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Five Reasons to Discover Kyoto’s Magic in Winter

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Discover the hidden secrets of Kyoto in winter – the magical but least-known season that the locals love. From enchanting illuminations in beautiful temples to seasonal dishes bursting with flavour; vibrant New Year celebrations to “onsen” hot baths beneath snow-capped mountains, here are five favourite Kyoto winter warmers as curated by the team at Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto:

1. Ume (plum): Winter’s Secret Blossoms

Despite spring being the best-known season of blossoms in Japan, winter visitors are in for a delightful surprise with Kyoto’s profusion of delicate ume (plum) flowers.

Decorating the city’s plum trees in shades of snow white through to verdant pink, ume blossom’s sweet fragrance and pretty five petalled composition inspired ancient nobility from the Nara period (AD 710–784) to write haiku while gazing at them.

Blooming plum trees, once a prosperous trade with China and now savoured for their unique beauty, can be seen across Kyoto from mid-January. Kitano Tenmangu, just 25 minutes from the Hotel, offers some of the best viewing, with 1,500 plum trees blossoming through to mid-March.

2. Warming Winter Dishes

Warm up from within with Kyoto’s wide variety of steaming hot pots and sizzling Yudofu 湯豆腐.

The Japanese have long adapted their diet to the country’s dramatically different seasons, and winter offers up plenty of delicacies. Try Kaburamushi かぶら蒸し, a fragrant composition of grated turnip, egg white, lily root, gingko and mushrooms atop a white fish – locals liken its appearance to a melting snowball.

Originating in Kyoto, Steamed Sushi 蒸し寿司 is a hot dish with unique seasoning while Tanuki Udon calls on the spicy warmth of ginger on a base of chopped fried tofu with thick ankake sauce.

Celebrate new year in Kyoto with festive favourite Mochi ぜんざい (Zenzai), a dainty, chewy rice speciality available in tea houses and traditional cafes across the city.

3. Inspiring Illuminations

As the sun sets low on the wintry horizon, Kyoto comes alive with twinkling lights.

From January to February, lanterns are lit only on snowy days at Kifune Jinja Shrine, making it a rare but exquisite experience to see the shrine’s pretty red steps and tree boughs aglow.

Discover an illuminated Hanatouro Bridge in Arashiyama (from mid-December for about ten days) and explore the nearby Kimono and Bamboo Forests, where LED lights create a magical woodland trail.

From the end of January for a week, marvel at the mountainous heritage site of Kayabuki-no Sato as the entire village of thatched houses gets festive with handmade snow lanterns, food stalls, dance performances and cultural activities from mochi pounding through to traditional handiwork.

Bringing seasonal enchantment to Kyoto from late November through to late December, electrical company Rohm is behind the city’s largest illumination event featuring over 800,000 lights and loved by locals and visitors alike since 1995.

4. Dive into Kyoto’s Bathing Culture

An integral part of Japanese culture, bathing is considered a daily ritual of both purification and pleasure.

Guests at Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto can enjoy a complimentary soothing “ofuro” hot bath and sauna on the hotel’s wellness floor, B2 as well as at THE SPA.

Bathing has long been considered a social activity with locals heading to one of the city’s “sento”銭湯 or public baths to catch up with neighbours. A few sensational sentos remain in Kyoto, such as art-rich Funaoka Onsen Sento and Goko-yu Sento with its scalding hot sauna, perfect after a long hike.

Chase away winter’s chill with an invigorating soak in one of the city’s nearby “onsen”温泉, a natural hot spring. Kurama Onsen, 40 minutes from the Hotel, offers the exquisite experience of being surrounded by forested mountains while Arashiyama Onsen, just 30 minutes away, has views of Arashiyama.

5. Exclusive Winter Activities

Make winter your season of discovery in a country rich with specialities.

Fushimi, a sake-brewing district fed by the pure clean water of the Horikawa river, is a great place to start your winter Kyoto experience. From December to January, the breweries make fresh sake from the newly harvested Fall rice, and offer sake tastings, perfect for warming the body on a cold day. Ask our Concierge to recommend and reserve the best sake breweries at the time of your visit (there are 50 to choose from in Kyoto, including 19 in Fushimi!)

