An Evening At Nanoyoda Hotel Iya Onsen
Our first month in Japan was spent living in a tiny and perhaps slightly haunted cabin. We were hidden in an isolated Japanese mountain town, deep in Shikoku. Kevin and I decided it was time for a splurge! Nanoyoda Hotel Iya Onsen was on the top of my list of destinations in Japan to visit. Luckily we were only about 3 hours away from this stunning hotel and surrounding beautiful region. The modern ryokan sits on top of a mountain and in the center of the Iya valley Gorge region. The area is also one of Japan’s least explored areas and seeping with folk lore.
Traveling with a toddler always takes longer than expected. Luckily, I had the insight to book another, less expensive room nearby for the night before our Hotel Iya Onsen reservation. So we could just jet off to Iya Onsen first thing in the morning. Even planning ahead, we were still many hours late to our first reservation. Live and learn.
On our first morning in Iya Valley we stopped at a nearby konbini (convenience store) for snacks and refreshments. Japanese convenience store food is actually quite good and full of healthier options if you look for them. We treated ourselves to hard boiled eggs, onigiri, seaweed and packets of simmered sweet potatoes. I’ll leave out the photo of our toddler destroying his carseat with said snacks.
In route to the hotel you will pass by many of the main attractions in the valley region.We spent some time at a gorgeous rest stop, built on top of a cliff and overlooking the gorge. It was the week of Children’s Day, so colorful koinobori streamers (こいのぼり) were strung across the waterway. The rest stop also hosted a Yokai Museum, which dove into the local ghost scene and legions of the area. There was also a nice little kids’ area to play indoor and souvenirs and local produce for sale. A ramen shop that overlooked the water and a crystal store, to protect you from the yokais I presume.
When we arrived at Hotel Iya Onsen, some how our traveling toddler knew exactly where to find our private outdoor bath. So the first thing we did was run to shower up and jump in. The private bath is what dreams are made of. In the evening, brisk air and the pitch black darkness quickly settle you into a deep relaxation. In the morning, the fog scatters throughout the surrounding mountains and cool mist is the perfect contrast to the warm water.
After our first bath, we took the cable car all the way down the mountain to the base of the river to enjoy the hotel’s onsen. The cable car was quite impressive and maybe even a tad frightening. When you make it to the onsen, there is a small room for relaxing, some vending machines for drinks, a river level patio area and separate changing rooms and bathing facilities for men and women. We must have taken close to 100 baths from the time we checked in until we were sadly forced to check out. The entire experience is so therapeutic and calming, you almost don’t want to get out and go to breakfast.
Luckily we did make it to breakfast just in time. In the light of day, the view from the dining room was absolutely magical. The foggy mountains did not disappoint. Our breakfast set meal was full of various traditional Japanese treats. Fresh veggies, pickles, rice, tofu, fruit and two types of soup was the perfect breakfast to fuel us for a day of exploring the gorge.
We booked our room at the last minute through Agoda and got a great deal, including traditional multi-coursed breakfast and dinner for two people, use of their cable car that takes you down the mountain to the hotel’s riverfront onsen and a private outdoor bath on the balcony of our guest suite. Even if we had paid full price, the experience most certainly would have been absolutely worth it. The room was furnished with a massage chair and super cozy Tempur-Pedic futons. It was also stocked with pajamas, toothbrushes, samples of the hotel’s own skincare line made with onsen water. They even gave us hot water kettle and a lovely container full of tea ware, green teas and some sweets. The hotel provided everything you’d need for a perfect stay.
Hotel Iya Onsen was only a few minutes drive from Kazurabashi, one of the areas most famous attractions. I’m not exactly sure why I thought I wanted to walk across this bridge. It is 300 years old and made almost entirely out of vines, with a few additional supports. When we arrived at the entrance, we could see other tourists slowly and carefully maneuvering across the bridge. Kevin snickered to himself that it could be as scary as they were making it seem. Upon closer inspection, Kazurabashi was absolutely terrifying. The planks to step on were uneven, some only about 4 inches wide, with gaps between that that were sometimes almost 1 foot. After almost having a heart attack, we took a short walk down to Biwa Waterfall. There are several food stalls and a few little restaurants along there way where you can buy drinks roasted sweet potatoes, fish on a stick and ice cream. The path lines the river and there are also a few beach camping sites a bit further down.
After risking sudden death, we decided to treat ourselves to another round of ‘banana milk’ at the charming cafe, just next to Kazurabashi. The cafe name is slipping my mind at the moment, but please look for the two store building near the far side of the bridge. The cafe also serves several tasty sandwiches that are adorably pressed with a waffle maker. Oishii! The cafe owner was very kind and helpful. He showed us the home he made in a nearby tree for a local giant flying squirrel. He also showed us his regular bird feeding spot, where the neighborhood birds felt comfortable enough to eat seed out of my hands. After sprinkling a bit of bird seeds into my hands, I only had to wait a few seconds for my childhood dreams of being Snow White to be fulfilled!
After one last dip in the onsen, it was time to check out. I visited the gift shop during check out and purchase both the sweets and the hotel’s skin care line that was provided in the room. 5 months later, their skin care products are still my all time favorite. They are made with water from the hotel’s natural hot spring.
If you are blessed with the opportunity to be anywhere near the Iya Valley region, I highly recommended splurging a bit to stay at Hotel Iya Onsen. If the room price is a bit steep, the hotel offers reasonable day rates that includes a set lunch and a dip in the onsen. Hotel Iya Onsen is a destination worthy of visiting for a celebration. It is also the perfect backdrop for a proposal or wedding ceremony.
Are you planning a trip to Iya Valley or have you already been? I’d love to talk all about your questions and experiences!
Here’s a couple of our favorite items to take with on a journey to Iya Valley..
(Click to shop)