A cursory glance at my phone tells me it’s only been 37 minutes since my car rolled to a stop at the grand entrance of Roku Kyoto, but my heart already feels like I’ve been here a day and a half. The last rays of light are quickly fading as I sit quietly in the hotel’s expansive tea house and watch the sky transform from a gorgeous burnt orange to deep shades of blue. Then, darkness falls and yellow beams of light twinkle in the walkways outside, bouncing delicately off their pitched roofs. I concede this might be my most transportive hotel experience yet—at this point, I am already miles away from Singapore, Tokyo or from anywhere else, for that matter.
The 30-minute ride to Roku Kyoto from Kyoto’s main train station is as scenic and intriguing as they come. You’ll meander through the famed Nijō Castle and the Paris-like canals in the main arteries of Kyoto before you hit the tiny residential streets in the Takagamine district. Peer down any laneway and you’ll notice the habitual bustle of people hanging their washing on their balconies or walking home after a day at work. There’s a sense of community in these streets, which adds to singularity of the neighbourhood. By the time you get to the sprawling roundabout of the resort, your interest is fully piqued as to what lies beyond its maple and cherry trees, and multiple reflection pools.
Roku Kyoto is Hilton’s first LXR property in Asia- Pacific—a truly unique cluster of hotels that distinguishes itself with its locations in fascinating and far-flung corners of the world, combined with a penchant for immersive, one-of-a-kind experiences. Nestled deep in the wonderful, layered landscape of the Takagamine mountains in northern Kyoto, it shares its space with the 11.57-hectare Shozan Resort Kyoto, a luxury enclave which hosts the city’s most idyllic Japanese gardens, architecture that is heavy with history and quaint tea houses.
This is an area rich in culture, having inspired Japanese artists and artisans since the 17th century and is the birthplace of the Japanese school of Rinpa painting—a style of Japanese art focused on abstracted natural motifs and allusions to classical literature. Roku Kyoto runs to its own tempo; there is an unhurried pace of life here, where you will have time to observe water cascading down rocks in the Tenjin River or listen out for birds chattering excitedly in the morning.
Singapore-based firm Blink Design Group was the mastermind behind Roku Kyoto’s interiors, a brilliant blend of traditional Kyoto craftwork and modern Tokyo finishings in a soothing black and earthy-toned palette. Enter one of the 114 rooms and you will find karakami traditional decorative paper as part of the guest room walls and intricate artwork using Nishijin woven tiles—a nod to the beauty of Japanese materials and craftsmanship. The floor-to-ceiling glass window in my room was a highlight as it was joyous watching the verdant greenery on the mountain flit through a spectrum of colours from daybreak to sunset. Each room comes with an extra deep soaking tub in dark stone, which I decided was the perfect spot to embrace Japan’s bathing rituals. British luxury skincare brand Votary’s rosemary and chia shampoos and shower gels—encased in glossy moss green tubes—are tasteful additions in the bathroom, which you’ll be hankering to take home with you.
But what I found therapeutic were the slow strolls around the property, whether it was to the excellent Roku Spa or the spectacular onsen thermal pool, which looks like a scene straight out of the South of France with its pristine deck chairs and lush grass. While Kyoto has much to explore by way of its shrines and hip coffee spots, I highly recommend dedicating a generous portion of your day to soak in all that Roku Kyoto has on offer. The beautifully tepid waters remain at an optimum temperature all year round, keeping guests warm even on the coldest days. If you are travelling with little ones, note that only children above the age of four are allowed and they do have the most adorable yellow arm floaties to loan. Book one of the Poolside Deluxe rooms to further enhance those blissful resort vibes because these have direct access to the pool—a mere 10 steps away.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the elegant Tenjin, named after the river it is situated next to. Located in a cavernous temple-like building that is also decidedly modern in architecture, Tenjin is the heart and soul of the hotel, where families and friends gather for meals or a sun-dappled afternoon tea.
Your morning meal is a splendid smorgasbord of pastries and yoghurt alongside a selection of eggs, sausages and ham served with fresh fruit and salad. Tenjin’s Chef’s Table is a veritable treat; a delightful experience which places gentle emphasis on the area’s local traditions. Led by chef Akira Taniguchi, dishes are unconventionally French and fuse the themes of nature, art and cooking. Each dish highlights an aspect of Kyoto culture, whether it is heirloom vegetables from Takagamine’s herbal gardens or chic plating presentations by the region’s artistic community. Be sure to try Yakuso-en, which means vegetable garden, as it features an abundant array of herbs and vegetables cultivated on property that was once presented to the shogun (military dictator) in the Edo period.
Finally, it is with the hotel’s stellar concierge that you will find your sense of place. Eiji Tanaka, who heads the concierge team, is professional yet warm, and often offers personal tips depending on the type of traveller you are. He tells me to take the Randen—an old electric tram—instead of the usual subway, and shares his favourite eateries around popular tourist attractions such as Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Before my departure, Tanaka-san arranges for my luggage to be sent directly to my hotel in Tokyo ahead of time so I could avoid hauling bags up and down train stations. In today’s vastly varied hotel landscape, genuine above-and-beyond service is what makes one property stand out from another and is what will draw me back to this lush, secret hideaway in Takagamine mountains once again.
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