PROPERTY HIGHLIGHTS: If you never leave the hotel, several hundreds of pieces of regional art and an incredible dining menu will seduce you with Kyoto’s charms. Of course, the hotel’s bike tours and proximity to area attractions will assure that you do, even if just for a short break.
WHERE IS IT? This hotel is inspired by the traditional Japanese ryokan, and its Kamogawa riverfront location assures a calm setting within walking distance of most area attractions. Locals love strolling, biking, and picnicking along the river. It is easy to walk from here to popular shopping and dining areas like Gion (one of the more popular geisha districts), Nijo Castle, or the Imperial Palace. A $15-20 taxi will get you to Kyoto Station in no time.
HOW MANY ROOMS? 134 rooms and suites
WHAT’S IT LIKE? A shaded portico with top hot-wearing doormen welcomes visitors along a quiet pathway through a series of sliding wooden doors and trickling streams. The reception desk is tucked deep within the quiet lobby, past the Pierre Hermé pastry shop, although arrival formalities are conducted in the guest room often with kimono-clad staff offering a green tea ritual for added effect. Take note of everything from the lighting shades (inspired by a local umbrella maker) to the various art pieces and sculptures around the property. All are from local artisans, and regular tours of the hotel’s creative displays are available to guests.
ROOM FACILITIES: Guest rooms are lavish and spacious at the same time with enormous beds (probably the biggest we have ever seen) coated in thick duvets and piles of pillows. Bedside power and USB outlets are a nice touch as are the automatic blinds and curtains to keep out the early-morning sun from jetlagged eyes. Japanese touches abound from Bonsai tree plants on the table top to yukata robes in the closets. Bathrooms stock both the standard Asprey Purple Water toiletries and face soap made locally in the Kyoto area. Shower pressure is amazing, and deep soaking tubs are a wonderful way to soak away tired muscles. Patterns on the wall represent good fortune symbols and the area’s well-known cherry blossoms. While children are few and far between here, they are welcomed with special gifts, connecting rooms, and even unlimited ice cream for anyone under 12. Some of the best suites come with furnished terraces overlooking the surrounding area. Luxury rooms facing the river are especially popular because they are notably bigger than Garden-facing rooms and offer more entertaining river (and distant mountain) views.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS: La Locanda is the hotel’s celebrated Italian restaurant with Italian chefs preparing distinctive dishes for lunch and dinner. Those in the know make reservations to sit in the restored townhouse that dates back a century (it was untouched during the hotel’s construction and renovation). A Japanese garden sits in the center of this dining room, which is also where the Western-style breakfast is served. Downstairs, Mizuki offers elegant Japanese cuisine for lunch and dinner in various styles from teppanyaki and sushi to tempura (the latter area was awarded a Michelin star). A splashing waterfall serves as a dramatic backdrop as diners enjoy their meals although some prefer the private dining rooms. Guests can opt for a traditional Japanese breakfast to be served here, but reservations are required. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that vegetarian options are available. The lounge serves a lovely afternoon tea that draws locals for its Pierre Herme pastries.
LEISURE FACILITIES: Electric bikes are available to borrow from reception for a small fee, and regular tours take guests around the area for quick sightseeing jaunts. An indoor swimming pool with built-in massaging jets is a great way to relax as is the spa with numerous treatment rooms. The fitness center stays open 24 hours and comes stocked with chilled bottled water, energy bars, and other refreshments. In addition to the hotel’s numerous tours, there’s also a guided hike that many guests suggest.
BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES: Wireless Internet is complimentary throughout the hotel. While there are numerous meeting rooms available, the real star of the hotel is its wedding department known for planning celebratory social events for locals and international travelers.
VERDICT: This is a relaxed and truly Japanese property designed for those looking to ease into regional culture while visiting the area’s many temples and cultural sites.
PRICE: Internet rates for a traditional room start at $765 on the random dates we checked.
CONTACT: The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, Kamogawa Nijo-Ohashi Hotori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, 604-0902 Japan, Phone +81-75-746-5555.Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, Japan