The perfect weekend getaway from Tokyo

Known as a year-round retreat for Edokko (those born in Tokyo) the resort town of Karuizawa offers something for everyone, from world-class skiing and snowboarding in winter, to a summertime miscellany of hiking, golf and gnarly cycling trails.

Part of the Nagano Prefecture and overlooked by spectacular Mount Asama, it sits almost central to the famed Nakasendo Way, the ancient route frequented by Samurai that linked Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto. The town features a cornucopia of ornate ryokans, replete with onsens (natural hot springs) to soothe tired bodies after a day spent exploring.

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From world-class skiing to delicious soba noodles

Thanks to its warm weather in summer and plunging temperatures in winter Karuizawa has hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. The skiing ranges from beginner to advanced slopes, and with Karuizawa a mere one hour Shinkansen ride from central Tokyo, many of the skiers are in fact Edokko visiting on a day trip, or those with a holiday house in the resort town (Karuizawa is one of Japan’s top second-home destinations).

If you are not visiting in winter, there is still plenty to do. Trails run through the lush forests which you can hike solo or experience with a guide (Nagano Ventures are a brilliant, English-speaking, local outlet who can show you the sites or take you on remote, tailor-made hikes through the stunning scenery). Alternatively walk through lush floral displays at Karuizawa Lake Garden or the blissful sculpture garden and tranquil woodlands at the Sezon Museum of Modern Art. Hit the shops at ‘Karuizawa Ginza’ (the city’s take on Tokyo’s upmarket shopping district) or, if golf is more your cup of matcha, then tee off at one of several nearby courses: Karuizawa Asama Golf Course, Seizan Golf Course or Kyukaruizawa Golf Club.

Nagano Prefecture is known for its excellent produce, so while you’re in Karuizawa, try the local apples (you will see them in stores throughout the town), which are some of the most flavourful in the whole world. Grab them fresh in season, juiced, or seek out local delicacies like dried apples or apple butter. Make time for soba noodles too, because Nagano is the home of soba in Japan: nobody knows buckwheat like these guys. In summer eat them cold: known as ‘tsukemen’, the noodles are cooked then chilled to retain their bite and texture, and dipped in a rich sauce at the table. In winter, you will find the noodles served in hot, dashi-based soups with sticky mochi (rice cakes) or crisp tempura as added morsels of deliciousness.

Try Japanese Cuisine and Soba Sasa restaurant, one of the best spots in town for all of your soba needs.
After all that exercise and eating, you might want to wind down. And there is no better way than at an onsen, Japan’s fêted natural hot springs. Nagano is dotted all over with these watery treasure-troves, and Karuizawa has them in spades – try the Tombo-no-yu onsen, which features both indoor and outdoor baths with mountain views, and is open to public bathers.

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