With seven days at our disposal, we set out to unravel the mysteries of Kyoto prefecture, immersing ourselves in its natural beauty, cultural heritage, and off-the-beaten-path experiences.
Our goal was simple—to venture beyond the familiar and experience the true essence of Kyoto prefecture. Having already traversed the well-trodden paths of Kyoto City on previous visits, we sought a deeper connection with the region. We yearned to wander through quaint villages, traverse serene landscapes, and engage with local communities, all while basking in the warm embrace of June's pleasant weather. With a trusty car as our faithful companion, we set off on this adventure, ready to embrace the unknown and let the road guide our way.
The first leg of our journey began in Kyoto City, a perfect launchpad for exploring the broader prefecture. While we could have easily spent the entire week within the city limits, we chose to dedicate a single day to Kyoto City, with a twist. Instead of succumbing to the allure of the city's renowned attractions, we sought out its hidden nooks and crannies—the lesser-known delights that often elude the typical tourist.
Our wanderings took us through the enchanting streets of Saga Toriimoto, with narrow alleyways , traditional wooden houses offering an array of locally crafted goods and unique souvenirs. These charming establishments provided a glimpse into the artistic craftsmanship and creative spirit that Kyoto City nurtures. We couldn't resist picking up some pottery as well some handcrafted accessories along the way.
The aroma of freshly brewed matcha led us to a tucked-away café, where we indulged in a delectable fusion of matcha-infused pancakes. It was a delightful treat that perfectly encapsulated the harmonious blend of tradition and innovation that Kyoto City embodies.
As the day unfolded, we found ourselves gravitating towards Otagi Nenbutsu Ji Temple, a serene sanctuary nestled amidst the verdant hills of Arashiyama. Away from the crowds, we strolled through the meticulously landscaped gardens, admiring the artistry of moss-covered stones.
While the iconic sights of Kinkaku-ji and Fushimi Inari Taisha may have garnered global fame, it was these lesser-known experiences that allowed us to forge a deeper connection with the spirit of Kyoto City. Exploring the hidden charms of Arashiyama and immersing ourselves in its vibrant local culture unveiled a side of Kyoto that often remains hidden in the shadow of its world-renowned landmarks.
Leaving behind the vibrant energy of Kyoto City, we embarked towards the enchanting village of Kurama. Nestled amidst the emerald-hued mountains of Kyoto prefecture, Kurama beckons with its tranquil ambiance and captivating natural beauty. As we wound our way along the serpentine roads, verdant foliage embraced us from all sides, offering glimpses of the mystical realm that awaited us.
Its charm lies in its unassuming nature—far removed from the bustling tourist hubs, Kurama offers a peaceful retreat where time seems to slow down. Our home for the night was a traditional ryokan amidst the mountains. Stepping into the ryokan, we were transported to a bygone era of elegance and simplicity. Tatami floors, sliding paper doors, and views of the surrounding forest set the stage for an authentic Japanese experience.
Eager to immerse ourselves in the beauty of Kurama, we set off on a hike to Kurama-dera Temple, a revered site perched atop the lush mountainside. The journey took us along a winding trail, shaded by towering cedar trees. With each step, we felt a sense of anticipation, as if venturing into a mythical realm. Finally, we arrived at the temple, its vibrant red hues contrasting against the natural greenery. Standing before the imposing main hall, we marveled at the intricate architectural details and the panoramic vistas that stretched out before us.But Kurama has more to offer than just its mystical temple. As evening descended, we indulged in a rejuvenating dip in the local onsen, the soothing hot springs washing away the fatigue of our journey. Afterward, a sumptuous kaiseki dinner awaited us—a feast of meticulously crafted dishes showcasing the flavors of the region.
The village, nestled amidst lush mountains and verdant rice fields, offered a similar vibe as Kurama, though with its own unique flavors. One of the highlights of Ohara is the renowned Sanzen-in Temple, a place where time slows down and serenity takes center stage. The temple's exquisite gardens, adorned with meticulously maintained moss and tranquil ponds, invite visitors to embark on a journey of self-reflection. Walking along the stone paths, we were transported to a realm of stillness and inner peace. Each corner of the temple revealed a new facet of its beauty, from the delicate architecture to the profound silence that enveloped the air. As the day turned into evening, we bid farewell to Ohara and embarked to our destination for the next day: the charming town of Uji.
Our exploration of Uji began with a sense of anticipation, eager to immerse ourselves in the town's renowned tea culture. Uji's vibrant tea heritage permeates every aspect of life, making it a captivating destination for tea enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
We started our day by visiting the iconic Byodoin Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a symbol of Uji's historical significance. As we approached the temple grounds, the striking Phoenix Hall came into view, its graceful architecture mirroring in the tranquil pond below. The intricate details and exquisite craftsmanship left us in awe, a testament to the artistic mastery of ancient times.
