Wreathing an eight-century-old koi pond and framed by some of the city’s most dramatic temples, the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto is a refined haven at the heart of Japan’s imperial capital.
Leave it to the Japanese to be able to create a contemporary hotel that’s undeniably steeped in tradition. With modern architecture and interiors by Singapore firm Hirsch Bedner, offset but a striking location beside one of the last remaining Heian-period gardens, Four Seasons Kyoto is an urban retreat without compare.
What arriving guests will notice first is the seamless integration of modernity and antiquity – there’s no doubt that the hotel is modern (it’s only been open a couple of years) but the pond, its lush gardens, and the use of honey-hued cypress from the lobby to the intimate tea house, tells of a vision that’s as much a homage to the past as it is a place of the present.
Kyoto isn’t one of those cities in which you need to stay at the heart to be close to the action. This means that the Four Seasons’ location in the beautifully-preserved Higashiyama-Ku ward means that not only does the hotel mingle seamlessly among the city’s most historic houses of worship, including the Sanju Sangen-do and Chishaku-in temples, but the city centre and the train station – the best way to access Kansai International Airport – is only minutes away.
If you do want to battle it out with the crowds in order to get those oh-so-perfect Instagrammable Kyoto pics, the famed red gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the breathtaking Kinkaku-ji aka Golden Pavilion, and Arashiyama bamboo forest are just 20 minutes away by cab.
The Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto is home to just 123 beautifully appointed guest rooms and 57 residences, the latter designed as residential suites complete with full kitchens and spacious living and dining areas. Across five categories, rooms range from 49sqm for a Deluxe Room, through to 245sqm for the sumptuous Presidential Suite, home to Kyoto’s largest hotel room entertaining spaces. One and two-bedroom residential suites feature all the comforts of home – some even have traditional tatami dining rooms.
Our Premier Room is a symphony of zen design, complete with chocolate-hued hardwood floors, hand-painted panels, a spacious balcony overlooking the garden, and touches of pale blue and rich purple. There is a king-size bed and spacious marble-lined bathroom with deep soak tub, rain shower and toiletries by Florentine perfumer Lorenzo Villoresi; a sizable workspace, his and her wardrobes, a wall-mounted LCD television, delicate Washi-paper lamps beside the bed, a modern coffee machine and traditional tea set in Urushi liqueurware, and plenty of natural light thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows.
The room has a lovely residential feel to it (despite not being one of the actual residential suites), with plenty of space to hide luggage and clothing away, effectively turning it into your own chic little Kyoto pied-à-terre.
As you could imagine, the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto is a culinary destination for locals and visitors alike, thanks to its two restaurants, late-night lounges, and traditional teahouse, located across the mirror-like pond. The gastronomic hero here is Michelin-starred Sushi Wakon (read more about this remarkable restaurant here), which is run by master chef Rei Masuda and which serves stunning Edo-style sushi using the freshest ingredients flown in daily from the fish markets of Tokyo.
For something a little more casual, head to The Brasserie, which delivers the spirit of a modern bistro right to the water’s edge. The restaurant and its adjacent lounge is a favourite for leisurely breakfasts and afternoon teas, while the terrace on the edge of the pond is a spectacular spot for the gin-laced Kyoto-inspired cocktails of Catalan head bartender Raul Navarro. Evening digestives and desserts can also be enjoyed in the intimate Lobby Lounge, one of the city’s sexiest night haunts, which features a roaring fireplace on those chilly winter nights.
Be sure to leave time to visit Shakusui-tei, the hotel’s traditional teahouse, which serves the finest Japanese teas during daytime tea ceremonies and boutique champagnes and sakes in the evening. The teahouse often invites the brewers behind some of Japan’s most acclaimed craft sakes to visit and discuss their passion with guests over a tasting flight.
During our visit, the hotel was hosting Yoshiki Yukimachi from Kyoto’s Takeno Shuzo brewery, which was established in 1947. Young and innovative, Yukimachi produces both traditional and modern sakes, the latter curious and completely delicious contemporary interpretations of this timeless art.
While Kyoto is a city with no shortage of attractions, there is also plenty to keep you occupied at the Four Seasons, including one of the city’s most iconic indoor swimming pools, whirlpools, steam rooms and saunas, and a comprehensive fitness centre with personal trainers on hand.
The Spa at Four Seasons is also highly regarded nationally and incorporates the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of enso, as well as Biologique Recherche, Tatcha and Sodashi wellness products, into an indulgent menu of intimate treatments and rituals conducted in seven sumptuous spa suites.
Look out for the likes of the Royal Enso Treatment, which combines a warm bamboo extract and organic green tea scrub with a hot stone massage; or the Miyabi Rejuvenation Couple’s Treatment, a serene celebration for two that features a Japanese sake bath to ease stress levels, and an aromatic oil massage followed by a Tatcha facial.
Both as a base from which to explore the city and as a destination in its own right, the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto is a luxurious haven that instills the beauty and heritage of this imperial city to perfection.
The original version of this story ran on The Art of Business Travel.
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