04 Apr 2018 in In immersion
Discover a luxury retreat at the heart of Kyushu’s stunning Aso-Kuju National Park.
This is just one of the many luxuries of having your own private villa in what is probably Japan’s most famous volcanic region, an area of awe-inspiring landscapes and jaw-dropping scenery.
Welcome to Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso, a mountain retreat where nature will envelop, enrapture and entrance you with its seductive powers and creative might. Set at 1,050 metres (3440 ft) altitude, the resort is nestled in the heart of the Aso-Kuju National Park towards the top of Japan’s southern island, Kyushu.
When you arrive at the reception area of Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso, you’ll immediately be struck by the view. The five peaks of Mt Aso form a striking silhouette on the horizon, craggy and clearly volcanic in shape. There may even be smoke rising into the air if there’s been recent volcanic activity.
Below, the edge of one of the world’s largest calderas stretches towards you, with dense pine forests reaching up the mountainside and into the resort’s expansive park.
After check-in, you’ll be guided into the resort’s park. Twelve private wood-and-stone villas are generously spaced apart, each with their own separate entrance.
Inside, the design is a perfectly-judged blend of Japanese tradition and modern comfort, combining sliding doors and tatami mats with Western-style raised beds, comfortable sofas and a jacuzzi bath.
Each villa comes with a spacious lounge area and generous bedroom, both opening onto large floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the forest – and of an expansive terrace furnished with chairs, table and, of course, your own private onsen tub.
Then there’s the attention to detail that goes hand-in-hand with such a luxury ryokan: you’ll find a Bluetooth radio, Nespresso machine, aromatherapy set, and your own Japanese-style clothes and geta sandals to wear around the resort if you’re game for the full ryokan experience.
The restaurant is in the main building, with every table positioned for an optimal view of Mt Aso.
You’re in for a treat with the kaiseki menu: eight courses of stunningly-presented Japanese food coloured by local mountain flavours.
You can expect the likes of succulent Shio tomatoes from the neighbouring Kumamoto Prefecture drizzled with Kyushu olive oil and served with yaumauni tofu and ponzu, a fruity mix of soy sauce and local citrus fruit.
Or how about grilled shabu shabu flambéed before your eyes in shochu, a locally-produced sweet potato liquor?
On a starry night, take your tipple out onto the deck and, in winter, snuggle up under a kotatsu for some serious sky-gazing. Or, in the colder months, how about mulled wine and grilled marshmallows over an open fire?
Experience the mountain
Outside the resort, the National Park awaits you.
Just 3 miles up the road, the Makinoto Pass is a trailhead for some spectacular hikes in the Kuju mountains. If you love the great outdoors, you’ll be blown away by the rugged volcanic landscapes, snowy and spectacularly-lit in winter, verdant and flower-strewn in the spring and summer, and bathed in autumnal reds and yellows in the fall.
Alternatively, the Chojabaru Visitor Center offers an easy mile-and-a-half circuit with magnificent views of the mountains.
Or how about experiencing the park on horseback?
At El Patio Ranch, English-speaking guides will take you out trekking whether you’re a beginner or a regular rider.
No visit to the area would be complete without a closer look at Mt. Aso. Hikers can clamber on its rocky slopes (provided there’s no volcanic activity). But the must-see is the Daikanbo observation point.
From here, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the 15-mile wide caldera, a huge crater dug out by a volcanic eruption of mind-blowing proportions that shaped this region some 90,000 years ago.
Back at Hoshino Resorts KAI Aso, you can learn more at the Caldera Bar through a fun hands-on workshop that involves modeling a mountain in flour and popping a balloon to recreate the original eruption.
Suitably impressed by nature, it’s time to head back to your villa.
And what better way to end the day than by immersing yourself in your hot spring tub – a reminder that nature can be calming and relaxing as much as it can be explosive and exciting.