After exploring the temple, we delved further into Uji's tea culture. The streets were lined with traditional tea houses, inviting us to savor the flavors of Uji matcha. We couldn't resist the temptation and entered one of the quaint tea houses, where we indulged in a traditional tea ceremony. The tea master guided us through each meticulous step, from the graceful whisking of the matcha to the serene moments of enjoying its vibrant green hue. With each sip, we could taste the essence of Uji's tea heritage, a blend of centuries-old traditions and unparalleled craftsmanship.
In the afternoon, we ventured to the nearby town of Oyamazaki, known for its whiskey and historical treasures, nestled amidst rolling hills and lush greenery. Our first stop was the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, where we delved into the world of Japanese whiskey. We embarked on a guided tour, learning about the whiskey-making process.
Eager to explore more of Kyoto prefecture's natural wonders, we set our sights on Amanohashidate, a mystical sandbar believed to be the "Bridge to Heaven." A scenic drive through the countryside brought us to this awe-inspiring natural marvel.
As we arrived in Amanohashidate, we couldn't help but be captivated by the sheer beauty of the place. The sandbar stretched out before us, adorned with pine trees that seemed to defy gravity as they leaned towards the heavens. The shimmering waters of Miyazu Bay on either side added to the ethereal atmosphere, creating a mesmerizing sight that left us in awe.
To fully appreciate the grandeur of Amanohashidate, we embarked on a leisurely stroll along the sandbar. As we walked, the soft sand cushioned our footsteps, and the gentle sea breeze caressed our faces. With each step, the view of the pine-covered sandbar transformed, revealing different perspectives of this natural wonder. Midway through our walk, we encountered the Kasamatsu Park Observation Deck, offering a panoramic view that took our breath away. From this vantage point, we marveled at the breathtaking vista before us, with the sandbar stretching into the distance and the azure sea meeting the sky in perfect harmony. The scene was nothing short of majestic, a testament to the awe-inspiring power of nature.
After immersing ourselves in the beauty of Amanohashidate, we decided to explore further and discover the local charms. We stumbled upon quaint souvenir shops and cozy cafes, each offering a glimpse into the laid-back lifestyle of the area. Indulging in a traditional Japanese meal, we savored local delicacies that showcased the region's culinary prowess. As the day ended, we bid farewell to Amanohashidate, grateful for the opportunity to witness such a unique and enchanting natural phenomenon.
With the sun shining bright, we set off to explore the coastal delights of Funaya and Kyotango. These neighboring destinations offered a refreshing change of pace, showcasing the beauty of the Sea of Japan and the tranquility of coastal life.
Our journey led us to Funaya, a charming fishing village known for its traditional boat houses and picturesque waterfront. As we strolled along the harbor, we marveled at the sight of the "funaya," the iconic wooden structures that seemed to float atop the azure waters. The village exuded a sense of timelessness, with locals going about their daily routines, and the melodious sounds of seagulls filling the air.
Later that day, we continued our coastal exploration, making our way to the scenic town of Kyotango. We found ourselves in awe of the rugged coastline, where rocky cliffs met the crashing waves of the Sea of Japan. The natural beauty of the area was unparalleled. As the day drew to a close, we reflected on the coastal charms that provided a glimpse into a different side of Kyoto prefecture, one defined by the soothing embrace of the sea and the tranquility of coastal living.
In the morning, we found ourselves once again captivated by the coastal beauty of Kyotango. We started our day with a visit to the enchanting Taiza Crab Land, a hub of marine life and a paradise for seafood enthusiasts. The bustling fish market offered a feast for the senses, with an array of fresh catches and the lively banter of local fishermen. We couldn't resist sampling some of the region's renowned seafood delicacies, savoring the succulent flavors that showcased the bounty of the Sea of Japan.
Energized by our seafood indulgence, we continued our exploration of Kyotango's natural wonders, as we embarked on a scenic drive along the coastline, marveling at the rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and panoramic vistas along the way.
After bidding farewell to the coastal charms of Kyotango, we made our way back to Kyoto City in the evening. The city welcomed us with its bustling streets and vibrant atmosphere, a fitting end to our journey through the prefecture. As final goodbye, we took a leisurely stroll through the historic Gion district, known for its traditional wooden machiya houses and geisha culture. For our final dinner, we sought out a local izakaya, with a lively ambiance and delicious local dishes. Our road trip had taken us on a whirlwind adventure, where each day brought new discoveries and unforgettable moments.