Saturday, 7 May 2011

Golden Week - Kamikochi

This last week has been Golden Week, one week of the year where the whole country takes time off to travel to see relatives, see other parts of the country, or just chill out at home. We decided to head to Kamikochi, a beautiful mountainous area of Japan that has been called the Japanese Alps. We decided to break up the journey and spend a night in Matsumoto first. It is a small town with a big castle and was nice to spend a night in. We sampled the local delicacies - soba noodles for lunch, which are served cold, as well as sushi and some sake that evening.

Kamikochi was a small train ride and then a one hour bus ride from Matsumoto and is only open during the summer months. Even then, it is closed to private cars, so the only way to get there is by bus or taxi. Our hotel was right in the centre and was overlooked by the stunning surrounding snow-capped mountains. During the day, the hoards of hikers and day trippers seemed to descend on the small village and it was rather chaotic, but as the last bus left at 6pm, the locals (and local monkeys) and over-nighters breathed a sigh of relief and silence overcame the area. We spent each day walking and passed through some gorgeous countryside. We also passed a lot of very serious hikers, with crampons and ice picks etc. We later realised that most of these people had literally been mountain climbing and made their way to the top. Pretty impressive! We took it easy and did day hikes (none of that camping milarkey for me) followed by a wallow in the onsen and then a 7 course tasting menu at our hotel each evening.......
Matsumoto Castle was a rather awesome building and I would have loved to see the beautiful wooden interior, but it was a 90 minute wait to get in, so we just enjoyed the grounds instead.
Soba noodles have never majorly appealed to me as they are served cold, but we felt we should try them as they were one of Matsumoto's local delicacies. It was beautifully presented on a wicker tray and tasted amazing!
That evening we sampled some beautifully fresh sushi at Kura, a 90 year old Meiji-era warehouse converted into a restaurant. It was all washed down with some lovely sake.
One of the walks we did in Kamikochi took us through leafy forests and much of it was decked out in a wooden walkway that took you through the trees.

Wherever you looked, the surrounding mountains were always in view. At one point we passed w oman with a telescope and she pointed out some hikers at the top of the mountain. That was when we realised why the people we saw were so heavily kitted out - they were actually mountain climbing!

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