Hoshinoya Kyoto Is The Perfect Luxury Riverside Ryokan Retreat In Arashiyama

With its zen gardens, Shinto shrines, imposing palaces and traditional machiya, Kyoto remains one of Japan’s leading destinations for visitors. Its picture-perfect qualities often results its attractions teeming with visitors during peak periods; in these times, a tranquil retreat from the maddening crowds becomes a sought after respite. Luckily, for those searching for a serene, truly authentic and luxurious getaway, Hoshinoya Kyoto ticks the right boxes.

One of only six flagship luxury hotels under the Hoshinoya brand by Japan’s celebrated century-old Hoshino Resorts group, Hoshinoya Kyoto embodies omotenashi (Japanese quality of hospitality and service), while first encounters immediately work to welcome, relax and reset you. The experience begins at the funamachiai  (boat waiting room), where guests escape from the crush of tourists on the banks of Arashiyama’s Oi river. Inside, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a tranquil bamboo and rock garden. Tea, coffee and cold towels are proffered as the boat is readied for the 15-minute journey.

A traditional wooden longboat takes us upriver to Hoshinoya, where I am greeted at the private dock by the hosts, who lead me uphill to my room. The sounds of flowing water, birds in the trees and the breeze rustling through the verdant greenery surrounds the room, and the effect is palpable.

The Tsukihashi room is a capacious wooden pavilion on the edge of the thickly forested hill, with separate living and bedrooms, a toilet, and a bathroom with a huge wooden tub to soak in. It is one of 25 rooms dotted along the steep, mossy bank of the Oi. On one side, a stream gurgles, and on the other the dark emerald river flows, while a 300-year-old Japanese maple reaches overhead. Nature envelops us on all sides.

Hoshinoya Kyoto offers all guests pure cotton pyjamas for in-room use, as well as a separate top-and-pants set to be used in all other areas of the resort, including the dining room. I change into the comfortable outfit, slip on the accompanying geta (wooden sandals), and make my way up the meandering stone pathways to The Library, where other guests are also similarly garbed in the earth-toned suits. Visually, it is calming; there are no jarring colours tainting the back-to-nature setting as we sit overlooking the river, sipping green tea.

Well into our reset, we immerse ourselves in the kodo (incense ceremony) next. As complex as the Japanese tea ceremony, this ancient art is normally conducted in silence. We feel our way through the intricate tools, focusing, attempting to monko (or ‘listen’) to the fragrances. When we come away, our spirits seem awakened, our senses sharpened.

That evening, already deeply relaxed, we then make our way to the two-storey Dining Room, where a superlative kaiseki meal unfurls. Every dish is stunning, locally sourced, and prepared with restraint to allow the natural ingredients to shine. Even when we feel we can eat no more, we do. We toast to Hoshinoya, our cups literally and figuratively full.

I take another stroll under the full moon, letting the absolute peace and quietude wash over. I sink deep into the linens, and the sleep is simply magic.

In the morning, I begin my day at the top of the property, under a maple tree that’s said to be 400 years old. Together with 10 other guests, we go through a series of gentle stretching exercises. A warm breeze buffets us, and with the gentle twittering of birds overhead, this is the epitome of zen.

Back in my room, breakfast has already been set up. I sit on the tatami and feast on shabu-shabu, meditatively cooking while looking over the river.

Later that day, I explore the river and towering forests of Arashiyama on the resort’s yakata boat named Hisui, powered with great grace by a weathered gentlemen and a long bamboo pole. Within the boat, our thoughtful hostess offers me a range of snacks and a traditional green tea making kit, lest I get peckish on the 40-minute journey.

All too soon, my time at Hoshinoya Kyoto comes to an end. As I leave, I marvel at the perfection of the entire experience, from the effortlessly elegant design and use of intricate craftsmanship by Rie Azuma, to the sophisticated landscaping by Hiroki Hasegawa, who maximised the natural setting at every turn. The beautiful shoji screens and the masterful ikebana floral arrangements, coupled with five-star service—unobtrusive, yet instinctive—all make for an experience that has been a deeply restorative one. I come away inspired and eager to return.

Room rates range from ¥136,000 to ¥240,580 (or from about RM4,420 to RM7,800).

Hoshinoya Kyoto

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