A trip to Kyoto is the only way to truly appreciate the unique and heady world of holy temples, Japanese haute cuisine and the national reverence for tea.
Find out everything you need to know about Japan’s ancient capital, below.
Where to stay
Located in the historic Higashiyama district, the Four Seasons has been sumptuously constructed around an 800-year-old pond garden. The rooms, some of which offer magnificent views of the serene gardens, are modern but retain distinctive nods to traditional Japanese design (all channelling the idea of wabi-sabi, or the perfection of imperfection). While there is nothing subtle about the public spaces — impossibly high ceilings, gloriously extravagant floral displays designed by Nicolai Bergmann — the tranquil setting ensures these features don’t feel overwrought.
The in-house sushi restaurant, Sushi Wakon, is run by celebrated chef Rei Masuda of Tokyo’s Sushi Masuda and recently won a Michelin star (but be warned: it only does 10 covers every evening).
Dipal Acharya was a guest of the Four Seasons. Rooms from £490 per night (fourseasons.com/kyoto)
Where to eat
Kyoto is a gastronomic dream, where both high-end and low-fuss sit cheek by jowl. Pontocho Street, a narrow alley in the old city, is straddled by a dizzying array of restaurants offering everything from formal kaiseki meals (Japanese haute-cuisine) to more homely tempura-style haunts.
Looking for a noodle fix? Visit Gogyo for the burnt soy sauce ramen, and Omen for unguent udon accompanied by a delicious dipping sauce.
What to see
The sheer number of historical sites in Kyoto, from shrines and temples to gardens and museums, can be overwhelming. Best hire a local guide. Inside Japan has the best — many of whom have lived and worked in the country for years.
Our guide, Richard, was studying for a PhD in Buddhist philosophy and expertly navigated us to less-visited temples (Sanjusangen-do, which houses 1,001 statues of the goddess of mercy, Kannon, was a particular highlight) and provided much-needed commentary on some of the exotic local delicacies on offer at Nishiki food market, where you’ll find everything from mochi ice cream to dried tofu.
Don’t leave without visiting the Geisha district, Gion, which also hosts the famous Minamiza Kabuki Theatre. Inside Japan can organise private guiding for any of its tailor-made trips (insideasiatours.com)
Where to day trip
Osaka is like Japan’s own Las Vegas, and home to other national dishes including okonomiyaki (a pancake of shredded cabbage, egg and meat topped with lashings of mayonnaise) and takoyaki (grilled octopus balls).
Where to drink
Tea is a big deal in Kyoto. At Ippodo (a tea company that dates back to the 1700s) get an introduction to the delicate and structured ritual of a traditional tea ceremony.
Elsewhere, the local gin scene is taking off and craft distilleries are popping up all over town, with The Kyoto Distillery leading the charge. Try some at the basement bar of the Kyoto tower.