Don’t get me wrong - I love a good walk in the hills as much as the next girl does. But when coming to Matsumoto, I was overwhelmed by the options available – as well as the extremity of them all. On the train ride from Tokyo, every passenger around me seemed to have elaborate walking gear in tow: extendable sticks, fun backpacks filled with first aid kits and energy bars, intimidating boots with spikes and neon stickers. In my tired runners and second-hand backpack, there was no hiding from my fellow passengers or myself just how much of an amateur hiker I am.
I was relieved to learn, however, that Matsumoto City is not just the gateway to the Japanese Alps, but also a treasure trove of a wide range of outdoorsy activities. An easy three-kilometre bicycle ride away is the sleepy town of Asama Onsen, and from here you can embark on one of the easy loops around the low-lying mountains. I stashed my bike near the start of the trail, and bounded fearlessly into the woods.
Although the start of the trail is fairly steep, the surrounding flora and fauna is enchanting. Enormous trees scale up to staggering heights, and birdsong makes for a pretty soundtrack for your stroll. Just twenty minutes in to the walk is a gorgeous viewing point. Here you can take in breath-taking views of Matsumoto City and the Alps beyond, or simply pause and collect your thoughts.
The trail meanders down through a dense wooded area and has a few interesting shrines to stop and admire along the way. There is also no need to worry about getting horribly lost on your own - the paths are fairly easy to follow, however guide boards are regular throughout the path if you need any help. The Asama Hot Spring website also offers a plethora of information to make your visit as easy as possible.
Once your walk is complete, you could hop back on your bike and make your way past Matsumoto City and on to the rice paddies that lie just outside of the city centre. There is a winery near by, if you fancy ending your day with some well-earned tipple. Or, if you are a trekking novice such as myself, you could skip the cycle to the paddies and slip in to one of Asama’s many spa’s that can be found just at the end of the hiking loop. I think that a few hours of walking and cycling earned me seven more doing absolutely nothing in a hot spring. Don’t you?