Our first tour for 2018, the ever popular and intimate 12-day Zenbu Zen Tour, focuses on superbly serene and fascinating Kyoto – Japan’s cultural epicentre. This tour is leisurely paced to allow one to absorb the city’s calming energy whilst exploring and indulging in as many of Kyoto’s traditions, treasures and tastes as possible. Zenbu Zen offers the perfect holiday scenario for the traveller who wishes to connect with the new, embrace the ancient and relax in between. Encircled by mountains, Kyoto in winter is a sight to behold and at its most peaceful. An in-depth and layered introduction to the very best of Japanese cuisine and culture.
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 11 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, seasonal Japanese fare.
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 Drink + D)
After a sumptuous buffet breakfast in the Grill Restaurant overlooking the hotel’s tranquil Japanese garden we’ll walk through the lower part of the historical Higashiyama (Eastern Mountain) area – dotted with temples and shrines and lined with local crafts, teahouses and foodstuffs.
After breaking for a short but mesmerising Tea Ceremony we’ll continue on through well-preserved traditional streets, Maruyama Kouen (park) and Kyoto’s important Yasaka Jinja (shrine).
We’ll enjoy a an obanzai lunch (Kyoto homestyle cooking) in the area before a walk through Gion – Kyoto’s most famous Geisha district to visit the magical Kenninji temple. Afterwards there will be a little time for shopping for exquisite incense or handmade sweets or pickles for those interested – or simply to put your feet up back at the hotel prior to a special dinner at a Private Restaurant – with perhaps a little music on the side…
This morning Jane will walk and talk you through the wonderful 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 beautiful hand-crafted knives are your thing be sure to bring along some yen as we will visit a store famous not only for knives but other traditional cookware and utensils.
We’ll spend some time exploring the local vicinity including fabulous design and gallery stores, handmade paper shops, a famous Kyoto tea store, antique and textile specialists, and perhaps the wonderful Depachika ( underground foodhall) of one of Kyoto’s best Department stores – naturally an elegant lunchwill slip nicely in the middle of this visually pleasing, aromatic and overly tempting experience for those with little shopping restraint…
In the evening, before an izakaya dinner, we’ll take a stroll along the atmospheric, lantern-lit laneway of Pontocho – lined with restaurants and bars.
After breakfast we will travel in our private bus to a peaceful Zen temple complex for a short lesson in Zazen (seated Zen Buddhist meditation) and chat about Buddhist philosophy, life and the universe with one fascinatingly modern monk. We shall lunch at a nearby restaurant highly renowned for superb Shojin Ryori(Buddhist Vegan cuisine) – their food is enough to turn a carnivore into a vegetarian! Well, almost…
In the afternoon we’ll visit a small museum, once the residence of a famous folk artist then we’ll return to our hotel with a stroll through a quiet local neighbourhood for a short break. Before dinner, which will include some of Kyoto’s most delectable chicken-on-a-stick (yakitori), we’ll enjoy a sampling of some of Japan’s top Whiskeyor perhaps a plum wine flavoured with aromatic shiso leaves or some freshly produced live sake?
After a few busy days it is time for relaxing with a full day at your leisure.
Why not take the opportunity to practice your newly learned Zazen meditation on a sunny temple deck. Kyoto shares with us more temples and shrines than you can poke a stick at.
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 Nijo Castle and nearby Ninja house – or simply relax in one of Kyoto’s wonderful cafes with a good book.
Of course there are plenty of photogenic laneways to explore and hidden pockets to discover. 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 a delicious dinner focused on the restaurant’s housemade miso and pickles.
We’ll take a relaxing drive this morning to sleepy Ohara in Kyoto’s northern mountains through a farming area famous for supplying some of the city’s finest restaurants and may well stop into a local farmers’ market before we arrive at our destination -spiritual Sanzen-in (temple) and its serene 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 before winding our way back down the mountain.
