The best thing about travel is that you never know what to expect. Even if you’ve pinned, googled, grammed and, hell even encyclopaedia britannica’ed , there’s no way to now what truly awaits, because places change every minute. Which, as all of you avid travellers will know, appeals the most. It’s a constant roller coaster – some days are meh, some are truly awful and every so often there’s that day you’ll remember forever. I call it my ‘one perfect day’ where unexpectedly everything falls into place and you have an experience like no other. I spoke about it recently with about our hike to San Fruttuoso in Italy, and I wanted to share my (and potentially your) one perfect day on the outskirts of Kyoto.
I visited Kyoto a year or so ago with my mum, as part of an annual pilgrimage we do to Japan. After spending a few days in the main city of Kyoto (read my guide on that here) we decided it was high time to escape to the country. Mum had read about a hike and lunch spot worth checking out, but other than that (for once) we were not overly informed. What follows was one of my best travel experiences so far.
A Quick Guide to Kurama & Kibune, Kyoto
The focus for our day trip was the two valleys of Kurama and Kibune, located in the mountains outside Kyoto. Whilst you can definitely stay overnight (and some of the ryokans in Kibune looked amazing!), it works just as well for a day trip. There is a gorgeous mountain hike between the two, which allows you to go to one and walk over to the other. We decided to get the train to Kurama and hike over to Kibune. Here’s how our day went (feel free to follow this itinerary if you’re ever in the region!).
9am. We boarded the tiny little electric train at the Eizan line, and took it 30 minutes to Kurama. You’ll pass Kibune on the way.
10am. We arrived in Kurama with enough time to go over to the gorgeous outdoor Onsen, departing from our clothes for half an hour to boil in the spring water. No photos of this incredible spot because of Onsen rules, but google will show you it’s lovely.
11am. We stopped for tea in the most lovely tea house, mum order a green tea which was lovely although my smoky tea has a certain 5 packets of cigarettes taste that I couldn’t quite embrace. (does anyone know what this was?)
Noon. To get to Kibune you walk over the hill, passing through the incredible Kurama-dera, a beautiful and serene set of temples and grounds. This is worth a visit even if you don’t want to hike!
1pm. We then hiked over to Kibune. I use the term hike lightly because it was only around a 2km walk, a little bit hilly here and there but completely do-able for most.
2pm. Ummmm can anyone say lunch time? It’s surprising how hungry one can get after walking a mere 2km. To be honest I was just expecting a cute little sushi place, but when we arrived I had this almost out of body experience to see traditional restaurants built on platforms over the rushing rapids of the river. Apparently they set up during the summer months, and honestly it was a pinch yourself moment. Most restaurants serve kaiseki meals that are a) oh so cute and b) not that cheap. But so worth it to sit with the water rushing below you.
4pm. Alas, time to go home. We hopped back aboard that tiny train at Kibune station (a short walk down the hill from the town)and headed back into the city, full belly and (can I put it a little soppy?) full hearts.
The tiny little streets of Kibune, with all those incredibly ryokans set on the side of the stream. Bliss!
Traditional frontages in Kurama
The Kurama-dera is an unforgettable place.
Art, or charity?
BYO walking shoes.
The ancient and peaceful forests of Kurama.
And then this!
Traditional ladies having lunch (I can’t help but wonder… talking about their recent tinder dates maybe?)
Course one of our Kaiseki lunch…
Just before I go, I meant to say that this route is perfect in Summer, but you may want to reverse it in Winter and have your onsen at the end to warm up.