ne.
Are now open!
Jane and Gerard are working together with our very lovely and helpful travel agent – Dai-san from Pitt Travel in Sydney. We’ll introduce you as soon as you express an interest in booking as he’ll handle your booking and payment – providing documentation with Terms and Conditions. He is also able to assist you with flights, transfers and travel insurance.
** Members of the Zenbu Haru group will receive a detailed itinerary closer to departure however soon after payment Zenbu Tours will send you some helpful destination and travel information.
Please note the following are not included as part of the tour package:
Luxury Japanese Cuisine & Culture Tours