We’ll be delivered to our leisurely Sunday lunch where we’ll dine on the unusual-sounding, yet, superb coupling that is Japanese-Italian cuisine – umami to the max!. Feel free to join us for an afternoon stroll along the contemplative Path of Philosophy before being left to your own devices for dinner (if you can fit it in…. perhaps, like the Japanese, there’s room in your separate ‘dessert’ stomach?)
The morning is yours for a sleep in…. or join us earlybirds after a quick breakfast 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 crafts, 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 newlyacquired trinkets -and even prettily packaged chocolates or coffee.
On return to the hotel to drop off our goodies and pick up any late risers before heading to a lunch where we’ll enjoy the finest tempura of seasonal seafood and Kyo-yasai in Gion.
After lunch we’ll visit one of our favourite, lesser known temples for quiet contemplation – there will be a little time to wander alone in the impressive garden before we visit the 150 year old traditional home of a family of 4th generation Indigo dyers to learn about the fascinating process … ( plus I might add that they sell some very hard to resist indigo clothes and shibori fabric.. don’t say you weren’t warned!).
We’ll return to the hotel to freshen up and perhaps gather for a pre-meal tipple before heading out to dinner.
Another full day of leisure for you to enjoy as you wish. More Shiatsu (traditional massage), Hari (Acupuncture) or a facial in the hotel’s spa perhaps?
Or you may feel inspired to stroll through the tunnels formed by thousands of red torii gates at the
spiritual Fushimi Inari shrine or take a short trip to Uji in the south – the setting for classic Japanese novel The Tale of Genji – boasting the magnificent Byodoin Temple area, and quality, fragrant green tea – if it’s Matcha flavoured sweets, soba or ice cream you are hankering for – you are
guaranteed to find it here!
Additionally, for those interested in perusing or purchasing camera equipment, toys, electronics and whacky Japanese phone cases we will offer a short visit in the late afternoon to one of Kyoto’s huge tech-centric stores around the architecturally astounding Kyoto Station building – we may even check out the sunset and expansive view across Kyoto from the station’s roof!
After a long day exploring on your own you can relax tonight as dinneris at our very own hotel!
This morning we’ll visit the majestic Heian Shrine and its glorious stroll garden before visiting an excellent traditional craft museum and give time to explore and discover how some of Japan’s most beautiful and artisan objects are made and used in Japanese life.
We’ll enjoy an elegant lunch in a gorgeous space nearby before browsing through an equally stunning bookstore. We’ll stroll by handicraft stores, through an old-school Shotengai (shopping arcade) where the locals shop for fresh ingredients and daily needs and take a little time to wander through one truly photogenic pocket of the city.
In the late afternoon we’ll visit a traditional teahouse for an exclusive introduction and chat with a Maiko san (Geisha in training) over local sake or shochu before our dinner featuring the finest wagyu (Japanese beef) cooked to perfection by a chef with an abundance of character and a penchant for breaking out into Elvis hits as he works.
(B, L, D)
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 – 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 dining 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. We’d advise you against having that extra house-baked croissant at breakfast this morning…
What remains of the afternoon and evening is at your leisure for rest or exploration. If you have any room left for dinner after our lunch-time feasting we suggest venturing out to find a small bar or casual eatery for a snack – your hosts or hotel concierge will be happy to make suggestions. Of course you may choose simply to return to the hotel to take a long soak in the deep bath and order room service to enjoy whilst watching one of the free in-house DVD’s.
Today our private bus will transport us to the ancient capital city of Nara where we’ll visit the striking Kasuga shrine and share some cookies with the free-roaming sacred deer in Nara park. For lunch we’ll enjoy a pretty bento of local specialities in a sweet tea-house downtown. Afterwards we’ll stroll through the atmospheric old town of Naramachi – known for its handsome architecture and old world energy and no doubt stumble across a few last minute gifts for family and friends and possibly one or two must have items for self…. think local crafts, vintage and antique trinkets, local foodstuffs and kimono.
There will be a little time to *freshen-up at the hotel before we depart for our special farewell dinner tonight of exquisite Japanese-French delicacies.
*(er, that means we think we’ll probably find you developing your local sake knowledge and/or sipping sundowner martinis as sundowners in the the Touzan bar…..)
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.