Ritz-Carlton Kyoto

Kamogawa Nijo-Ohashi Hotori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto

For the foreseeable future (at least until the Four Seasons Kyoto opens sometime in 2016/2017), the 134-room and suite Ritz-Carlton Kyoto will sit alone at the top of its field, as Kyoto’s best luxury hotel. Actually, the hotel likes to call itself a “luxury ryokan,” but make no mistake, this is an ultra luxury city hotel with hints and echoes of a high-end Japanese ryokan (or inn).

Originally the Hotel Fujita Kyoto, the property closed in 2011 and was acquired by leading Japanese home builder, Sekisui House. Over the next two years, the 1970s building was painstakingly renovated, preserving its 130m length but adding some floors below ground (Kyoto has strict height restrictions, so the only way to expand was down!). The hotel opened for business—and to wide acclaim—in early 2014.

Hotel facade at dusk

Introductory rooms (called Deluxe) are among the largest in the city (between 45-62sqm), and feature either garden or courtyard views. The most popular room types, the Luxury category, are between 52 and 55sqm and have stunning views of the Kamogawa River and the Higashiyama mountains. These are exceptionally laid-out rooms, and actually feel much larger than they are due to the floor-to-ceiling windows and wide living areas.

Reminiscent of Japanese-style inns, rooms typically have two chairs facing each other next to the window, where you can take in the views over a cup of green tea, and a lounging sofa that is perfect for an afternoon nap. Expect all of the amenities and luxuries of a hotel this level, including both Nespresso and Nestle Tea makers, full ceramic ware and crystal champagne glasses (with Perrier-Jouët, in the mini-fridge) and a deep-soaking bathtub ready to go with bath salts. Double sinks, heated mirrors and massive fluffy towels as long as a person are standard as well. Bath amenities are Purple Water from London’s Asprey brand, which also supplies the hotel's spa.

Room with a view (shown is Luxury category)

With 17 UNESCO sites and countless shrines, temples and gardens, Kyoto is not just a city to see, but also to experience. Ritz-Carlton Kyoto helps you do this with a fun selection of courses and activities, from a sushi master course and sake tastings to what is probably the coolest hotel activity we’ve ever seen: the "Samurai Experience." Offered once a week for ¥8,000, the course teaches participants how to handle a sword while wearing the traditional dress of a samurai, followed by a sword display from a real kenbu master! Tom Cruise would surely enjoy!

The hotel's stunning subteranean pool

With just 134 rooms, the hotel has a peaceful atmosphere, which might have something to do with the many zen gardens or the tranquil styling by Peter Remedios and Spin Studios, who handled design in the hotel's rooms. The design showpiece of the hotel, however, is the reassembled Meiji-era townhouse in the La Locanda Italian restaurant, which serves as a private dining space. This heritage-listed structure looks out over a lovely Japanese garden and has a stunning mix of Japanese and modern design.

Private dining room in the reconstructed Meiji-era townhouse (within La Locanda)

There are four bar and dining options at the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto: the Lobby Lounge, which doubles as an art library and does a popular afternoon tea; Mizuki, the hotel’s all-day dining kaiseki restaurant that has three main Japanese food styles (sushi, tempura and teppanyaki); The Bar and La Locanda, the hotel’s highly-rated Italian restaurant. And for those lovers of fine French chocolate, Pierre Hermé operates a small haute chocolatier next to the lobby.

The Lobby Lounge

All of this wonder and luxury certainly come at a price, with the Ritz-Carlton demanding some of the highest room rates in the city (only the ultra high-end ryokans typically cost more, such as Hoshinya and Tawaraya). Views from the back-facing rooms are nowhere near as monumental as those facing the river side, but they can also be more affordable. Frankly, we’d be happy with any room at this magnificent hotel, which we’d say is one of the best in Asia.

For a more detailed look at the design elements in the hotel, please see here.

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