ELLE on tour: Hoshinoya Fuji Resort in Japan
How three days of eating, breathing and staring at a Japanese mountain soothed a frazzled beast
At 6am on an early spring morning, Lake Kawaguchi-ko is like glass: perfectly still, perfectly quiet – at least until a heavily caffeinated mob of novice kayakers comes crashing down the bank into the water. With elephant-like elegance, we zig-zag towards the centre of the lake, where our guide has told us we'll get the best selfies. Why risk upending ourselves (not to mention our phones) into the freezing lake for a selfie? For Mount Fuji, whose jagged, snowy peak is probably Japan's best backdrop.
Once I find my rhythm, the gentle slap of paddle against water lulls me into a quiet reverie and I let out a sigh that I've been holding for months. I came to Japan because I needed a break. A hectic few months and worsening insomnia had left me feeling out of balance and Japan was the nearest quiet place I could think of for some time out. I'd heard about the tranquil tea ceremonies and restorative hot springs, but it was Fuji that really beckoned. Because sometimes you just need to sit and stare at a really big mother of a mountain. And because mountains are notorious for not coming to anybody, I went to it.
GLAMPING DONE RIGHT
My base is Hoshinoya Fuji, a new resort set on six acres of red pine forest above Lake Kawaguchi-ko. Resort isn't quite the word; nor is hotel. Hoshinoya bills itself as "glamping on a hill", but canvas-phobes will be relieved to find 40 serenely minimalist rooms, all light on art and colour but heavy on the wabi sabi. The star of the show, once again, is Mount Fuji. Every cabin has incredible views of it thanks to the floor-to-ceiling glass across the far walls.
But the finest view is from the balcony, where Japan's most genius invention, the kotatsu, awaits. This heated sofa/mattress with a coffee table in the middle is covered by a duvet that you crawl beneath. It was designed for Japanese families to eat around during the cold winter months without having to turn on the heating and is basically the cosiest thing in the world, and even better when it's outside in the fresh mountain air. I grab a Fujizakura beer (brewed locally/award-winning internationally) from the minibar, switch on the balcony's in-built fireplace, and proceed to stare at Fuji-san, think about nothing and feel supremely centred. (And a little smug.)
Breakfast can be delivered directly to your balcony too. The next morning, hungry from all that kayaking, I huddle beneath the kotatsu nursing a thermos of coffee while a butler unpacks a hamper of warm bread rolls, local jams, yoghurt and juices. Food, I soon realise, is one of the truly great things about staying at Hoshinoya Fuji, whether you're eating in your own room or the dining room, a short walk up a few flights of steps (the price you pay for that view).
I then proceed to lounge all day. At sunset, I head up the hill to the delightfully named Cloud Terrace and, after a cocktail or two around the campfire, make my way out to my own private deck among the trees, where a chef serves soup, salads and meltingly tender lamb cooked in a Dutch oven right by the table. Don't miss the ice-cream sundae sessions every afternoon, or the lunchtime pizza making, either. Rolling out the dough, topping it with locally grown, forest foraged or house-smoked produce, cooking it myself in a portable cast-iron oven and eating it beneath the pines was one of my top foodie experiences ever.
That night, I leave the curtains open and fall asleep to the sight of Fuji's white slopes shining beneath a bright full moon. The final morning begins with some gentle sunrise yoga on the Cloud Terrace, followed by a breakfast of yet more bread rolls, straight from the oven. But today I don't need the coffee. I take a book from the library, make myself a herbal tea and settle into a deck chair, enjoying the feeling of crisp mountain air in my lungs and sunlight on my face. A few toddlers stumble by, equally happy. (Hoshinoya Fuji is very family-friendly. There's always one or two kids about, but the layout is so smart that you really won't hear them.) For the first time in months I feel completely relaxed. And it's all thanks to one really magic mountain.
This article first appeared in the August 2016 issue of ELLE Malaysia.