By Peter Sidell
Tochigi is home to one of Japan's most beautiful cities, Nikko, and its great temples. But this time I headed to Utsunomiya, a city near a village called Romantic-mura (literally “romantic village”), where I was invited to try out the latest glamping initiative by The Caravan, which provides 'glamorous camping' experiences across Japan at some of the country's most exciting yet hidden natural environments.
From Tokyo to Romantic-mura
After an hour's shinkansen ride, I took a 20-minute drive to the Romantic-mura, situated on the highway linking Tokyo to northern Japan. The village is a little far from the prefecture’s big cities and the campsite is within a 10-minute ride from Romantic-mura, in a vast plain surrounded by two forests — a huge contrast from Tokyo!
As glamorous as it sounds, the campsite has luxurious tents and the extreme comfort they offer is comparable to the nicest hotels. Two tents are set up in the center of the campsite. There you'll find a bar where you can have as many drinks as you want for the rest of your stay.
The tent included a power outlet, cosy mattresses and soft bed sheets, a flashlight, slippers and many other things. It was genuinely the perfect setting for some quality time surrounded by nature, yet enjoying all the comfort I needed and more!
Tochigi is famous for its delicious strawberries so when I found a strawberry farm right next to the camp, I couldn’t resist! A farmer there kindly invited me inside the greenhouses where strawberries were grown and he offered me some that were absolutely delicious!
Tochigi is known for other things besides their mouth-watering strawberries, and one of them is stone quarries — Oya stone quarries to be exact in reference to the town of Oya. These are particularly solid rocks and people witnessed their sturdiness during the 1923 Kanto earthquake. In fact, the second Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was built with Oya stones and unlike the buildings around it, the hotel was able to withstand the earthquake and not fall apart.
The Oya Stone Quarries: a Rock-Solid Adventure!
Around 4pm, a minibus was waiting to take us on a discovery tour of the surrounding area. The main attraction was an abandoned Oya stone quarry. We also visited a stone cutting workshop 40 meters above the huge hole.
I learnt that Oya stones are less used in Japan because they are expensive and because many alternatives have become available, which led to many abandoned quarries here, and we went to visit one.
The holes drilled in the mountains were kept unchanged so water—a lot of it—filled up the empty spaces to the point where underground lakes were formed. We hopped on small boats and cruised around in the dark! It was quite an experience. Floating around on a lake inside a mountain doesn’t happen every day.
In addition to the unusual and very surprising location, the dinner we had there was lovely. We were served by a French caterer called “Coulis Rouge”. The staff were professional and the food delicious! My favorite dish was probably the wagyu beef shabu-shabu cooked like a “pot au feu”, with the combined influences highly successful. And as a sugar addict, I also loved the strawberry macaron served with a ball of matcha ice cream. Again, eating fine food in a stone quarry may sound weird but it was actually an amazing and unique experience.
On our way back to the campsite, there were stunning and colorful lights on the mountains of Oya.
An Evening at the Campsite
At 8pm, the staff lit up a campfire and all the campers gathered around to warm up a bit. At about 10.30pm, I decided to try out the onsen in the hotel near Romantic-mura. After a long and memorable day, nothing compares to a nice hot bath to relax. There’s an indoor onsen if you don’t like the chilly/warm combo but I’m more into the outdoor onsen.
The Next Morning
It was rather chilly outside but somehow, it wasn’t cold at all inside the tent. I had breakfast and decided to go for a walk in the forest for some fresh air before going back to Tokyo.
It should be obvious by now that I really enjoyed this nice little getaway to Tochigi so I highly recommend you try this campsite if you happen to be around. Keep in mind that The Caravan is not based in Tochigi but moves around quite often, I’d say every week or so.
For more information about the next destinations of The Caravan team, check out this schedule.
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