Travel: Noku Kyoto – the perfect base to explore Japan’s cultural capital
The hotel is a feat of understated elegance and a stone’s throw from magnificent landmarks and fantastic food.
What is it? A boutique hotel a stone’s throw from the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, Japan, and 90 minutes by road from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport.
What’s special about it? Noku Kyoto has three main things going for it: location, location and location. Just a minute’s walk from Marutamachi Station, the hotel is a great base for travellers keen to explore Japan’s cultural capital. Start next door at the Imperial Palace and Garden, once home to the emperor of Japan but now crawling with Pokémon hunters, and then stroll down to the Shimogamo Shrine and Nijo Castle, two of 17 “historic monuments of ancient Kyoto” listed as Unesco World Heritage sites.
For a shrine of a different kind, walk down to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, which is housed in an old school building and is home to some 300,000 comic books. To appease you inner shopaholic, try Teramachi Street, along which everything from clothing to art and books are sold.
I’m famished just thinking about all that walking. Are there any good restaurants? For the love of food! Yes, this is Kyoto, so, of course, there are plenty of great restaurants. Eat your way through the local cuisine at the 400-year-old Nishiki Market. Or nip back to Noku Kyoto for a quick bite at the café, which offers a small Western menu and, more famously, coffee roasted by star barista Takahiro Maeda. The hotel’s basement-level Kyou Karasuma restaurant is known for its beef dishes.
The hotel staff are also more than happy to recommend hidden gems nearby, such as Tousuiro, in Kiyamachi, which serves home-made tofu in so many delicious ways, even tofu haters might come around. During summer, dinner is best enjoyed on the balconies of one of the riverfront restaurants on Pontocho Alley, such as Karyu, which is famous for its kaiseki (degustation) menu. (The alley is also a great place for geisha spotting.) For a truly memorable meal, however, head to Restaurant Blanc Pierre, which serves French food made with local, seasonal ingredients.
What are the rooms like? Spacious – well, by Japanese standards. Rooms range from the 215 sq ft House Room to the 280 sq ft Premium Luxury Room but the one you know you want is the Noku Suite – 550 sq ft of understated luxury complete with a Japanese-style bath. The hotel’s interior is an aesthetic extension of Kyoto itself, with a palette of earthy browns and charcoal grey. Art plays a key role, be it the colourful work in the lobby by Japanese contemporary artist Ryuma Imai or the unique headboards and art works in each room.
When’s the best time to visit? The city is beautiful at any time of year but to make the most of your visit, try to have it coincide with one of Kyoto’s three major festivals – the Aoi Matsuri (May 15), Gion Matsuri (July) and Jidai Matsuri (October 22).
What’s the bottom line? Rooms start at 21,000 yen (HK$1,600) per night, including breakfast at the café. The hotel also offers an onsen (hot spring) package in collaboration with the Sumiya Kiho-An ryokan. For more details on that package and other offers, visit www.nokuhotels.com.
By Meera Ganesan