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.
Travel & Leisure
Italy – the Queen of Winter Tourism
A survey by SWG, commissioned by Confcommercio, highlights the great attractiveness of the country’s ski destinations, which are increasingly easy to reach, including by sustainable travel means such as train.
Italy is more than just sea, sun and culture: it’s also a popular destination for those who love the mountains.
This is confirmed by data from a survey commissioned by Confcommercio and conducted by SWG, which gives an overview of tourism trends in the first months of 2023: 12 million Italians chose the mountains for their winter vacations. Of these, more than 7.5 million travelled for a break lasting a week or less, and many chose “quick getaway” options.
These options were made all the more attractive by an efficient and extensive transportation network, which makes it possible to reach the most renowned resorts throughout the Alps.
For instance, the offer put forward by Trenitalia played a very important role: as part of the Winter Experience, the company put in place a series of initiatives to ensure transportation to the ski resorts on weekends: for example, it has increased FrecciaRossa journeys to Bardonecchia, and has activated a series of combined train + bus connections between 17 December 2022 and 26 March 2023 so travellers can reach their destination comfortably, even without a car.
Many Freccialink connections have been activated, including direct connections to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Madonna di Campiglio, Canazei and Courmayeur.
These are combinations that provide sustainable and quick access to the country’s most beautiful and renowned slopes. But not only slopes – because winter tourism in mountain resorts is no longer just for ski enthusiasts.
Tourists are increasingly seeking unique, tailor-made experiences capable of giving an outlet to their passions. This is an obvious need, which finds an answer in the True Italian Experience multimedia platform: a hub that aims to respond to the growing need of tourists, both Italian and foreign, for authentic and original experiences, and does so by offering activities, tours and experiences in line with the users’ interests.
As the SWG survey shows, these interests are growing increasingly diverse: one takeaway was that the top reasons that prompted tourists to choose mountain resorts as their destinations were, in order, excursions in nature, food and wine tasting, relaxation in wellness centres and shopping. Alpine skiing and other winter sports only came in fifth, perhaps with the steep prices of ski passes being a contributing factor. Many needs, many activities for tourism that is increasingly experiential.
Travel & Leisure
Build Your Stay Around These 7 Luxurious Destination Hotels
Whether you’re planning an extended vacation or a quick getaway, it’s essential to make the most out of your stay by choosing a great hotel in your dream location. Some hotels are destinations in themselves, becoming a place where travelers can enjoy a full vacation, without even leaving the property.
In fact, a recent Hilton survey found that 58% of respondents built their vacations around a specific hotel. When life is go, go, go and you are looking for a hotel that is your ultimate destination, it matters where you stay. As you plan for your next trip, here are seven dreamy hotels that will make your next getaway unforgettable, even if you never leave the hotel’s pool.
Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale, Curio Collection by Hilton
Few resorts in the world can match the extraordinary natural setting of this luxury desert hideaway nestled in the lush Sonoran Desert. Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale, Curio Collection by Hilton, provides a luxurious, peaceful getaway with activities that transcend traditional resort offerings. Challenge yourself and others on the sun-splashed terrain of the two world-class golf courses or play on the cushioned courts to learn tennis and pickleball from an on-site professional. Enjoy outdoor adventures such as rock climbing, guided desert hikes, mountain biking, horseback riding, nature and wildlife tours and stargazing with a professional astronomer. After a fun-filled day, unwind in one of four sparkling outdoor swimming pools or visit the legendary wellness spa to relax and recharge.
Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
Escape to this island oasis filled with bright rooms and villas set within the lush gardens along the Wailea Beach shoreline of Maui. Set in a sophisticated destination, Grand Wailea Maui, A Waldorf Astoria Resort will give you the chance to soak in tranquil sunsets from a private lanai, cool off in any of its five exhilarating pools, embrace long-lasting cultural experiences and sample traditional Hawaiian flavors at unparalleled indoor/outdoor restaurants and lounges. You can also indulge in a variety of experiences, such as paddling down the coast of Maui or unwinding with personalized treatments at the resort’s luxurious spa. Start your mornings with energizing yoga sessions on the top-rated Wailea beach or visit the state-of-the-art fitness center featuring Peloton bikes, Tonal and Technogym equipment, as well as daily fitness classes.
Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa
You and your family can have it all at Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, an all-inclusive beachfront paradise spanning 400 tropical acres along the Caribbean coast. Spend breezy days at the water park with free private cabanas, three secluded whirlpools, live music, a kids’ zone and more; or grab a lounge chair and relax on the private white-sand beach to watch the waves and feel the warm breeze off the sea. Golfers will feel like champions on the 18-hole Cinnamon Hill course that offers smooth fairways, while others can engage in watersports and family-friendly activities such as treasure hunts, Kiddie Karaoke and boat rides. After a day of exploration at Montego Bay Marine Park or a day trip to Dunn’s River Falls, satisfy your food cravings at any of the 11 onsite dining areas, also included in your stay.
Hilton Los Cabos
An unforgettable stay awaits at Hilton Los Cabos with sun, sand and golf all merged into one. Take in breathtaking views of the Sea of Cortez, the energy of the Enclave Beach Club, one of the sparkling infinity pools and the world-class cuisine and cocktail programming on property. Guests can cozy up in beachfront bungalows and relaxing poolside cabanas or take part in the hotel’s fun excursions, such as dolphin encounters, camel rides, scuba diving, whale watching, sea turtle spawning and more. If that’s not enough, you can also take the perfect selfie that’s Instagram-worthy under the landmark Arch rock formation for which Los Cabos is known.
Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi
An island hideaway in the Maldives surrounded by white sands and crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean awaits guests searching for the ultimate luxury getaway. At Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, you can enjoy 11 celebrated dining venues, a world-class lifestyle spa sanctuary, and distinctive activities every generation can enjoy while experiencing this tropical paradise. Whether you’re embarking on a thrilling adventure as you cruise on luxury yachts and soak up the sun from stunning sand backs or participating in intriguing and educational activities at Stars Club or Club Nova, there’s something for every member of the family. Guests can also give back to the community by adopting a coral frame from the coral conservation to help restore the beauty of the ocean and aid in its preservation.
DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai – Jumeirah Beach
Settled on a private stretch of the beach along Dubai’s waterfront promenade, The Walk, DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai – Jumeirah Beach is a destination getaway with beachfront vistas seen right from your guest room window. If you’re looking to completely unplug and relax, visit the Breakwater Wellness Center, which provides massages, facials and scrubs along with a fitness center, sauna, aroma steam room and Jacuzzi to help you de-stress to the max. Once you are fully reinvigorated, you can enjoy authentic cuisine at the Gastro Kitchen, then enjoy your favorite beverages at AERIA Beach Bar & Grill, overlooking the infinity pool and beach.
Higueron Hotel Malaga, Curio Collection by Hilton
Known as the essence of the Mediterranean in Costa del Sol, Higueron Hotel Malaga, Curio Collection by Hilton was designed for guests ages 16 and older. With an infinity pool seemingly spilling directly into the Mediterranean Sea, you can balance your day between relaxation at the Higueron Beach Club, rejuvenation at the Higueron Spa or energization at the Higueron Sports Club. The exclusive environment provides the perfect combination of outdoor facilities with tennis courts, basketball courts, and sand courts for beach volleyball and engaging personalized group activities such as Zumba, spinning or Pilates. After working up an appetite, you can enjoy an eclectic variety of onsite cuisines and bars, including meals from Michelin-starred chef Diego Gallegos in Sollo and a taste of Andalusia in Chupadeo.
Travel & Leisure
Break from the Crowds this Spring and Escape to these Family‑Friendly Destinations
Choosing a spring break locale that offers something for every member of the family is no easy feat. It’s tempting to join the flock heading to well-traveled locales, but this year, why not try something new?
