Feeling refreshed, we dressed for another kaiseki dinner. The hotel restaurant was peaceful and overlooked a large waterfall and reflecting pool. Our food was stylishly plated and included some of the freshest fish of our trip. The chef and manager were also accommodating in preparing vegetarian options, as our appetite for seafood had begun to wane.
A DAY IN MATSUYAMA
The next day was spent exploring central Matsuyama. We took a cab and then a gondola up to Matsuyama Castle, one of the best-preserved wooden hilltop castles in Japan. The weekday crowd was small, and tiny cherries were growing on the trees approaching the keep. The afternoon was hot, so we fled to the shade of Dogo Arcade, a central shopping area, where we browsed all manner of mikan orange souvenirs. Shikoku is the premier citrus-growing region of Japan, and the variety and quality of the juices we sampled were remarkable. At the Dōgo Onsen, which sits at the periphery of the arcade, Japanese tourists in yukata robes, local kids and video crews had gathered. An elderly woman stopped on her walk to welcome us and to share her pride in this “national treasure.” The intimate square felt like the soul of the city.
The bathhouse at Dōgo Onsen has three separate levels, and after deciphering the ticket system, I selected the second tier. This more private onsen was once used by samurai, who refused to mingle with the common merchants who bathed on the ground floor. The third tier is not open to bathers because it was built for the exclusive use of the emperor, but tours are available. The baths at Dōgo are more modest than our private one at our hotel, but the sense of history is the real highlight of bathing there. The water also has a higher mineral quality than most onsen, and it left our skin feeling soft the rest of the day.
After some difficulty communicating with a cab driver that was solved by Google Translate, we arrived back at the hotel and settled into what now seemed to be a luxurious prison. Once our initial fascination with the space had passed, the hard angles of our room became tiring; museums are not generally designed to be cozy. The staff was consistently friendly, but I had trouble reaching them by phone on more than one occasion. Overall, Setouchi Aonagi is a draw for an architecture aficionado, but inconsistencies of service and facilities preclude a recommendation.
- Hotel at a Glance -
Setouchi Aonagi 89
The large and luxurious room with a private onsen; the Tadao Ando architecture.
The dirty outdoor pool; the blemishes marring the minimalist look; staff members were sometimes hard to contact.
Good to Know
The hotel is a 30-minute drive from the train station in an isolated area. However, there is a helipad at the golf course next door for those who want to splurge and avoid the long cab ride. The hotel can also arrange a round of golf for guests.
Rates: Lowest Rate: Garden Suite for two, $550; Editor’s Choice: Hot Spring Suite for two, $700 (breakfast included)
Address: 794-1 Yanaidanimachi, Matsuyama, Ehime
Telephone: (81) 89-977-9500
Hoping to end our trip in Japan with a classic view of Mount Fuji, we made the long haul back north from Matsuyama to Hakone, a popular tourist stop an hour outside Tokyo. At Odawara Station we purchased a Hakone Freepass for access to all public transportation in the area and boarded a train to our hotel.
Located a few blocks from Gora Station, near the base of Mount Hakone, Gôra Kadan is a long-recommended Hideaway Report ryokan. Out front, the hotel restaurant is a converted nobleman’s house. A small side path leads to the main hotel, a modern annex that plunges five stories down into the valley below.
We were greeted by the manager and our personal attendant (who was dressed in a traditional kimono) and escorted through a dramatic hallway to our room. Our Japanese-style accommodations looked out onto a small garden. The bath contained a shower and a traditional cypress-wood soaking tub.