Snow and onsen in the Japanese alps

Posted in:

Our stay in Hirayu was another wild card on our Japan itinerary. But just like our time in Wakimachi, it turned out to be perfect. The bus from Takayama to the middle of who-knows-where took us through tiny villages and valleys surrounded by snowy mountains.

This area is popular for two things: snow and onsen (hot springs). We're not skiers, but we do have a thing for mountains and these are good ones.

Mountain views

Mountain views

And then we arrived at the house. A 300-year old traditional building that was once moved from another area and reconstructed, complete with a traditional fire pit in the living room and a private onsen.

The house

View from the window

We spent our days exploring the area. Even if you don't ski, there's plenty to see, a frozen waterfall, a ropeway, little onsen villages. And in the warmer months, once the snow has melted, the walking trails open up and there are some beautiful hikes.

Walls of snow

Colin walking in the snow

Me in snow shoes

Onsen villages

After hours in snow shoes, there was nothing better than coming back to the warming onsen. Public bathing in hot springs is really popular in Japan but if the idea of that is a bit much, some hotels have private ones. The steam and minerals make it a cross between a sauna and a hot bath.

The onsen

Each evening we ate dinner with our host, Akihiro, who taught us how to make some great Japanese dishes. Our last feast was the best, barbecue Hida beef that we cooked in the fire pit. Hida beef is similar to Kobe, it was recently voted the best beef in Japan. The thin strips are marbled with fat that make it so soft, the most tender beef we've ever had. It's sold all over this area in restaurants, cafes and supermarkets.

Hida beef bbq

The Japanese Alps are popular with domestic tourists, but the absence of English language skills in the area's hotels means it can be quite inaccessible to foreign visitors. If you want to recreate this experience, we loved out stay at this lovely airbnb with Akihiro, who speaks fluent English and helped us organise a great trip.

Check out my other Japan posts for lots more tips.