Where Did I Go?
We stayed in Hakuba a ski town in the prefecture of Nagano in Japan. Basically in the centre of Japan in the beautiful Northern Japan Alps, Hakuba provides some of the best terrain, vertical rise & advanced ski & snowboard slopes in Japan. Boasting some of the highest snowfall levels in Japan, with an annual base of snow exceeding ten metres, this is an amazing place to ski!
How Did I Get There?
We caught the bullet train from Tokyo station which took about an hour and a half to Nagano Bus Station, then a bus from Nagano to Hakuba Bus Station which was another hour. Public transport in Japan is amazingly comprehensive, easy & always on time, so there will be a travel option for you to get to Hakuba to suit all destinations & budgets.
Where Did I Stay?
We stayed in a gorgeous lodge straight out of the pages of a story book, Panketo Lodge. It’s an easy walk or ski (about 200m) to the Hakka Ski Lifts at the foot of Happo One. Our family of 4 shared a room with a queen bed & two bunks. We shared a communal bathroom, but there were room options with an ensuite. The lodge provides a delicious hearty breakfast each morning, a communal kitchen which we used to cook some nights for our kids, large sitting room, open fire, bar & kids play room downstairs!! We spent many afternoons after a long day skiing sitting by the fire, chatting & enjoying a beverage or two!!
What Did I Do?
Kurashita No Yu – Hot Spring Onsen. Our lodge recommended this onsen to us . Visiting an Onsen was on my must do list of things to do in Japan. I’m super glad that I got to experience it with 2 of my best girlfriends. It was one of the most surreal, hilarious things I have ever done & I will certainly never forget it! An Onsen is a traditional Japanese way of bathing, nude, in a hot spring, all together (men & women usually separated thankfully!). I’m so glad I did it, it’s very relaxing (if you can control your giggles) & the minerals in the water are apparently extremely therapeutic. This onsen is a winner as there aren’t a lot of tourists, especially if you get there before the lifts close! There are many Onsens throughout Hakuba including private ones, so there will be one to suit everyone. I highly recommend you try it!
Skiing & Snowboarding – We all used Evergreen for our various levels of skiing & snowboarding lessons. Located at the base of Happo One it’s an easy shuttle ride to get to, or if you’re like me, a long but enjoyable walk! There are loads of runs for skiiers & snowboarders of all levels. In fact 145 lifts & over 200 runs!! Sapo & Iwatake were both highlights for members of our group. We hired most of our ski gear from Spicy, which was easy to get to from our Lodge.
Snow Monkey Tour – Something I’ve always wanted to do, so much so that we booked this tour before we left for Japan. I don’t think this was absolutely necessary in the long run as there are so many tour companies running variations of this tour from all over the region. We used Ski Japan Holidays for our Snow Monkey Hotsprings, Masuichi & Zenkoji Tour. It’s a full day from 8am-5.30pm but I think worth it! We got as up close & personal as you’d actually want to get to the 200 odd Jigokudani wild monkeys that inhabit the hot springs & our kids LOVED it. It is a long, hard, icy narrow walk to get there though, something that I don’t think was stressed to us quite as much as it should have been, especially as we had our 3 year old. We had a gorgeous lunch at Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery & then a really informative tour at the Zenkoji Temple in Nagano. I think if we hadn’t done this tour, there would have been a whole lot of skiing & not much else in this part of Japan for us, so it was a nice change & of real cultural benefit.
There are loads of other activities in & around Hakuba including Tobogganing, Snow Trekking, Snow Mobiles & Traditional Cooking classes, so don’t feel like you need to be restricted to the slopes.
What Did I Eat?
The down side of eating in Hakuba is the restaurants don’t really cater for groups, and if they do, you need to book days in advance. But once you’re in, the food is excellent & there’s something to suit everyone. Most eateries don’t open until after 5pm once the lifts have closed for the day, so if you’re not skiing it’s a good idea to head to the Supermarket to stock up on some goodies to get you through the day. (I should add “Shopping at the Supermarket” to my list of things I did, because it’s well worth the experience. We got lost in the supermarket for over an hour ooing & ahing over the amazing products!!!!)
Here is a list of a few places we ate that we loved.
Penke Bar & Bistro – We ate here a lot, especially as they serve food all day. It’s hip & a little bit trendy, the food is good (they have a kids menu) & the drinks are great! We loved the home made Mulled Wine – not Japanese I know, but warming & delicious!
Hummingbird – just down the road from us, we loved this place. Homestyle Japanese fusion food with a hostess that couldn’t’ do enough for us. Choosing your own cup from a basket of mismatched eclectic hand made cups for your Sake was a winner with me!
Kikyo-Ya – We had this restaurant recommended to us, & loved it! We ordered & ate excessively. Real Japanese food & amazing sushi. They serve the deadly blowfish here (they are licenced!) if you are keen!! Be warned – it’s on the floor seating only!
Roots Café – This is a great vegetarian café at the base of Happo One. Very convenient for me, I’d drop the kids at ski school then grab a coffee, perch myself at a window seat & watch the comings & goings down the mountain. Gorgeous. Coffee wasn’t bad either!
Nonjae – One of the few places we found that could seat all 10 plus of us! Very casual, very loud & can get very smoky with all the steamboats on simultaneously if you’re seated in downstairs. Upstairs is much quieter & less steamy if you can get in. Try the horse!