Hotels

Hotel review: Four Seasons Kyoto

Melina Gouveia

Situated at the base of Higashiyama Mountain in Kyoto’s temple district, the 123-room Four Seasons Kyoto is close to the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and vibrant downtown area.

This contemporary hotel with state-of-the-art facilities first opened its doors in 2016. The property is set on Shakusui-en, an 800-year old pond garden spanning 10,000-square-metres of scenic foliage, tree-lined paths and koi fish-filled ponds, and is one of the few remaining 12th-century Heian period gardens created when Imperial Japan was at its peak.

Four Seasons tasked Singapore-based design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates with creating a hotel that would be a haven for contemplation, combine calm tranquillity with luxury while embodying the classic characteristics of Japanese residential architecture.

The result is a successful blend of modern aesthetics and tradition where guests feel fully immersed in Kyoto’s dignified natural beauty long appreciated by Japan’s emperors.

Location

Surrounded in centuries of history, the Four Seasons Kyoto is located in the well-preserved Higashiyama-Ku ward.

Tourist sites within a five-minute walk from the hotel include the Sanju Sangen-do and Chishaku-in Temples, as well as the Kyoto National Museum.

A little further afield though still within a walkable distance is the Kiyomizu-dera Temple and surrounding Sannen-Zaka area.

By taxi, the famous red gate Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kinkaku-ji aka Golden Pavilion, and Arashiyama bamboo forest, are approximately 20-minute journeys from the hotel.

Also noteworthy is Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery, a 30-minute drive from the hotel, and a must-do for whisky lovers.

The Yamazaki distillery, world famous for its single malt whisky, offers guided tours and tastings; however these must be booked in advance as places are limited.

Kyoto Station, the city’s ultra-modern railway hub serviced by all Japan Rail and Shinkansen bullet trains, is a 10-minute drive to the hotel — despite appearing close, the two-kilometre distance is deceptive, and walking is not advisable.

The Room

The 123 sleekly designed guest rooms and suites remain aesthetically faithful to traditional Japanese minimalism and Zen-like simplicity.

While the few carefully selected decorative objects by Japanese artisans such as Washi-paper lamps and Urushi lacquerware, add character without clutter.

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Combined with large floor-to-ceiling windows that capture the outside landscape, the room décor is intimate and calming in a way that purposely encourages relaxation and quiet contemplation.

Five room categories are ranging from a 49-sqm deluxe room with courtyard view to a 53-sqm Four Seasons room with a 6-sqm outdoor balcony.

The hotel’s suites come in two categories that span from a 71-sqm Four Seasons executive suite up to a 103-sqm one-bedroom suite.

The room reviewed was a 53-sqm premier garden view room with floor-to-ceiling views of the Shakusuien pond garden.

The room featured an exceptionally comfortable king-sized bed, remote-controlled blackout drapes, iPad to access hotel services, an espresso maker and tea set, a 140-cm LCD television, bedside and desk charging stations and twice-daily housekeeping service.

The spacious marble bathroom featured twin vanity sinks, rain shower, separate bathtub, a full gamut of toiletries by Florentine perfumer Lorenzo Villoresi, and terry towelled robes and slippers were supplied.

The room’s externally accessed butler box offers convenient pick-up and drop-off for the complimentary overnight shoeshine service, and daily newspaper delivery. High-speed Wi-Fi and bottled water were also free of charge.

Drinking and Dining

The hotel has two restaurants, a late-night lounge and bar, and a traditional teahouse nestled in the scenic pond garden.

The flagship restaurant is Michelin-starred, Sushi Wakon, run by master chef Rei Masuda who creates Edo-style sushi dishes using ingredients flown in daily from Tokyo.

For a more relaxed option, guests can dine at The Brasserie, an all-day European eatery, where the excellent daily buffet breakfast is served.

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The Lobby Lounge serves casual café fare, exceptional desserts, and Kyoto-inspired cocktails — think matcha elixirs generously laced with vodka.

For guest wanting something a little fancier, the Lobby Lounge’s kitchen can cater — such as the exceptional lobster and sea urchin spaghetti dish they were able to churn out with ease a few moments before midnight.

An experience every guest must book is the traditional private tea ceremony at the Four Season’s teahouse, Shakusui-tei.

The hotel’s tea master performs the tea ceremony with full explanation and then instructs guests on how to whisk their own tea with ritualistic precision.

The teahouse also operates as a sake and champagne bar from 5 pm, so be warned that it is easy to spend a lot more time here than anticipated especially after a sake tasting flight.

Guests should make good use of the hotel’s front desk experience manager to book tours and secure restaurant reservations.

An exceptional and efficient concierge whose insider knowledge guests — especially first-time visitors to a city — can rely upon for trusted suggestions and the ability to secure tables under time constraints is essential in high-end hotels. The Four Seasons Kyoto certainly delivered on this front.

The concierge recommended a traditional kaiseki-ryōri —a highly stylised nine-course manifestation of in-season produce that is the pinnacle of Japanese haute cuisine — at two Michelin-starred, Roan Kikunoi. Suffice it to say the dinner was exceptional, and expectations were exceeded.

Hotel Features

Facility-wise, the indoor pool and auxiliary relaxation area replete with whirlpools, steam rooms and saunas, is a stand out feature that few five-star hotels across the globe could rival.

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The hotel also houses a seven-treatment room spa that incorporates products from Biologique Recherche, Sodashi, and Tatcha into their signature treatment ceremonies.

The fitness centre has all the workout equipment necessary to ensure guests stay fit on tour, plus the complimentary bottles of electrolyte-infused water is a nice touch.

Verdict

The Four Seasons Kyoto is the ideal choice for travellers wanting all the modern conveniences a luxury hotel can offer while retaining the authentic cultural characteristics unique to the destination they are visiting.

The hotel’s design has been carefully considered to ensure that the public and private spaces encourage guests to be fully immersed with the nature that surrounds them — particularly the tranquillity of the 800-year old pond garden. Much like the hotel’s uncluttered design, the service is unobtrusive and efficient.

The knowledgeable staff are well versed and committed to ensuring guest maximise their time in Kyoto.

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