Located on Japan's island of Hokkaido, a two-hour flight from Tokyo, Niseko is known for having some of the finest powder snow conditions in the world. Niseko used to be a bit of a backpacker destination—the main town has long been a favorite with hardcore Australian skiers—but it is rapidly gentrifying, with lots of new luxury hotels opening, including a beautiful Park Hyatt that will debut in 2020. The Niseko ski resort has incredibly varied terrain, making it suitable for both kids and experts. Another bonus: Niseko is a major foodie destination, so after a day on the slopes, travelers can refuel with everything from ramen and soba noodles to Michelin-starred cuisine. Here are our travel tips for Niseko, one of Japan’s most up-and-coming destinations.
Niseko is experiencing a hotel boom, with several properties that have opened in the past few years and many more on their way. Most hotels are located in the main town of Hirafu Village, where the top property is Skye, a contemporary ski-in/ski-out hotel with a gym, onsen, spa and restaurant. Those who want a more intimate experience and don’t mind a short drive to the mountain should opt for Zaborin. Situated in the picturesque forest just 10 minutes by car from the Niseko ski resort, this intimate, 15-room hotel offers a traditional ryokan experience and a luxurious home base for exploring the region. The hotel landscape is sure to change when the Park Hyatt Niseko opens its sprawling ski-in/ski-out property in early 2020. The luxurious property will be on par with the resorts found in Aspen and Vail, and offer an array of amenities including a swimming pool, spa, gym and access to the nearby Hanazono golf course.
Hokkaido is a great destination for foodies, as it is on the water and has lots of farmland, resulting in incredibly fresh produce. Hirafu Village is teeming with restaurants, including Barn by Odin, Toshiro’s Bar and Bar Gyu for cocktails; Ebisutei for an izakaya experience; Kamimura for Michelin-starred Japanese-French fare; and Niseko Ramen Kazahana, a destination for its famed fluffy potato ramen. Outside of Hirafu, there are a number of restaurants worth driving to. The neighboring town of Annupuri is home to Rakuichi Soba, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and serves spectacular soba kaiseki meals at dinner (lunch is à la carte and walk-in only, but seats just 20 guests). Next door is Sushi Shin, helmed by three-Michelin-starred chef Masaki Miyakawa. Also in Annupuri is Pizza Delsole, a great spot to go when you tire of Japanese food, thanks to its incredible pizzas made with ingredients flown in from Italy. And no trip to Hokkaido is complete without sampling ice cream (the island has some of the top dairy farms in Japan); the two most popular spots to try it are Ruheil and Milk Kobo.
The main reason to visit Niseko is to ski and snowboard—thrill-seekers can’t miss hiking five hours up the active Mount Yotei volcano and skiing the caldera inside it (contact Indagare to arrange a guide)—but the prime snow conditions also make it a great destination for snowmobiling. A must-visit is Somoza, a cutting-edge installation from the founder of Zaborin. Located in a 150-year-old traditional Japanese building, Somoza has an art gallery with pieces from the owner’s private collection, tea room, café and restaurant that serves Japanese-Italian tasting menus for lunch and dinner. The chefs implement seasonal local produce in such dishes as spiced carrot soup with ginger crème fraiche and homemade pappardelle with Piemonte sausage, shimeji mushroom and thyme crème. There are also some cultural experiences—visiting sake factories and dairy farms—which Indagare can arrange upon request.
Niseko is a year-round destination, but it offers the most activities during the winter season, which spans from December through March. It can be very crowded during the winter holidays and Chinese New Year, so we recommend avoiding these times, if possible.
From Tokyo, fly two hours to New Chitose Airport (Sapporo) and then drive two hours to Niseko (Indagare can arrange a private car and driver).
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