Throw yourself into the jubilant spirits of Hatsumode – Japan’s first shrine visit of the new year – by joining with locals in beautiful traditional dress Kimono to pray for a good year, enjoy food stalls and play games with prizes. Japanese people traditionally go to temples and shrines from January 1-15 – a unique experience to be a part of, if your trip allows. Our Concierges will be happy to share their insider knowledge on the best places to go.

Marvel at nature’s majesty from the comfort of a heated boat on the Hozu-gawa river: winter views include intriguing geologic formations covered with snow alongside colossal boulders, glimpses of the surrounding mountains, mysterious deep pools, and local flora and fauna.

Soak up the splendour of rare Japanese art at the ‘Kyo no fuyu no tabi’ (means Kyoto Winter Trip, 京の冬の旅) exhibition held at fifteen different city temples every year over more than 50 years. It is a unique opportunity to see each temple’s secret treasures, usually hidden from private view. Open from mid January to mid March.

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Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City Reveals Five of the City’s Hidden Gems

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The Concierge team at Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City, members of the Les Clefs d’Or international association, invites you to an exhilarating exploration of one of the world’s most exciting hubs of art, architecture design and gastronomy.  From the heart of the city to its surrounding areas, enrich your experience with its myriad offering of hidden treasures.

An Authentic Ancestral Culinary Experience in Xochimilco

Discover the secrets of the floating gardens of Xochimilco and learn about an ancient farming method handed down through generations from the pre-Hispanic era. Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City will guide you on this enriching experience and share the harvest of its chinampa in an exquisite lunch prepared especially for you by our Executive Chef Emiliano Rabia. Let a colourful trajinera lead you on this unique journey to the past, ready to conquer the present.

The Captivating Quietude of a Private Park: Parque Quetzalcoatl

Built by Mexico’s top exponent of organic architectur, Javier Senosiain, this 5000 square-metre (54,000 square foot) park located on the fringes of the capital is a sight to behold. Senosian’s reverence for nature and pride in Mexican culture inspired him to design this lost horizon exemplifying man’s complete communion with nature.

A Flight to Remember: Hot Air Balloon Ride at Teotihuacan Pyramids

Let a balloon take you high and see the Teotihuacan pyramids from the sk.! Get your day to an early start, and feel the thrill that will buck up your hear.! Combine your flight with a challenging climb to the top of the pyramids, and bask in the beauty and unsolved mysteries of these magnificent ancient temples.

Treasures in the Valley: Luís Barragán Masterpieces from the 20th Century

An enormous pink wall facing horses in a stable, nor a flight of stairs that seem to have no end. You just have to feel the way Luís Barragán did. That is what his architecture is all about: spirituality and emotion.

Muralism in a League All its Own: Rafael Cauduro at the Supreme Court of Justice

Within the walls of the Supreme Court of Justice are scintillating manifestations by various artists on justice in Mexico, and the most riveting of all are the murals painted by Rafael Cauduro. As beautiful as they are thought-provoking, Cauduro’s murals capture Mexico’s turbulent history in powerful images portraying the different faces of injustice on individuals – a stark contrast between the artist’s dazzling visuals and the disturbing situations they depict.

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Top 10 Reasons to Come Back to Tokyo

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Rediscover Japan’s captivating capital with these top 10 experiences, curated by the Concierge team at Four Seasons.

1. Stay at Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi. Experience next-generation luxury at Four Seasons, soaring high above the financial heart of Tokyo. With its breathitaking array of views, inventive gastronomy and carefully-crafted aesthetic, Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi takes guests on a sensory journey of discovery. Take in 360-degree panoramas of the Imperial Palace and its lush gardens, cityscapes punctuated by the Tokyo Skytree, and even Mount Fuji on clear days. Sky-high rooftop terraces offer the best seats in town to sublime seasonal landscapes, elevated by personalised service and a bevy of drinking and dining experiences. Tokyo’s modern energy and honoured traditions come together seamlessly at this highly-anticipated urban retreat.

2. Celebrate an iconic matsuri (festival). Join the festivities of Kanda Matsuri, a kaleidoscopic parade of floats, mini-shrines, dancers, musicians and priests on horseback. Held over a weekend in mid-May, the vibrant procession begins at Kanda-jinja Shrine located near Four Seasons, then winds its way to Otemachi – all the while accompanied by resounding chants to the beat of taiko drums. Dating back to 1600, Kanda Matsuri has its origins in Tokugawa Ieyasu’s victory in the Battle of Sekigahara, which cleared his path to the shogunate.

