Suiran – A Luxury Collection Hotel in the depth of Arashiyama
“You know, my favorite time of the year is around April and May after the cherry blossom season.” I’m in the lobby of the Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Kyoto sipping sencha with Sato-san, Suiran’s PR representative, who regales me with her knowledge of the area. “The maple trees start to show off their green leaves around then. Have you ever felt a fresh maple leaf in May? I love the texture… so soft.” Sato-san also talked about which direction the birds fly into Arashiyama and how the shape of the mountain changes depending on the season. It was clear that Sato-san’s knowledge and passion for nature is something that was developed working in this environment… an environment I was ready to dive into!
Suiran is a luxur¬y brand hotel tucked away in Arashiyama, a scenic area in western Kyoto known for its gorgeous bamboo forest, historic temples, and local cuisine. This hotel opened its doors in 2015, making use of a building with over 700 years of history. Although Arashiyama is only about 30 – 35 minutes out from the city center (45 minutes on a bad day), it feels worlds away. This area was once considered the far edge of the ancient capital where nobles kept their villas and monks retreated from the world to devote themselves to religious study. It’s a place where you can experience a wilder sort of nature. I say “wild”, but this is Kyoto, so it still feels somewhat manicured and controlled. Either way, it’s certainly a different kind of beauty from the rest of the city, and Suiran’s luxury comforts lets you experience the beauty of Arashiyama like no other.
While most people who visit Arashiyama want to check the famous bamboo forest off their list (so you’d best visit around 7am if you want to avoid crowds), just enjoying the view of the mountains from the hotel or simply sitting by the river is a very gratifying way to enjoy the beauty of the area. As Sato-san tells it, “Suiran sharpens your five senses and helps you enjoy Arashiyama’s scenery to the fullest in a very luxurious and Suiran-esque way.” For example, you can enjoy a complimentary glass of champagne in the evening at their traditional thatched roof café located by the Hozu River. The snacks which accompanied the drink need praise of their own, because if I were to describe them in one word it would be: AMAZING! The yuzu rice crackers were especially delicious. Another relaxing option is the hot springs. If you choose to book one of the rooms that feature outdoor private onsen, your bath time will be accompanied by the sounds of birds, the rustling of leaves, and in my case, the rhythm of rain drops hitting the wooden patio.
Arriving at the hotel later than expected due to my own faults and responsibilities, I decided to stay in my room until dinner and leave exploring for early next morning. While I’ve been living here for more than ten years, Kyoto is a city that feels and looks different each day. Not only that, Kyoto feels and looks different depending on the time of the day. Since Arashiyama is a little far from my house, strolling through the lush nature of Arashiyama in the early morning still felt new.
There are nine different types of rooms and suites at Suiran. Each has its own unique style, and all of them are influenced by Japanese design and equipped with modern comforts. My room was a tatami-style room with Western-style bedding, generous in size and filled with comforts such as a Nespresso machine and a robe that made me feel like I was in a Julia Roberts movie. What really made the room feel like I was maximizing my stay, however, was the private outdoor onsen. Hotels in Kyoto having hot springs is rare, the onsen being private is even rarer, and having a private onsen outdoors is the rarest.
After my onsen bath and some laptop work on the low Japanese-style table in my room, I made my way to the hotel’s restaurant, Kyo Suiran, for my dinner date with Sato-san, the hotel’s PR representative. The restaurant was originally built over a hundred years ago and was once used by a baron as a summer residence during the Meiji Restoration period. Kyo Suiran serves Japanese cuisine with a French twist and “invokes the feel of a bygone era while embracing modern Japan.” I usually ask for small portions when I dine out because of my petite appetite, but on this night I definitely regretted it, particularly when wagyu, sashimi and unique kyoyasai vegetables were served beautifully in front of me. On this night the conversation flowed, but the alcohol didn’t, because my stay happened to coincide with the period when Japan was enforcing certain restrictions on alcohol to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The restriction sadly meant that I also missed out on enjoying a glass of wine at Café Hassui, Suiran’s café overlooking the Hozu River. The café is popular for serving a Japanese-style afternoon tea, too- something I will look forward to next time I’m in the area!
If you, too, want to experience a slice of luxury while surrounded by nature and feeling fully pampered, I suggest adding a night at the Suiran when you next travel to Kyoto.
Words: Sara Aiko
Photography: Sara Aiko