Hoshino Resorts KAI Alps lies in the deep Omachi onsen territory of Nagano's Northern Alps mountain range, and promises an invigorating mix of rejuvenation for body and mind, with unparalleled dining, soothing hot springs and local Shinshu culture on offer.
The 'KAI' brand is one of Hoshino Resorts' most compelling, creating a series of natural hot spring resorts across Japan that deliver an authentic traditional Japanese experience, combining therapeutic thermal waters, kaiseki dining focused on local ingredients and a window into the local culture.
With its Autumn 2017 relaunch, Kai Alps now arguably represents the brand's pinnacle, hitting all the right resort notes as something of a return to form for one of Hoshino's best-loved locations and one fittingly close to the resort chain's ancestral home to the east in Nagano's Karuizawa. The magic here is the marriage of location to local culture, and Kai Alps delivers on this vow in bucket loads. The entire resort, which comes to life during the winter's months, is linked together by snow-covered, icicle-lined gangi wooden walkways. Contrasting well with the Northern Alps backdrop, you can expect to find yourself eagerly traversing them to explore the resort grounds, finding every wonder it has to offer.
The centrepiece here is undoubtedly the irori, a traditional sunken hearth with wood-fired stove that provides a cultural stage for many of Kai Alps' standout moments. With a varied activity line-up, Kai Alps' irori offers a place of warmth, nostalgia and comfort, encouraging guests to mingle and absorb the local Shinshu traditions and culture. Try the Nagano favourite—Oyaki dumplings—grilled over the hearth in the late afternoon, sip on hot sake, snack on baked Shinshu apples in the evening, or fuel up on okayu (rice porridge) with kinako (roasted soybean flour) at the crack of dawn – all set to the soft hubbub of excited onlookers relaxing in the glow of the crackling, rustic fireplace.
Elsewhere, you can expect to find secluded comfort in the resort's natural hot spring waters. In winter, the indoor bath is filled to the brim with an orchard of red Shinshu apples bobbing in the water, providing a fragrant contrast to the wooden notes of the cypress-lined bathhouse. Outside, the larch tree forest view and gentle winter snowfall caressing the landscape provide the perfect excuse to soak for a bit longer in the soothing waters.
The relaxing vibe continues within the guest rooms, which combine traditional Japanese aesthetics inspired by local culture with a signature modern touch Hoshino is well known for. Shinshu wood is incorporated into each room's design, as are visual elements like the washi paper lanterns, warming kotatsu tables and luxury mattresses that promise a solid night's rest. Opting for a room with its own private onsen bath nabs you a wooden tsubo tub, with extra Shinshu apples to drop in as well as three miniature bottles of sake – yours to pour in for added therapy, imbibe while you soak, or both!
The dining experience at Kai Alps promises the full kaiseki works – a traditional multi-course menu combining Japanese cooking and local flavours, that changes through the seasons and is inspired by surrounding Shinshu. Take Japanese beef served on a bed of water lilies alongside fresh wasabi from the local Daio Wasabi Farm in Azumino, a cotton candy 'igloo' that melts to reveal a simmering sukiyaki hotpot, or eight assorted savoury delicacies decorated with freshly cut larch leafage and a yukitsuri-style wooden lattice inspired by the surrounding snow country landscape. Wash it all down with a local sake or a craft beer, like Yona Yona Ale – the successful, flagship ale of Hoshino subsidiary, Yo-Ho Brewing Company.
Kai Alps offers a thoroughly traditional and memorable ryokan getaway experience in the heart of Nagano, not least thanks to the impeccable hospitality of the ryokan's staff from start to finish – from greeting your arrival with a warm welcome, taking time to introduce each kaiseki dish with unprecedented detail, or inviting guests around the warmth and glow of the irori fireplace.
Kai Alps offers great proximity to nearby tourist attractions too, including the popular Hakuba ski resort and Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. The resort re-opened in December 2017 after an extended hiatus involving a wholesale renovation and upgrade, comprising new facilities and expansion to 48 rooms, and is ready to share its wonders with a wider audience than ever before.
Hoshino Resorts provides a direct shuttle bus service to Kai Alps from Nagano Station during the winter season. It departs daily at 2:15pm and takes just over 1 hour – including one stop at Shinano-Omachi Station.
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