There’s truly nothing quite like being in the mountains, and there’s nothing I don’t love about them: the quiet of them, the vastness of them, the uniqueness of them. How you’re reminded of your little place in the world when you’re around them.
Over the last three years I have become so connected to the mountains, so it only made sense that we spend some time in the alps when we visited Japan on our honeymoon.
Why we chose Takayama
We spent a couple days in Takayama at the beginning of our trip. Since we were traveling immediately after our wedding, we knew we would want some time to decompress and have a couple quiet days before the craziness of Tokyo. As soon as we arrived in Takayama, we knew we had made the right choice: our days were filled with delicious and authentic food, kind residents, stunning landscapes, and just the right amount of quiet. While we were there, we were so happy to experience the alps in a way we hadn’t experienced mountains before.
We reserved a day just for wandering around Kamokochi, a valley in the Hida mountain range. We immediately noticed the cleanliness of the park: there are no garbage bins in it, because garbage is simply not allowed (be prepared to take it with you to throw out later). This allows them to preserve the nature (and protect the monkeys!) of the park.
We didn’t do any rigorous hiking, mainly because the trails were so well maintained and had wooden walkways in most places (you can see Alex walking along one below!) We felt like we were strolling through a magic forest: one trail took us along a river that was host to both mini waterfalls and monkeys, who were either lounging in trees or running through the tall grass. We spent a quiet moment at a shrine, stopped to take in the breathtaking views, took a break for a snack (they have a couple cafes, but we brought our own lunch of 7-Eleven rice balls and salad), talked about the past week of festivities and what we were looking forward to in the future, and just wandered wherever the trails would take us.
It felt laidback and serene and was just what we needed to relax and enjoy the stunning fall colours that bless this region in October.
Staying at a traditional ryokan
We chose to spend one night in Takayama at a ryokan, which is a traditional Japan inn (ours was Ryokan Miyama Ouan). We didn’t know what to expect of the experience (our research for this trip was admittedly limited as wedding planning took priority) but we were so surprised, impressed, and pampered.
When we arrived at the ryokan, we came in from a torrential downpour and were immediately greeted by kind staff who took our wet shoes and dried our coats with towels. They gave us slippers to wear inside (no outdoor shoes permitted) and allowed us to relax by the beautiful view you see below as they explained how to navigate the building, book dinner and a private open-air onsen (natural bath), and find a cozy corner for complimentary coffee. Then, they escorted us to our room.
When we arrived at our room, we were given a second pair of slippers (and a third pair for the bathroom) as well as outfits of traditional monks clothes, and were left to settle in before dinner. We were completely in awe of our room, which was minimalist and warm with lamps on the floor, a water closet, a bathing room with a soaking tub that looked out into the mountains, a bedroom with two separate beds that were essentially mattresses on the floor (surprisingly comfortable), and a lounging area that had some mini desserts waiting for us.
Dinner at the ryokan
We wandered around a bit before dinner and sought out that complimentary coffee. Then we headed to our reservation. Dinner was traditional and incredible, and we ordered beef and vegetables that we self-cooked over a burner at our table. I still remember the taste of the simple udon noodles we ate and thinking how fresh they were. The food in Japan is something I’m still dreaming about months later.
We were told we could book the open-air onsen with our server. The one caveat: you can’t pick a time, you just let a staff member know that you’d like to use it, and they give you the next available spot. Our server told us our time slot was 5:30am.
Experiencing the open air onsen
Before going to bed, we set our alarms for 5am, excited to experience the open-air onsen. When the morning quickly rolled around, we walked quietly through the ryokan to the front desk for the key, then made our way to the (un)dressing room (all onsens in Japan require that you remove all clothing).
When we opened the door to the bath, it felt like we were walking into a new world. There was no artificial lighting, just some tiki-style lights surrounding the bath, so we had a stunning view of the stars above us. There were tall fences on either side of the spa area, but the fourth side was lined with tall, beautiful trees. It was so silent, all we could hear was each other’s whispers.
It was such a peaceful, lovely time, and it’s something I hope I always remember about our stay at the ryokan.
A traditional Japanese breakfast
When we booked our stay, we chose to schedule a traditional Japanese breakfast. One of the best ways to experience other countries is through FOOD. And this was one of the most interesting culinary experiences we have ever had together. Up until this point our breakfasts all came from a 7-Eleven (the convenience stores in Japan literally deserve their own blog post), so a traditional Japanese breakfast was totally new to us!
When we arrived in the dining room for breakfast, we were immediately seated side by side in front of a window with the most incredible view of the mountains. Our breakfast was already mostly prepared and at the table, but when we sat down a staff member brought us even more dishes, completing our breakfast spread.
It was fun to try new foods together, and truthfully, try to understand how some dishes were meant to be eaten! We had a series of small dishes that included different types of fish, Japanese omelette (delicious and something we miss!), mountain vegetables, natto (fermented soy beans), tofu, an egg (I don’t think it was raw, but it also wasn’t fully cooked), a salad with salmon, congee, a pudding-type dessert, and a couple more things that were new to us.
If I’m being totally honest, I don’t think I will ever like the taste of natto (apparently it’s an acquired one!) and we were definitely out of our comfort zone with some items, but it was such a great experience to help us learn more about Japanese traditions.
The staff at Ryokan Miyama Ouan
Above all, our experience at the ryokan was wonderful because of the incredible staff. Arriving at the Ryokan Miyama Ouan was like visiting with family – we were welcomed so warmly and were so well cared for during our stay. The staff member who was assigned to us upon arrival truly went above and beyond to make us comfortable, and every staff member we spoke with was so kind.
Though we only spent a few days in Takayama, it was truly the best way to start our honeymoon. Given the chance, we would go back and do it all again – just maybe with one more night at the ryokan, haha!
If you have any questions about our time in this beautiful mountain region, or have any experiences of your own to share, comment below or chat with me on Instagram!