3. Watch a wondrous firework display. Marvel at a dramatic dance of light, colour and music at the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, a signature summer event in Tokyo. Join local residents for the revelry, many of whom come with loved ones to enjoy the “flowers in the sky.” Observed by nearly one million people gathered along the riverside, in boats and on rooftops, the spectacular display lights up the night sky for over an hour and a half. Tokyo’s pyrotechnic craftsmen are constantly experimenting with new shapes and colours – meaning you get to witness some truly creative fireworks.

4. Savour a starred epicurean adventure. Home to an astounding 226 Michelin-starred restaurants, Tokyo holds the title of Michelin capital of the world. Compared with its counterparts such as Paris and London, the city offers the chance to enjoy multiple award-winning meals without breaking the bank. Choose from an intriguing variety of venues and cuisines as you wine and dine your way across this foodies’ paradise, from intimate tucked-away gems to dining establishments that love being in the spotlight. Get in touch with the Concierge at Four Seasons to tailor the perfect gastronomic itinerary.

5. Drink coffee like it’s the 1920s. Long before Starbucks, Tokyoites got their caffeine fix at kissaten (old-school coffee shops). Born at a time when Japan was modernising, these social hubs welcomed everyone from salarymen to university students. Step into a world seeped with nostalgia at one of the many kissaten that still dot the city, from moody jazz cafés to literary establishments lined with books. At Café de l’Ambre in Ginza, you can sample single origin varieties aged for 10-20 years and brewed with a cloth filter, while Koffee Mameya in Omotesando stocks beans from great roasters around the world.

6. Soak in the spirit of Omotenashi. A quintessentially Japanese notion, Omotenashi refers to authentic local hospitality that anticipates the needs of others and values attention to detail. Notice the touches of Omotenashi sprinkled into everyday life in Tokyo – from the way staff bow their heads and greet you warmly when you enter a store, to how the taxi door opens automatically without you having to reach for it.

7. Zip through Japan in plush comfort. A ride on the Shinkansen bullet train is an adventure in itself. Famed for their smoothness and punctuality, these sleek marvels of Japanese engineering clock speeds of up to 200 miles (325 kilometres) per hour. Experience train travel like never before in the Gran Class, an exclusive car with ultra-spacious seating, gourmet meals and a dedicated host. Other luxury trains offer the feeling of a boutique hotel on wheels. Take in the majestic beauty of northern Japan from aboard the Royal Express by Tokyu Dentetsu, featuring observation decks, wood-panelled interiors and menus by a Michelin-starred chef.

8. Explore oh-so-Japanese stationery. For stationery connoisseurs, Tokyo is a land of endless delights. With every changing season, Japanese stationery companies release new line-ups of products – from sophisticated gadgets and writing instruments, to themed letter sets and journals. Stock up on your favourites at Maruzen Marunouchi bookstore, LoFT in Ginza or Shibuya, and Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku. A must-visit for artists, Pigment Tokyo in Shinagawa stocks an incredible range of art supplies, including pigments in 4,500 hues, 200 kinds of Sumi ink sticks, and 50 types of isinglass.

9. Immerse in inventive digital art. Discover a mind-bending world of artwork without borders, a museum without a map. Spread across 10,000 square feet (930 square metres), the teamLab Borderless Museum houses exhibits that transition through different spaces, intermingle with each other, and are influenced by the audience. Created by a group of ultra-technologists, these immersive pieces of art and music unlock new ways for the self to interact with the world. You are encouraged to participate through touch and movement, and create a new reality with others – no two visits are exactly the same.

10. Take a storied architectural journey. Experience Tokyo’s fascinating evolution through its iconic buildings. Travel back to 1931 at KITTE, occupying the former premises of the Central Post Office – an early 1900s structure that was set to be replaced with a skyscraper until the then-communications minister stepped in to preserve its historic façade. Fast-forward to Japan’s Metabolism movement at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and featuring a swooping roof that recalls both a shrine and an upturned boat. Return to the present with a tour of buildings designed by Kengo Kuma, one of today’s most influential Japanese architects, known for a fluid aesthetic that blends in with the surrounding environment.

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7 Expert Tips for Wish List Travel without Breaking the Bank

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Although most travelers were grounded since March 2020, their wanderlust continued to thrive. And now, as restrictions loosen in many areas, they are ready to embark on their dream excursions.

