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The Soul of Hokuriku (Nov - April)

On this journey, we travel to the Hokuriku region in Central Japan, blessed with the rich bounties of the Sea of Japan on a mesmerizing journey uncovering less-trodden towns, stunning mountain scenery, ravishing seascape and a treasure trove of amazing seafood including a documentation of the ancient "Saba Kaido" Mackerel Route. 


Experience fine ryokans and country lodges with exquisite cuisine

Admire amazing landscaped gardens and charming buildings

Experience less trodden towns and villages of Hokuriku

Visits to local artisans and craftman studios



This morning, set off on a short domestic flight to Noto Airport in the picturesque Noto Peninsula, in the north of Ishikawa Prefecture which forms a "thumb" into the Sea of Japan and home to dramatic sea coasts, beautiful beaches, mountainous areas with stunning valleys nestling farmlands and ricefields and an immaculate culture, heritage, traditional arts and crafts. A short drive takes us to the seafaring town of Anamizu where thanks to the sheltered Nanao-Kita Bay, produces probably the most amazing oysters in Japan where we enjoy some tastings. Later, we journey along the coasts and towns on the northeastern side of the Noto Peninsula to arrive at the shimmering Lida Bay where we see up close the peculiar shaped island of Mitsukejima also known as "Battleship Island" which is shaped like a battleship and some say, mushroom. We then continue our scenic drive to the northernmost tip of Noto Peninsula to visit the Rokkosaki Lighthouse overlooking dramatic sea cliffs and still functioning to guide fishing boats safely.  Later, we enjoy an insightful visit to the Okunoto Salt Farm Village which still uses the traditional "Agehama" technique to harvest salt by spreading seawater from the Sea of Japan on fields of sand. Finally, we arrive at the beautiful Hyakurakuso which overlooks the spectacular Tsukumo Bay

Overnight: Hyakurakuso, Noto Peninsula

Meals: Dinner


Begin the morning with a visit to the city of Wajima in the Okunoto region of the Noto Peninsula where we will visit the bustling and atmospheric Wajima Morning Market lined with hundreds of vendors parading small crafts, fresh seafood and produce, fruits and vegetables as well as the city's revered lacquerwares, a signature of Ishikawa Prefecture. Make a visit to a lacquerware studio and learn about its renowned durability achieved from many stages of coating. Thereafter, we visit the Kiriko Lantern Museum showcasing huge "Kiriko" lanterns and floats used during the summer and autumn festivals, one of the most incredible traditional festival anywhere in Japan. We then return back to Hyakurakuso where you will enjoy an earlier dinner before heading out to the northern coasts in the evening to the Shiroyone Senmaida Rice Terraces "A Thousand Rice Paddies in Shiroyone". Honoured as one of Japan's "Top 100 Terrace Rice Paddies", he 1,004 rice paddies on steep slopes contrasts against the Sea of Japan with superb views and from Oct-Mar, witness the annual Aze no Kirameki Senmaida Illumination where more than 21,000 solar LEDs illuminates the fields with pink and yellow lights that marks the outlines distinctively in the darkness.  

Overnight: Hyakurakuso, Noto Peninsula

Meals: Breakfast & Dinner


Still officially in the Noto Peninsula, we leave the Hyakurakuso and journey south of the peninsula to Wakura Onsen, a peaceful hot spring town close to the city of Nanao - Noto Peninsula's largest city, and nestled against the Sea of Japan facing the beautiful Nanao Bay. Visit the Wakura Morning Market (opens every Sundays) where you will find vendors selling local vegetables and fruits, local specialty such as seaweeds and dried products. Thereafter, continue south along the western coastline of Toyama Bay as we leave behind Ishikawa Prefecture provisionally to head into Toyama Prefecture where we visit Kanayamachi town in Takaoka, lined with astonishing Edo Period buildings and designated as the craftsman district of metal casting for over 400 years. Take a stroll through the historic town with cobblestone alleys and latticed windows and spend some time for lunch and shopping for local products before visiting the Zuiryuji Temple, completed in 1659 in honour of Takaoka's founder, Maeda Toshinaga. Marvel at the beautiful Soto Zen monastery's impressive architecture which showcase some of the finest and earliest styles during the Edo Period. Finally, we arrive at the pristine environments of the River Retreat Garaku, nestled on the banks of the Jinzu River. Enjoy a sumptuous French/Japanese fusion cuisine tonight in this acclaimed retreat designed by famed architect, Hiroshi Naito. 