Whether your family craves ocean waves or otherworldly adventure, these lesser-touted spring break destinations offer a stress-free getaway with plenty of crowd-pleasing activities.
Those seeking sun and sand this spring will naturally be drawn to Southern California’s legendary beaches. Sandwiched between the Santa Monica Mountains and the artsy enclave of Santa Barbara, Oxnard offers ample swimming and sunbathing, easy ferry access to kayaking and whale watching at Channel Islands National Park, and a legendary taco scene that’s sure to spice up your vacation.
Where to Stay:
The suite-only Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach, Curio Collection by Hilton offers an idyllic beachfront retreat for your family with a location that’s just steps from the sugary dunes for which the resort is named. Relax at the poolside cabanas or partake in a variety of outdoor sports ranging from tennis to rollerblading, surfing, yoga and beyond. You can find everything you need for a beach adventure at on-site Henry’s Gear Rental, including surfboards, paddleboards, yoga mats, GoPros and more. Two hours of gear rental are included with every stay.
While many head south for a getaway, the “Great White North” of Toronto (which should be sufficiently thawed come springtime) makes for a wonderful option for those seeking diverse options to suit a wide array of interests. Shop the food stalls at St. Lawrence Market, climb to the top of CN Tower, and explore a real-life castle at Casa Loma before embarking on a day trip to marvel at the wonders of nature at Niagara Falls to make the most of your visit to this Ontario gem.
Where to Stay:
The newly opened Canopy by Hilton Toronto Yorkville is located in one of Toronto’s hippest neighborhoods. The trendy décor of the hotel reflects the vibrant nature of the area, which is brimming with culture. Explore the area with complimentary Canopy Bikes during the day, and enjoy Roman-style pizzas and seasonal fare at on-site restaurant Día at night.
Carlsbad, New Mexico
For explorers looking to venture into the depths of the unknown, head underground into the limestone chambers at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. After venturing through the park’s 113 caves, set off on an above-ground exploration through the Chihuahuan Desert for a glimpse at prickly pears and agaves as you seek even more adventure in the Guadalupe Mountains that stretch into Texas. And if you’ve ever searched the sky and wondered if we’re alone, then make time for a detour to the nearby alien attractions in Roswell.
Where to Stay:
Enjoy a spacious room at Home2 Suites by Hilton Carlsbad, which serves as the ideal home base for exploring the caverns, as well as the wonders of Living Desert State Park and Lake Carlsbad Beach Park. Fuel up for your day of adventure with the hotel’s free hot breakfast, and relax after a day of exploring at the outdoor firepit and seating area.
Blast off for an out-of-this-world break in Huntsville. Home to the United States Space and Rocket Center, this northern Alabama city enables visitors to take part in their own hands-on space odyssey, including a look at the largest collection of rockets in the world. And when it comes time to pull your head out of the clouds, Huntsville has lots more to offer, such as a bounty of parks, artist studios, a botanical garden, and museums dedicated to everything from historic homes to art, military artifacts, and more.
Where to Stay:
Embassy Suites by Hilton Huntsville offers everything you need to fuel up for adventure, including suite accommodations, a luxurious spa and a saltwater pool. Be sure to check out the daily free made-to-order breakfast and evening reception.
Those looking to avoid congested hotspots without sacrificing the eclectic energy a city brings should opt for the unique and underrated vacation destination of Pittsburgh. Catch a hockey game, visit renowned museums, stroll lush gardens, and dine on local favorites such as perogies, paczkis, craft brews, and French fries piled high on everything from sandwiches to salads. Then, cap off your visit to “The Paris of Appalachia” with a ride on a 145-year-old incline car to take in epic views of the city and its three rivers.
Where to Stay:
Located in the heart of the city in the Pittsburgh Golden Triangle is Joinery Hotel Pittsburgh, Curio Collection by Hilton. Soak up skyline views from the hotel’s scenic roof terrace, easily explore nearby local attractions, and if you’re looking to bring your family pet along with you for the trip, the hotel also features pet-friendly rooms.
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