Three in four Americans plan to venture off to wish list locations on their next trip, according to a recent Hilton survey. Among their most desired destinations: the lush Hawaiian capital of Honolulu, the bright lights of Las Vegas and the bustling streets of New York City.

After a year of staying put, travelers are ready to splurge. Over half of the survey respondents (55%) said they plan to spend, on average, $2,100 more on their dream trip than they would have prior to the pandemic.

While the willingness is there, there is no need to break the bank. With a little budgeting and creativity, an affordable dream vacation is within reach. To help travelers plan the perfect trip for their wallet, Hilton has partnered with Patrice Washington, financial expert and author of “Redefine Wealth for Yourself.” Here are her top tips:

Set a Budget: A wish list trip shouldn’t send you into debt. Research costs associated with your dream vacation ahead of time — activities, meals, airfare, lodging and more — and from there, set and stick to a budget. Tracking your monthly expenses is a great way to determine where to cut back and how much money to set aside.

Join A Loyalty Program:
Tapping into a rewards program can also make travel more value-driven. Members of Hilton’s guest loyalty program, Hilton Honors, have access to instant benefits and rewards, as well as hundreds of ways to earn and redeem Points, like special global promotions and free nights. With the Points Explorer tool, members can explore wish list destinations to see where their Points can take them, and they can also choose from nearly any combination of Points and money to book a stay. Additionally, elite members have the option to select a complimentary dining benefit during hotel stays at several Hilton brands, a Daily Food & Beverage Credit in the U.S. and Continental Breakfast elsewhere, allowing them to save — even if for one meal a day — on dining while traveling. Members can also take advantage of partnerships, including car rentals and ridesharing with Lyft to earn or redeem Hilton Honors Points. 

Apply for a Travel Credit Card:
As travel rebounds, now is a great time to apply for a travel credit card to start earning on your trip expenses and everyday purchases. New card member incentives and offers for existing card members can earn you Hilton Honors Bonus Points on purchases that can help reach those dream destinations even faster.

For a limited time, eligible new Hilton Honors American Express Card Members who apply and are approved by August 25, 2021 can take advantage of two special offers. With the Hilton Honors American Express Card, new members can earn 100,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months, plus up to $100 statement credits on purchases at Hilton in the first 12 months. With the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card, new members can earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $2,000 in purchases in the first 3 months, plus $0 introductory annual fee for the first year (thereafter the annual fee is $95). Plus, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card offers Gold status with Hilton Honors, Free Night Certificates when you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year, and valuable Points on everyday purchases that you can put toward your wish list vacation. Terms apply.

Be Flexible with Travel Dates:
Making your vacation more affordable doesn’t mean losing sight of your wish list destination. Being flexible with timing and open to off-peak seasons could inject added value into your trip. For the 20% of Americans who have Miami atop their wish lists, staying at Hilton Garden Inn Miami South Beach or nearby at Tru by Hilton Fort Lauderdale Downtown during the off-season still lets you enjoy the best of what South Florida has to offer without the crowds. 

Think Beyond Resorts:
Accommodations are one of the biggest expenses on any vacation, but the money you save on lodging can be used toward memorable tours and excursions. With more than 2,200 hotels around the U.S., you’re never more than 30 minutes away from a Hampton, and with the dual-brand Hampton by Hilton Las Vegas Convention Center and Home2 Suites by Hilton Las Vegas Convention Center, you don’t have to look far to find the value-added amenities and hospitality Hilton is known for at a cost-conscious price point.

Go Big at Lunch:
Seeking out local cuisine is a great way to experience the flavor of a wish list destination. Prices at restaurants during the afternoon tend to be cheaper than dinner — and eating a substantial mid-day meal could fuel you up for an afternoon and evening of adventure.

Book a Room with a Kitchen:
Keeping it simple for a few meals is an easy way to cut back on spending. The spacious suites with fully-equipped kitchens at Homewood Suites by Hilton New Orleans French Quarter and kitchenettes at Embassy Suites by Hilton San Diego Bay Downtown give you the freedom to plan out and prepare meals or tropical cocktails in your room after a day of adventure.

At the end of the day, wish list travel is all about making unforgettable memories. As life begins to return to normal, following these budget-savvy tips will help prepare you for the trip you’ve always imagined. What are you waiting for? Start planning today!

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