I usually pray for sun on editorial trips, but southwestern Hokkaido looks beautiful in all kinds of weather. Clear days invite restorative hikes and scenic boat excursions, during verdant summers and riotously colorful autumns alike. In the rain, the lushly forested mountains and volcanic crater lakes wreathe with clouds and mist, transforming them into real-life versions of antique Japanese landscape paintings. In winter, the region receives more snow than almost anywhere else in the world, making it a skier’s paradise. Superb restaurants and soothing onsens — natural hot-spring baths rich in minerals — tempt in every season.
We encountered a small number of Japanese tourists and even fewer foreigners. Hokkaido, however, is on the cusp of a breakthrough. Certain major luxury hotel groups have already opened properties in the most important ski resort areas, and Aman has (much delayed) plans to open a hotel as well. In the meantime, there are enough recommendable establishments to string together into an itinerary, either for an out-of-the-ordinary ski vacation or as a relaxing coda to a longer Japanese trip. Various airports elsewhere in the country have connections to Hokkaido, and it’s become possible to take the bullet train from Tokyo to Hakodate, on the island’s southern coast.
Traveling by car is the best way get deep into Hokkaido’s splendid countryside. Though I’ve driven on the “wrong” side of the road before, even I needed an occasional gentle reminder from my travel companion to keep our rental on the left. Consider having our Travel Office arrange for transfers and guiding.