The next morning we woke up to a quiet Matsumoto. Not sure if we had just gotten up too early, or that it was a sleepy day for Matsumoto, but we were virtually one of the only few people around (we didn’t leave the hotel extremely early either, maybe around 7:30am?)
We walked over to the Matsumoto Bus Terminal and booked our tickets for the first bus leaving to Hirayu Onsen. Waited in the warm of the not-yet-opened shopping mall for about 20 minutes before heading out to the bus station to queue for our bus. Lucky too, the station was not indoors and we were quite cold waiting for the bus to arrive! The bus was quite comfortable, and we fell asleep for most of the ride. When we awoke, we had a pleasant surprise! The autumn leaves were in full bloom as the bus twisted and turned around the many mountain bends before finally arriving at our stop – Hirayu Onsen.
Hirayu Onsen 平湯温泉
7:50am to 9:15am | Matsumoto Bus Terminal to Hirayu Onsen Bus Terminal via Nouhi Bus, Y4220 Round Trip
Hirayu Onsen, one of the oldest and largest of Oku Hida’s onsen towns, sports many ryokans and is said to have been discovered in the 1560s. The temperate here dropped almost 5 degrees from where we had started, and it wasn’t surprising to find ourselves relatively cold.
We walked a few minutes to our hotel, where we left our belongings at. Our hotel was REALLY NICE by the way. After leaving our belongings at the hotel with the promise that we would be back before 5pm, we then headed back to the station and took another bus up to Shin-Hotaka Onsen area.
The bus was not due to arrive for an hour, but we easily busied ourselves shopping around the one and only shop near Hirayu Onsen – looking (and tasting, for most part) all the interesting snacks and items near the bus terminal. We also bought a skewer of Hida Beef to share, which turned out to be really nice and tender!
Shin Hotaka 新穂高
10:40am to 11:16am | Hirayu Onsen to Shin Hotaka via Nouhi Bus
From the base of the beautiful Shin Hotaka, we took the ropeway up towards the peak. The views on the way up, and the many stops along the way were mesmerizing.
The area along Shirakaba Station was particularly beautiful. Autumn seemed to have been perfect here – the trees were the best shade of fiery and gold you could possibly imagine, and although it was cold, it was not freezing. Just the right type of temperature to explore!
Contemplating on using the footbath but deciding against the suggestion as we were both wearing leggings (under shorts, no less) which would make it horribly impossible to soak in, we went on – taking the cablecar further up.
Shin Hotaka Ropeway is known for it’s unique double floored cablecar! Yes – there are actually 2 floors though essentially they do not really make much difference in terms of the view, but it was quite an interesting sight nonetheless. The cost that it took for the round way trip was Y2900, but I feel it was worth every penny for the views.
The peak of Shin Hotaka allowed us to see all the mountains clearly in a row – which was lucky considering the forecast was not that good for the day. Nevertheless, we bundled ourselves tightly and dashed out to take some photographs, before retreating back in the warmth – it was subzero temperatures by the time we were at the peak. After which, we started shopping for both souvenirs, as well as clothes – I got myself a pair of gloves (which now that I think about it, not sure where it is LOL)
Okada Ryokan Warakutei
Check In & Out: 2st October 2016 to 1st November 2016
Cost: Y23328 for 2 persons, Twin Room with Half Board
Upon descent back to our hotel, we quickly checked in. Our room was pretty spacious and overlooked the carpark. It was a traditional ryokan, my favourite type of place to stay when at an onsen town. The room was just as I loved it – tranquil, quiet and superbly clean.
It also, unlike most ryokans Sue and I have stayed in, had an ensuite bathroom – which we both were appreciative of but never got to use – who would use a bath when there are onsens downstairs! And EVERYWHERE!
We headed out to a nearby onsen to get our onsen-fix, and headed to Hirayu no Mori (Y500). It boasted almost 8 female baths, and we enjoyed ourselves trying each one – though admittedly not much different from each other with the exception of the number of people per pool. But we still had quite a nice time walking from 1 pool to the next to see if any of them were the perfect temperature for us. After about 1 hour of soaking, we finally hauled butts out of the pools, and headed off – not before buying some snacks in the nearby Hirayu no Mori shopping in case we were hungry later. We knew from past experience that nothing was going to be open after dinner!
Headed back to our room, which thankfully was only a 5 cold minutes walk away – looking ridiculous. Hair wrapped in towels, wearing boots (because it was cold), shorts and wrapping a huge jacket to block ourselves from the wind and cold temperature steadily dropping, we hurried back. It was so cold that by the time we returned, we could see our breath in the air as we spoke.
Dinner was prepared at the dining room, with a separate compartment for each of us. Our (my, actually) name was written on a nice plaque in English, where most of the others were written in Japanese. The full spread was not even laid out before us before we had begun to tuck in – kaiseki dinner was DEFINITELY my favourite part of onsen towns and something NEVER to be missed in any part of a trip!
Of course, there were many variations of kaiseki, because each ryokan used the area specialties, making no 2 dinners ever the same. Normally you could also explain any allergies or preferences earlier for them to cater, but I would really suggest that unless you have severe allergies, to try everything served. It’s really worth the try!
Of course, this was only snippets of what we had – there were also hot components and rice. We even could overhear the next room’s conversation about how she had not been expected to be served without question – she wasn’t able to eat fish. The Japanese manager (who was actually the one serving us), had to go over and help clear up the issue. Personally I totally understood where she was coming from, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for the Japanese manager who probably would not have known to expect to have to validate food requirements especially if the customer had booked from a third party site. Nevertheless, we continued our food happily and then returned to our room.
Back in our room, we headed back out to our hotel’s onsen! There, we met a lady who was actually born in the same country as we were. She was a little concerned as to how to go about using the onsen, and was glad to find 2 english speaking ladies to guide her. She hurried out for a moment to explain to her husband what had to be done, before returning.
We spent another good 30 minutes soaking in both the indoor and 2 outdoor baths. The outdoor baths were especially nice because it was so warm while the weather was cold – and the lights the barely illuminated the onsen pools made it all the more comforting to take a soak in.
We returned back to our rooms, futons already laid out in front of us. We ended up opening our snacks to eat! YES! Onsen does make you hungry LOL. Our favourite was definitely this mochi that we had found at Hirayu no Mori – which was pretty similar to what we had initially bought in Hakone and were dying to eat again. We ended up buying extra packs for home! hahaha
As we rolled into our nicely arranged futons, we both fell asleep like lambs – by a miraculous time of 9pm! Guess that’s what happens when there is no WIFI in your room! LOL