An incredible ryokan and onsen in Kyoto

In Kameoka, deep in the countryside inland of Kyoto, Japan, there's an area famous for its natural hot springs called Yunohana.  And like most natural hot springs, some great Ryokans exist to provide a uniquely Japanese experience that combines hospitality with a special kind of rejuvenation. Yunohana Resort Suisen is an exceptional and recently established Ryokan that offers the best of Japanese cuisine and hot springs in a lovely and peaceful environment.

In 2015 my wife and I coordinated a visit to Japan for my brother and I.  It was his first trip to Japan, on business for a board meeting in Tokyo.  After the meeting, we spent a day in the noisy melee of Tokyo. Then we traveled to Kansai, Western Japan, to experience some of my favorite cities: Osaka, Kobe, and of course Kyoto.

When most people think of Kyoto, they think ancient and they think temples. The Ryokans and onsen (hot springs) in the Kyoto region are exceptional, and if you're planning a trip to Japan, it's worth considering staying in at least one carefully selected Ryokan. Most travel advisors seem to recommend Ryokans within the city of Kyoto for the sake of convenience. I prefer to get away and go deeper into the countryside to experience nature in Japan a bit more intimately.

Which brings me back to Yunohana Resort Suisen. Like most of my favorite Ryokans, it's small at just 13 rooms in total. And in this case, the focus is entirely on ensuring all guests can take in everything Yunohana offers.

The accommodations are wonderful, of course.  Each room overlooks the main garden, and each room has a small sitting room to relax and take in the garden, which is somewhat traditional. The public (for guests) baths are on the first floor of the resort, with separate baths for men and women.

Across the garden and up the hill, just past a small shrine, is an outdoor, open-air private hot spring that you can reserve in advance.  We traveled toward the end of Spring, and the cherry blossoms were still falling when we arrived. We booked separate times so each of us could enjoy the open-air bath.

This, for me, was the peak and best part of our stay at Yunohana Resort Suisen.  In very Japanese fashion, upon arrival we received apologies from the staff because the weather report indicated that it may rain. Not the kind of apology you hear at resorts in Maui when the staff knows everyone was looking forward to sun and blue skies lounging around the hotel pool.  This was a more formal apology that the weather may not be perfect.

As it turns out, it was perfect for me. When it was my turn to enjoy the outdoor private hot spring, I visited reception for the key and walked up the hill, noticing a very small shrine on the property, several yards off the walking path. Was it here before the resort? Two statues - stone foxes - almost seemed alert as if guarding the shrine. At the top of the walking path I unlocked the changing room, got settled in, then quietly entered the private outdoor hot spring.

It was beautiful. There's something magical about sitting in a hot spring with the perfectly cool Spring air on your face, and cherry blossoms falling around you.  Then it became more beautiful. It started raining.

I can't quite express how amazing it is to experience all of those things at once, so I took a quick recording to give you a taste.   It's moments like this that make me swear to myself that I'll continue exploring Ryokans and onsens every year for the rest of my life. And it's experiences like this that compelled me to start this site, so I could share with others who would enjoy the same.

Imagine my surprise when, after I was done enjoying the private hot spring, to find this at the door of the changing room, all the way up the hill:

The service was exceptional. In fact, you won't even notice it unless you're thinking about it, which is the point of exceptional service.  It's invisible, and you simply notice the absence of things.

The other key experience at a Ryokan is the cuisine. Yunohana Resort Suisen created a beautiful kaiseki-ryori experience.  The dining is semi-private (or entirely private, if you opt for it). We enjoyed dozens of dishes prepared by chefs from local and seasonal ingredients, including bamboo, octopus, the highest quality kobe beef, and more. Breakfast was even more interesting, with a poached tomato stewed in miso, which was surprising and amazing.  Enjoy the gallery featuring just a few of the dishes we enjoyed. And no, that's not a Piranha, it's just a local fish that has some pretty fierce-looking teeth. But man won in this case, and it made a delicious course in our meal.  

The room was fantastic. Traditional elements but with modern touches. And extremely comfortable.

Departing Yunohana was as positive an experience as the arrival.