As winter approached and the chaos of Tokyo got under my skin, I traveled to Japan’s ancient capital for a much-needed pause from metropolitan life.
Kyoto brings to mind imagery of ancient temples, quaint tea houses and kimono-clad tourists wandering through the entertainment district of Gion. It seems like the ideal escape. To say that relaxation was my primary motive for visiting Japan’s cultural capital, however, would be a lie. I was also itching to experience Park Hyatt’s brand new property in Kyoto.
The philosophy of luxury travel is evolving, and this property is at the forefront of its next iteration.
Until recently, Kyoto’s picturesque Higashiyama district was a place tourists visited by day. Owing to its numerous UNESCO sites and narrow pedestrian streets, most hotels are located on its periphery for practical reasons. Last October, however, Park Hyatt opened an exquisite new property in the historic neighborhood. In many ways, Park Hyatt Kyoto is a complete antithesis of its iconic property in Shinjuku Park Tower and is quickly becoming a destination unto itself.
After arriving on the Nozomi Shinkansen, I took a brief taxi ride to the property at the edge of the Gion pedestrian area. Upon arriving, I was greeted by enthusiastic staff, beaming with pride over their beautiful new property. My luggage vanished up to the room and a concierge whisked me to the lobby, where I enjoyed a 3-year-old Kyoto bancha (roasted green tea) while checking in. The lobby area, affectionately named “The Living Room,” strikes the perfect balance between modern and classic Japanese design, an aesthetic that permeates the entire facility.
The attentive concierge took me on a short journey to the room, which required us to traverse a multi-level maze built into the side of the hill. Each corridor connected seamlessly with the next by way of automatic doors and flowed through seating areas, outdoor terraces and even a library. I was in awe of how intuitive the use of each common space was, preserving the silence and stillness evocative of a Japanese Zen garden. The journey culminated in our arrival on the fifth floor, where my room was located.
As I opened the door to my “King Bed Garden Terrace” room, a sense of bliss washed over me. Intelligently laid out with floor-to-ceiling windows and large storage areas to keep the room clutter-free, the space basked in simplicity. Best of all, it looked out upon a private tsuboniwa (Japanese garden). During the design phase, Park Hyatt partnered with Toni Chi and Associates, an award-winning interior design firm to ensure each room was the perfect modern interpretation of classical Japanese architecture.
Accommodation is just part of the equation for the Park Hyatt brand. Another notable element, which is always executed brilliantly, is food. The culinary options are plentiful and surprisingly varied given the small size of the Kyoto hotel. Options range from Kyoto Bistro, casual bistro-style restaurant (with a homestyle Japanese curry to die for), to Yasaka, an intimate teppanyaki restaurant with a coveted view of the city. The ultimate dining experience on the property is Kyoyamato, the hotel’s kaiseki restaurant. Kyoyamato, a 142-year-old culinary institution, consists of several historic buildings including “Soyotei,” a teahouse from the Edo era where feudal warlords once secretly met.
The epicurean highlight of my stay was the kaiseki breakfast at Kyoyamato. The multi-course meal was full of surprises, including Alaskan pollack roe, rice cooked in a porcelain dish at the table, miso eel tail, silken tofu and other delectable treats expertly prepared by the masters of kaiseki. Kyoyamato hadn’t offered breakfast in two generations but miraculously agreed to do so for hotel guests thanks to the persistence of the hotel’s general manager. Needless to say, this experience should not be missed.
To call Park Hyatt Kyoto a hotel is a misnomer. Rather, it is a refined guesthouse peppered with exclusive subtleties, such as handcrafted pottery specific to each restaurant, locally crafted gin at the stunning Kohaku bar and handmade Kira Karacho stationary monogrammed exclusively for the hotel. The layout of the property is complex yet intuitive, and the combined use of indoor and outdoor space is perfectly laid out, allowing a mesmerizing view of the Yasaka Pagoda from every vantage point.
The philosophy of luxury travel is evolving, and this property is at the forefront of its next iteration. Aspirations of building glitzy skyscrapers with trendy rooftop bars are fading. Towering mega-hotels, like the Burj Khalifa or the Marina Bay Sands, are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Luxury hoteliers are moving toward intimate, authentic experiences that honor their surroundings.
The time is drawing near for Park Hyatt’s iconic Tokyo hotel to take a bow to the brand’s new flagship property.
Park Hyatt Kyoto
360 Kodaiji Masuyacho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto