Takao Kanko Hotel, Kyoto
I booked my entire Japan itinerary in a panicky, online way because I quickly realised that the entire freaking world knows about this cherry blossom thing. Hence, most hotels have been booked out for quite some time. Like, since 1982.
It is nothing short of remarkable that I managed to find Takao Kanko Hotel. I mean that literally and figuratively. The taxi driver looked at me like I was insane when I told him where I wanted to go and proceeded to keep saying the name of the hotel over and over again and saying, ‘Nooooo’. This did not fill me with confidence.
It is pretty far out of town (4,000 yen in a cab from Kyoto Station) but it’s a little slice of well-priced paradise. The benefit to the remote location is that the hotel overlooks a forest and a river. There’s also some well-lit vending machines and lanterns that add a touch of stagecraft to an otherwise ancient view.
What I really love about this place (which is a ryokan, by the way – hot spring baths, tatami mats, futons, the works) is the staff. They are hospitable beyond words. It’s like staying with your favourite relatives. They genuinely seem to like you. They will help you with absolutely anything without any hint of it being a problem and – this is probably totally un-PC to note – the two key players are older ladies. As in grandma-aged. They’re Japanese so it’s impossible to tell how old but they are two of the classiest, friendliest hosts I have ever come across. I want to hug them. It’s this maternal, caring spirit that makes you feel so cared for in this hotel and that is a rarity, in any language.