This was probably the most spontaneous trip we've ever done, as the booking was made over Christmas dinner with my family the night before when my aunt gave the Hakone trip suggestion. Hoshinoya was sadly booked out, but a single room was miraculously available at Gora Kadan, a revered luxury ryokan operated by Relais & Chateaux. I found out on the way there that this was the location of my grandparents' honeymoon over fifty seven years ago, and this revelation made the trip all the more special.
At Gora Kadan, expect an authentic, and no doubt luxurious, Japanese ryokan experience. Do not come here expecting a five-star hotel or resort experience typical of places like Phuket or Hong Kong, because the experience is far from the western style of luxury we've come to know on vacations. For this reason, I found one night to be enough for me. In the most quintessentially Japanese way, Gora Kadan does not bend to the rigid structure of rules in place, and timeliness is highly encouraged - whether for the carefully prepared in-room kaiseki meals or massages booked. There is no king bed option. There is a sometimes over-attentive room attendant assigned to every suite. She did everything for us from making bookings, suite tour, explaining how to wear the yukata, serving the food, reminding us of bookings and so much more - to the point that it was slightly overwhelming at times.
The way I got here from Tokyo is, I got a bullet train from Shinagawa Station to Odawara (only around 45 minutes). Then I rode the RomanceCar train to Hakone-Yumoto, and took a cab straight to Gora Kadan from the station. Total cost around JPY12,000, and would be less if you take the economy class seats on the bullet train.
Once we arrived, the hospitality was immaculate. Our bags were immediately taken in, and we were led into the coffee shop while our suite was being prepared. We had a quick glimpse of the hotel interiors/grounds, and loved what we saw. We were introduced to our kimono-clad room attendant, and she took us to the suite - which was called "Yuri" (same name as my grandmother!). The suite is huge by Japanese standards - with a foyer, walk-in closet and luggage storage space, tatami living room, separate bedroom, large balcony, private onsen bath, and a bathroom with amenities separated between 'his' and 'hers'. The onsen runs 24/7, as it is connected to the ryokan's private underground mountain water source.
The ryokan also has various activities, like a random karaoke room, indoor pool, outdoor public hot springs, relaxation room with massage chairs and magazines, and Turkish hammam (heated rock sauna where you lie down for an hour) and spa. We also decided to try the ryokan's signature Shiatsu massage, which is done in the room. That and the facial I had the next morning were both excellent.
The meals are worth a paragraph of its own. I was only able to experience dinner and breakfast, because I checked in at 3pm and had to check out by 11am the next day. We started dinner in the room at 6:30pm sharp, which included an entire kaiseki dinner served course by course by our room attendant. We were impressed by the quality of the seasonal ingredients, each prepared so beautifully and true to tradition. Jon loved the wagyu and fresh sashimi, but the simple and nostalgia-inducing dishes like salmon rice with pickles and miso soup were some of my favourites. In the morning, you can choose between a Japanese or Western breakfast. Of course I opted for the Japanese. You can choose your type of grilled fish the night before, and it's served in a similarly beautiful way as dinner but in just two courses.
The one downside of staying at this ryokan is, you can't actually see Mount Fuji from here. You have to venture out for that, a feat that is already quite difficult considering the remote location and lack of transport around this ryokan. They offered to drive us on the hotel cars, but for some reason ended up having to take our own taxis everywhere. The one-night stay for us was all we needed, and with glowing skin and a newfound appreciation for Japanese culture, we made the short journey back to Tokyo.
Tel: +81 460-82-3331
Address: 300 Gora, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0408, Japan