Hakone, Japan: Hotel Gora Kadan
If you’ve ever been compelled to experience a genuine Japanese Ryokan Inn, there is no place to far exceed your expectations better than Hotel Gora Kadan. Embedded in the mystical mountains of Hakone, the area harbors a strikingly scenic Lake Ashi and sprawls inland under the auspices of Mt. Hakone’s volcanic peak. The unique environmental context gives way to numerous natural wonders and noteworthy landmarks including the serene Crater Lake, lavish hot springs and an unparalleled view of Mt. Fuji. Less than 2 hours from bustling Tokyo, this region was historically revered as a tranquil retreat for the imperial family. As a result, the region upholds a regal air of luxury and discreet extravagance by invoking the time-honored traditions of Ometenashi through which the practices of landscape integration, heartfelt human interaction and the spirit of personalized hospitality have thrived for over a thousand years.
Arriving at this magical location is breathtaking as you are visually transported centuries ago to a world with a completely different aura than anywhere else on the globe. Awakening you from the initial awe of Gora Kadan’s majestic bearing, your personal butler issues a very warm welcome and ushers you to your private quarters. As a stark contrast to most cultural standards, you are informed that unpacking your bags is not necessary at all. Your suite is outfitted with absolutely everything you would need inclusive of a wide range of toiletries and luxurious accessories. The commencement of your experience is marked by a request to change into your traditional Japanese robe – aesthetically distinct for men and women. This comfortable garment is what you are given to wear during your entire stay, including your attendance to breakfast, lunch, and dinner - all elaborately hosted on the property.
Each room presents a unique setting highlighted by quaint amenities. Your hand-picked accommodations could be situated just outside a picturesque garden, feature a balcony and outdoor hot tub or it could occupy a highly-coveted area adjacent to your own private hot spring. The stunning beauty of Gora Kadan’s location is largely due to the abundance of these natural springs. In one area they are flanked by a pair of traditional Japanese bath houses – one for men and one for women. The extravagant and lavish therapeutic services offered at the Kadan Spa leave you feeling revitalized, centered and at one with the harmonious surroundings. It is highly recommended to engage in their award-winning (Relais & Chateaux) secluded sauna experience: a complimentary period of private pampering and relaxation. All outdoor amenities such as these are extremely enjoyable no matter the time of year. My personal visit was in the month of February and I found the outdoor environment to be extremely enjoyable. The springs are always very hot and the crisp air is crystal clear.
Abiding by the simplicity of traditional Japanese living, futon beds and tatami mats are specified throughout the property. And similarly, aside from the custom of fold-away bedding, seating is generally on the floor. Though an essential part of the time-honored Japanese experience, there is also the ability to request a Western-style room or I recommend exploring the comfort of an elevated platform to raise your shikibuton off the floor for a night of blissful rest. In the morning, you are served with a Japanese breakfast that is prepared to perfection. And if a Japanese breakfast is not what you prefer, then the very accommodating chef will provide a meal that you desire. As with everything, once you are at the property of Gora Kadan, the word “no” does not exist and your butler is always perched close by to take care of anything you wish.
Your day could easily begin with a trip to indulge in the hot springs followed by green tea service, browsing the magnificent artwork of the on-site library, overlooking the depths of nature. And your evening would commence with an elaborate KaiSeki dinner served by your butler – a haute culinary tradition for over half a century. Traveling here can be an intimate bonding experience for families, friends or romantic couples. All in all, the precision of the service at this palatial property is absolutely incredible. To experience the essence of Japanese culture, I believe it is important to be a guest in a ryokan and in my opinion, Hotel Gora Kadan is one of the best in Japan.