Have you ever had the chance to visit Shikoku? Unfortunately, many tourists skip this amazing island while planning their trip across Japan. Because of that, they never learn about all the interesting and beautiful things you can see and experience there. If you are the kind of person that likes exploring the less known parts of Japan and enjoys its beautiful nature and culture, I suggest that you spend a few days exploring Shikoku. Iya Valley is one of the interesting places you can visit there, and the Hotel Iya Onsen is an ideal place to stay if you do decide to visit it.
Offering beautiful views of the changing seasons in the spectacular Iya Valley, hotel Iya Onsen provides Japanese-style accommodation and natural hot spring baths. It has several types of amazing rooms that come with free WiFi and offer breathtaking views of the Iya Valley.
In my opinion, the location of this hotel is second to none. Hidden deep in this remote and serene valley, it almost feels like visiting a place from a fairy tale. It is mysterious and stunning. If you want to escape from the rush of the cities and get the feel of rural Japan, there is no better place in the area.
One of the defining features of this onsen, apart from the amazing location, are its open-air baths. Unlike most other onsens, the baths from Iya Onsen are accessed by a free cable car from the hotel to the river at the bottom of the valley which is an attraction all by itself. It takes about 5 minutes to descend the 170 meters at a 42-degree decline. Along the way you can enjoy a panoramic view of the valley.
The open-air baths, one for men and one for women, have been constructed as to protrude along the Iya River. They flow with an abundance of hot spring water and although the white mineral deposits that float in the bath make the water cloudy, this shows that the water is coming straight from the source of the spring, which is rare for Shikoku. Apart from the two big open-air baths, there is a private bath which can be reserved for an hour.
The water in this bath is constantly flowing from the underground source and out into the Iya River. This ensures that the bathwater is always clean, without the need for chemical treatment. Keep in mind that the water is rich in sulfur so there’s the trademark smell, but you will likely not be bothered by it since it’s a completely open bath. There is also a large indoor bath inside the hotel that is open from 11:30 until 10:30 the next day.
There are several types of rooms in Iya Onsen, and all of them are luxurious and of a high quality with many amenities such as high-quality BOSE audio player, massage chairs, free Wi-Fi, LCD TV, and a mini-fridge. Keep in mind that bathroom facilities are shared. One of the rooms is a suite room with open-air bath and foot bath called Tamayura. This guest room offers a view over the entire gorge and enables you to soak in the open-air bath while enjoying the amazing view. It includes additional amenities such as safe, and toilet with washlet functions, toothbrushes, hand towels, bath towels, yukata robes, and many toiletries.
Several other rooms offer private baths, some offer moon-viewing terrace, while some have superb view of the mountains. There are also many standard rooms which are Japanese modern-style rooms with Ryukyu tatami flooring for a chic interior. Also, there are rooms equipped with western-style beds if you prefer these. However, I personally recommend that you book a Japanese-style room, since that is the best way to experience Japan.
In the hotel, there is a souvenir shop where you can buy local souvenirs to take back home with you. There is a cafe dining “Hana” where you can enjoy delicious meals while looking at the beautiful Iya Valley. The hotel has a large dining hall called “Iya Fellows”. Designers decorated it with artist Hideki Kimura’s expansive wall art which expresses the nature of Iya Valley.
One more thing that makes the stay at Iya Onsen a great experience is the amazing food served here. They offer simple yet varied cuisine that changes with the seasons. Piping hot potatoes, thick and meaty shiitake mushrooms, wild mountain plants. These are just some of the ingredients that chefs use to evoke a sense of the living forest. Chefs prepare these simple ingredients in creative ways to provide enjoyable meals that change with the seasons. One thing I like is that they strive to use local ingredients produced in Tokushima prefecture. I especially recommend that you try one of the Kaiseki courses and pair it with locally brewed sake offered there.
You can get breakfast from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and it can be in both Japanese and Western styles. Freshly-made tofu, simmered seasonal vegetables, dashimaki tamago egg, rice, miso soup are just some of the ingredients cooks here use. While the western one includes bread, bacon and eggs, ham, thick-cut bacon, soup, salad, and more.
One more good reason to visit this onsen is the fact that there are many amazing places to see nearby, and the nature around it is so beautiful. The emerald green Iya River flows through this deep, V-shaped gorge, and in autumn the entire mountain, from the valley bottom to the summit turns red with leaves, and this can be seen from the windows of cars and buses passing by. One great place nearby is the statue of the Peeing Boy which takes about 5 minutes on foot. This rocky outcropping that juts out over the Iya River was created when the Iya Highway was built. This statue of a peeing boy was built based on stories of local children and travelers testing their nerves at the hair-raising location.
Also, the famous vine bridge over the river is only 15 minutes by car, and the Hi-no-ji “ひ” Valley is even closer. This suspension bridge, one of Japan’s three rare bridges, is made of hardy kiwi vines. It is 45 meters long, 2 meters wide, and 14 meters above the surface of the river. It’s thrilling to look through the slats to the river below. A few more famous locations you can visit in less than an hour by car are the Oboke Gorge, Ochiai Village, and the Double Vine Bridges in Oku-Iya. If you enjoy climbing mountains, Mt. Tsurugi is located about an hour and half from the hotel. There are also several tours offered such as the stargazing tour and firefly watching tour.
Iya Onsen can be easily accessed from JR Ooboke Station which is a 30-minute drive away. There is also a shuttle bus service to and from Oboke station to the hotel once a day. However, this is limited only to passengers getting off the following trains.
All in all, if you desire to visit a remote area of Japan, Iya Onsen is the perfect choice for you. A combination of a beautiful serene valley, amazing accommodation, and relaxing open-air baths will make your stay here truly unforgettable. So if you are interested in visiting this place, check out the Iya Onsen website and book your stay!