Overnight: River Retreat Garaku, Jinzu River

Meals: Breakfast & Dinner


Begin a leisure morning and later, embark on an excursion to the UNESCO World Heritage villages of Gokayama. Like Shirakawago, the villages of Ainokura and Suganuma provide a surreal setting of idyllic "Gassho-zukuri" thatched-roofed houses which endures against harsh snowfall in winter and an architectural wonder created by the wisdom of the villagers. We spend a great day uncovering the less-trodden villages flexibly with Ainokura providing the nostalgia nestled deep in the mountains and Suganuma providing a quaint appeal along the Shokawa River. 


The UNESCO World Heritage Shirakawago will not be visited on this journey as we seek to craft a journey that is uniquely different. 

Overnight: River Retreat Garaku, Jinzu River

Meals: Breakfast & Dinner


Today, we return into Ishikawa Prefecture on scenic drive into Kanazawa against the backdrop of the Central Japanese Alps. Kanazawa is the prefectural capital of Ishikawa and is the undoubted gem of the Hokuriku region with historical legacies rivalling Kyoto and Tokyo. First, visit the Geisha district of Higashi Chaya before the afternoon crowds to admire the well-preserved buildings - home to a number of teahouses and now, gold leaf shops (a signature of Kanazawa), boutiques and crafts. Worth a visit is the Kaikaro Teahouse to gain more insights into the culture and traditions of ancient Kanazawa as well as learning more about the geisha culture and entertainment that has graced much of the upper society since the early 19th Century. We then make a stop at the bustling Omicho Market, one of the most impressive markets in Japan with fresh seafood from the Sea of Japan. Spend some time strolling and sampling sumptuous seafood and perhaps a sashimi or sushi lunch before we continue to Kenrokuen Garden, named as one of Japan's "Three Most Beautiful Gardens".  Consider a visit too to the Nagamachi Samurai District - lined with beautifully-preserved former samurai residences, charming water canals, and narrow lanes decorated these days with shops selling local produce, Japanese sweets and small eateries. Finally, we continue our drive to the stunning surroundings of Yamanaka Onsen, a beautiful hot spring town where we stay in the beautiful and stunning Kayotei

Overnight: The Kayotei, Yamanaka Onsen

Meals: Breakfast & Dinner


After a nice breakfast, venture out on a trail behind the Kayotei on a self-walking exploration on the Kakusenkei Gorge with some of the most stunning winter scenery anywhere in Japan. Admire the beautiful Daishoji River running through the gorge dotted with stunning rock formations and enjoy a contrasts of 2 bridges - the modern and burgundy-coloured Ayatori Bridge and the old world wooden-constructed Korogi Bridge which cast a perfect picture in winter. Thereafter, we say farewell to your hosts at the Kayotei as we leave Ishikawa Prefecture and into Fukui Prefecture. En route to your lodge today is a visit to the Tojinbo Cliffs - equally remarkable in splendour if not more than the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. With its rugged cliffs eroded by the raging waves of the Sea of Japan, the sheer cliff stretches over 1km and thrills with its columnar rock features which makes it unique in Japan. Finally, arrive at the Tsumesyo in the historic seaport town of Mikuni and experience a machiya townhouse lodging in comfort. 

Overnight: Tsumesyo, Mikuni

Meals: Breakfast & Dinner


Today, enjoy a spectacular day exploring the splendours of Northern Fukui. Our first visit will be the Eiheiji Temple, founded in 1244 by Zen Master Dogen Zenji, is home to the largest training centre for Zen monks in Japan and one of the most sacred places in the world of Zen Buddhism, Later, we continue to the surreal Echizen Ono Castle. Situated on the top of Mount Kameyama, it is named the "Castle in the Sky" due to thick sea clouds covering the entire base of the civilizations below occasionally from November to March. We then journey from inland to the coast where during this season (November to March), is the season for the highly-revered Echizen-gani crabs, a type of snow crab that thrives along the Echizen coast and is an exceptional delicacy for locals and it is also the only species of snow crabs that are presented to the Imperial Family each year. We visit the Echizen Port to see the bustling activities going on and time for a feast on the incredibly-sweet and juicy flesh before returning to Mikuni. 

