The latest pampering places, products and treatments
SPA OF THE MONTH
Just over an hour fromTokyo lies Takaragawa, thelargest onsen (hot springresort) in Japan, set in a secluded spot inthe Gunma region. Flanked by mountainsand intersected by a wide, fast-flowing riverthe resort exudes dramatic, rugged charmThe onsen hasreportedly been usedsince prehistorictimes and there’sa keen sense ofheritage – traditionalcustoms, cuisine and dress are upheld.
The Takaragawa building has 55 rooms,spread over three floors. Shoes areswapped for slippers on entering, andonce you’ve chosen your yakata (robe), amember of staff shows you to your room.Sliding back the doors, we were transfixedby the beautiful views of the Takaragawariver below us. I could have sat for hoursjust watching the water rushing past. Therooms are decorated in traditional ryokanstyle with tatami mat flooring, slidingwooden/paper doors and a chabudai (lowtable) with tea-making facilities (green, ofcourse). While you’re at dinner, futon bedsare prepared for you on the floor of yourroom, then rolled back up again whileyou’re at breakfast. Some of the roomshave private bathrooms, some are shared.
Takaragawa Japan Hot Spring Spa Photo Gallery
THE SPA RITUAL
Doing very little is the real draw forTakaragawa. There are no beautytreatments or yoga classes – the focus ispurely on bathing in the hot springs. Wakeup, have breakfast andsaunter down to thethree sizeable hotsprings pools whenyou’re ready. Simply dipin and out all day, andfeel yourself start to unwind. The pools (twomixed and one women-only) are open 24hours a day, so if you feel like a midnightdip, go for it. It’s pretty romantic if you’rewith your loved one.On our first morning, I walked down tothe ladies’ pool in the sunshine to find itcompletely deserted. I soaked for at leastan hour with absolutely no sign of anothersoul. I felt so relaxed, I even let myselfstay naked when people started arriving(swimsuits are not allowed – it’s eithernaked, or wear the resort’s swim dresses).The experience felt timeless, a ritual peoplehave been following for hundreds of years– so much more rewarding and relaxingthan the usual spa resorts.
Leave plenty of time for breakfast. Wewere served generous portions of freshfish, vegetables, natto (a string bean dishwrapped in a leaf), soups, egg dishes,miso, rice and bottomless green tea. Theevening meal is the main event. Once driedoff and robed-up, you head down to thedining room for your very own Japanesebanquet. We sat down to a huge arrayof delicately prepared food – plates ofsashimi, sushi and small vegetable andmeat dishes, cooked on our own hot-coalgrills. We each had our own traditionalbroth pot, full of vegetables, meat and tofu,bubbling away on a heated plate. When itwas hot enough, the staff gave us an eggto crack into it. Light tempura dishesfollowed, as did miso soup and rice. Wehad a shochu cocktail, and light dessertssuch as fresh fruit and strawberry pudding.
If you’re up for a little more action, youcan explore the rural surrounds by foot. Inspring and summer, you can try white-water rafting and canyoning on the river.
The staff (mainly aged 40 plus) give theplace an unintimidating friendliness.Whether showing you how to tie youryukata, eat the very-tentacle-heavy squidat dinner (down in one), or making greentea, they do it with a smile. You’re there toenjoy the therapeutic qualities of the pools,and eat fantastic, healthy cuisine. And youcertainly will. I’d love to return in the winterwhen the springs are surrounded by snow.
10,800JPY (£71) pp per night based ontwo sharing a room with shared bathroom,inc dinner, breakfast and use of amenities;takaragawa.com.
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