If you’re not familiar, Kyoto is considered Japan’s cultural capital. Famous for its temples, tea houses and shrines, the city has a gentler pace to other major cities, and the Shinmonzen embodies this.
The word luxury can be thrown around a lot, but truly there is no better term to describe this beautiful hotel. Inspired by a traditional Japanese inn, but with modern, art-house touches, The Shinmonzen is a pocket of heaven.
Tucked away on a traditional side street in Gion – the city’s most famous geisha district – the hotel is in a prime position to explore downtown Kyoto.
With just nine spacious suites, all with verandas overlooking the Shirakawa River, life here runs a little slower. To be clear, this doesn’t extend to the hotel’s service where nothing is too much for the staff.
From being collected at the train station (more specifically outside our exact carriage with bottles of ice-cold water) to being given traditional welcome pastries and an overview of the city, the Shinmozen’s staff go above and beyond to make you feel at home.
After weeks of navigating new cities and a new language, this personal, homely touch is most welcomed. Of all the rooms we stayed in during our trip, this one was our favorite. With sliding doors and an open plan layout, it was quintessentially Japanese.
The hotel website describes the interior as ‘soothingly minimal’ and truly, when you get there, you’ll know what they mean. This interior combined with the sweet sound of birdsong and trickling river are a fast-track pass to feeling zen.
Designed by Tadao Ando, one of Japan’s greatest architects, the owner (whose name you might recognize from Provence’s Villa La Coste) has imbued it with character and state-of-the-art design.
The latter is something Tadoa clearly takes seriously, teaming up with Remi Tessier to consult on interiors. Each piece of furniture enhanced the zen aesthetic, as did the luxury touches like 500-thread-count linen, stunning walk-in closet and free gourmet minibar.
This is all without mentioning the beautiful bathroom, fit with an onsen-style Hinoki bath tub and a rain shower overhead.
Although we had Kyoto’s bars and restaurants on our doorstep, after a day of exploring the city, nothing was more tempting than unwinding with a glass of wine in the bath. And, of course, going to bed in our Ploh Plush bathrobes and slippers.
Traveling throughout Japan can leave you feeling exhausted, lucky then that there’s an onsite restaurant at The Shinmonzen allowing guests to try local delicacies without leaving the hotel.
Jean-Georges, named after its head chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, showcases Kyoto’s famously high-quality produce. We didn’t get a chance to eat there during our stay, but if reviews are anything to go by, it’s one of the city’s best eateries.
We did however enjoy a leisurely riverside brunch, featuring fresh smoothies, the best coffee we had in Japan and some extraordinarily fluffy omelettes.
Kyoto offers an authentic slice of Japanese culture; traditional and beautiful – an antidote to the bustling streets of Tokyo lined with its concept cafés and skyscrapers, which make up the sprawling skyline.
Kyoto on the other hand, has no building above 31 meters due to laws prohibiting it – something our driver, a proud Kyoto resident, told us in perfect English as we were whisked from the station to the hotel.
The strict building regulations are a way of the authorities keeping the city true to its roots – something you can’t help but feel as you wonder through Gion.
This quaint feel extends to the beautiful temples; we were recommended the Daitokuji Temple, a complex of temples with beautiful surrounding gardens.
After a morning of exploring, we perched ourselves on a bench and enjoyed an ice-brew Matcha. A pretty heavenly way to spend a day.
Because Kyoto is a far smaller city, the presence of tourists feels more pronounced. One way to escape? A beautiful cycle along the Kamo river in the direction of the Botanical Garden, a route one of the Shinmozen’s staff drew up for us.
There you’ll see wildlife, including herons and cranes, as well as gaining an insight to the way locals relax; painting, playing board games and reading on the riverside.
During our time in Japan, we stayed in many hotels, but this was by far our favourite. A hotel which truly embodies its surroundings, respectfully reflecting Kyoto’s zen, humble charm and yet offering ultimate luxury too.
We loved Kyoto, but it was The Shinmonzen which made our trip one to remember.
Luxury Lifestyle Magazine / ABC Flash Point News 2023.