Overnight: Tsumesyo, Mikuni

Meals: Breakfast & Dinner


We leave behind Mikuni today and journey south past ancient battlegrounds during the Sengoku Period where many fierce battles were fought prominently by the armies of feudal lord, Oda Nobunaga against the defeated armies of the Echizen Asakura clan and the Azai Nagamasa clan. A scenic drive arrives us at a mountain path where we enjoy spectacular views of the Mikatagoko (Five Lakes of Mikata) which consist of Mikata Lake, Suigetsu Lake, Suga Lake, Kugushi Lake and the Hiruga Lake located close to the Sea of Japan divided by long narrow ridgelines. Next, we continue shortly to the beginning of the "Saba Kaido" Mackerel Highway where freshly-caught mackerels were transported to the ancient capital of Kyoto since the 8th Century from the port of Obama and along the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa. With a short shelf life and the need to be delivered via the most direct route possible, the Mackerel Highway was born and transporters need to navigate the backcountry with incredible load. As a result with worries of overfishing, load and over time, the preservation technique of "Heshiko Saba" was developed where the fish are placed in barrels, packed in rice bran and pickled with a mixture of shoyu, sake and other seasonings and left to age. We visit the outpost town of Kumagawa Juku which thrived during the golden era as a rest station for tired merchants. Learn about the stories and exhibits in the village of the "Saba Kaido" and marvel at the beautifully-preserved buildings from the Edo to the Showa Period. We will have time to enjoy a mackerel themed lunch before continuing our drive shortly to arrive at the northern frontier of the beautiful Lake Biwa. 

Overnight: L'Hotel du Lac, Lake Biwa

Meals: Breakfast 


We spend the day exploring the tranquil scenes of Lake Biwa and surroundings with incredible sights and scenery in each of the four seasons. In Spring (late March-early April), Lake Biwa is home to over 4,000 cherry blossom trees lined along the Okubiwako Parkway for a sensational visual experience. Recommended is a boat cruise to admire the cherry blossoms and the contrast of the lake and the mountains. Also worth visiting is the outpost town of Omi Hachiman, nestled along the ancient "Nakasendo Highway" which ran from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo). Wander around the incredibly-beautiful old town and well-preserved whitewashed storehouses especially the Shinmachi-dori, an old street lined with charming houses, once home to wealthy merchants. Take a boat ride on the pretty Hachimanbori Canal, originally a castle moat which later served as a transport route for boats from Lake Biwa, which was used on the "Saba Kaido" route. For art enthusiasts, a visit to the nearby Miho Museum by Mihoko Koyama, showcasing her private art collections is an unmistakable visit when in the Lake Biwa region. 

Overnight: L'Hotel du Lac, Lake Biwa

Meals: Breakfast 


Our incredible journey ends today with a scenic drive on the western frontier of Lake Biwa to Kyoto with more interesting anecdotes of the "Saba Kaido" and a fitting finale to the Soul of Hokuriku!

Meals: Breakfast


The Hyakurakuso is a stunning boutique ryokan located in Tsukumo Bay in the heart of the Noto Peninsula with one of the "Top 100 Views in Japan" and an incredible prime base to explore the nature and sights of the Noto Hanto. 

Hyakurakuso, Noto Peninsula

River Retreat Garaku is a luxury boutique hotel situated on the Jinzu River in the forested foothills of the Northern Japanese Alps in a sublime setting outside of Toyama City in Toyama Prefecture with 25 spacious rooms and suites in contemporary style overlooking the river and the perfect base for exploration of Gokayama as well as the Kurobe Highway. 

River Retreat Garaku, Jinzu River

The Kayotei is an exceptional luxury ryokan nestled above the beautiful Kakusenkei Gorge in the hot spring town of Yamanaka Onsen in Ishikawa Prefecture. With just 10 suites and an outstanding attention to traditional Japanese hospitality, the inn is one of Japan's best with incredible rooms, aesthetics and cuisine. 

The Kayotei, Yamanaka Onsen

Opened in December 2015, the Tsumesyo Mikuni is a 110 year old machiya townhouse fully-renovated and restored into a luxurious lodging integrating history and culture with the contemporary. Situated in the historic seaport town of Mikuni in the north of Fukui Prefecture, this is the perfect base to explore the wonders of northern Fukui. 

Tsumesyo, Mikuni

The L'Hotel du Lac is situated in the northern frontier of Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake. This stunning modern villa, set in a captivating landscape, is a peaceful sanctuary where generously-sized rooms, local-sourced modern French cuisine, a shochu bar and other facilities offers the most opulent enjoyment for discerning travellers. 

L'Hotel du Lac, Lake Biwa


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