Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011

Shunkoin Temple

Accommodation doesn't get much more Zen than this delightfully tranquil shukubo (temple lodging) in Shunkoin Temple, located within the Myoshin-ji temple complex in northwest Kyoto. The simple five rooms all come with modern comforts that include free Wi-Fi and access to a well-equipped shared kitchen. But the real draw is the calm and quiet and the chance to take part in Zen meditation under the guidance of Shunkoin's English-speaking vice abbot, the Rev. Kawakami. He runs several meditation sessions a day that can also be followed by a tour of the temple. All this at just ¥4,000 ($48) to ¥5,000 ($59) a night makes Shunkoin one of the best deals in town.

Insider Tip: Temple stays are becoming extremely popular, so book well ahead, especially in cherry blossom season (late March-early April) and autumn.

Room to Book: Not all the rooms are en suite. If you don't want to share a wash space and toilet, you'll need to request one of the two with a private bathroom.

Hyatt Regency Kyoto

The Hyatt Regency Kyoto is the modern face of Kyoto's hotel scene. The 189 rooms, created by Japanese design house Super Potato, combine sleek, understated contemporary interiors with traditional Japanese design elements (think washi paper fittings and creative kimono fabric headboards) and all the usual amenities one would expect to find in a luxury hotel. With highly-rated Japanese, French and Italian restaurants, it doesn't do too badly on the dining front either. Likewise for the location. It's in a quite part of east Kyoto but within easy striking distance of Kyoto Station, Gion, Shijo-dori and other attractions.

Insider Tip: Feeling templed-out? Hit the spa for its indulgent mix of Asian and European treatments.

Room to Book: The Regency suite. The wrap-around balcony gives great views over the city.

Hiiragaya Ryokan

Serene tatami mat guestrooms that look out on an ornamental garden, en suite aromatic cypress baths, and an almost obsessive attention to detail and service; this is Japanese accommodation at its traditional best. Opened in 1818, the centrally located Hiiragaya Ryokan apparently started out offering lodging to samurai, but over the years its futon have also welcomed luminaries such as Elizabeth Taylor and Charlie Chaplin. Today, this gracefully ageing hotel is regarded as one of the finest ryokan in Kyoto. No surprise then that a night at the 28-room Hiiragaya doesn't come cheap. Rates including breakfast and dinner range from ¥30,000 ($356) to ¥90,000 ($1,069) per person per night.

Insider Tip: Eat in. Hiiragaya serves a stunning in-room Kyo-ryori dinner course.

Room to Book: Request a room with a garden view.

Hotel Mume

Hidden in a slim, four-story building that at first glance looks more like a modern apartment building than a hotel, the seven rooms at the intimate Hotel Mume near Gion have all been designed around the traditional nature-inspired concept of "ka-cho-fu-getsu" (bird, butterfly, wind, moon). The Wind rooms are bright, spacious and accented with Asian motifs; Butterfly are defined by their black walls and rich red antique Chinese furnishings; Moon are based around rich golden tones and dark woods. The one constant is the blending of antique furnishings and modern design sensibilities to create an atmosphere that is very much boutique chic, even through to Hotel's the cool café-bar.

Insider Tip: Book well in advance. Design hotels are few and far between in Kyoto.

Room to Book: The 57-square-meter Flower suite comes with bath time views over the Shirakawa River and beyond to the Higashiyama mountains.

Toyoko Inn Shijo-Karasuma

The Toyoko Inn, Japan's biggest budget business hotel chain, has four properties in Kyoto. This one is the best of the bunch. Admittedly, the identical rooms feature bland pastel designs and are on the cramped side, but everything is immaculate, connected, and by Kyoto standards, cheap (singles are ¥6,600 / $78). The location's not too shabby either. Next door to the Daimaru department store in Kyoto's main shopping precinct, it's a 15-minute walk to Gion and just meters from buses and subways that run to most of the city's main attractions.

Insider Tip: The light breakfast buffet of coffee, rice balls, pickles and miso soup is free, but skip it.

Room to Book: If you are on a tight budget and a heavy sleeper, ask for a room next to the elevator. You can sometimes get a discount because of the noise.