Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hip Ryokan in Ureshino

Among many other things, Kyushu is known for its many onsen villages across the island. While places like Kurokawa, Aso, Yufuin or Kagoshima were more popular especially among tourists, this time we decided to check out Ureshino (嬉野) and Takeo (武雄) onsens in Saga Prefecture instead.

Both towns were less than half an hour drive from the town of Arita, making them perfect stopovers for us while visiting the Arita Ceramics Fair. First night we checked in at Yoshidaya in Ureshino. This remodeled ryokan represents a new breed of inns given a modern makeover while keeping many of the traditions of Japanese hospitality. We stayed in one of their "special suites" called Aoi on the upper level, completed with western bedding, a living area with tatami and surrounded by partitions made of cypress wood, a private onsen bath and the view of the woods and river right across from the ryokan entrance. The room was spacious, comfortable, tastefully decorated and well-equipped.

Inside the ryokan there's a spa and hot stone bath, two public bath facilities including outdoor bath and 3 other private onsen baths available to staying guests free of charge on first-come-first-served basis. With only 15 rooms sharing all these facilities, to be honest, the private, in-room onsen bath turned out to be a bit unnecessary.

There's no cheesy souvenir shop like those inside many of the traditional ryokans selling packs of sweet snacks, but instead there's a design shop with a collection that can easily rival any museum shop, manned by a robot (with the help of a human shopkeeper). Three separate F&B facilities were available on-site, including a trendy cafe open during the day, a cozy and well-stocked bar completed with a foot bath open til late, and a secluded restaurant with private rooms, where our dinner and breakfast were served as part of our full board room package. And oh, they even kept a goat as pet in the backyard.

I thought the food here was fabulous. Dinner was one of the best I had in memories, beginning with a small bowl of shirako (cod milt) sashimi, followed by lightly grilled katsuo (skipjack tuna), tomatoes, avocado and tofu with "spherified" shoyu on top, plated like a tomato and mozzarella dish. Then we moved onto hirame (fluke) sashimi with shoyu and a block of sea-salt on the side, a grilled sawara (Spanish mackerel) with miso and cheese garnished with seasonal young ginger stalk and broad beans, the abalone done on a ceramic plate in a mini-stove with smoked butter soy sauce, a cold pea soup, and shabu-shabu with the famous Saga Beef.

They also had one of the widest drink menus I have ever encountered in a ryokan, all local selections of sake. We went for the sommelier’s choice with three daily selections served in tasting portion. And to finish up, we were served a icecream parfait with a handwritten note and the flag of our home country sticking on top (how cute was that), and a choice of twelve different teas they blended in-house, most of them grown locally in this region famous for their tea.

By the way, the breakfast next day was equally impressive, this time with house-made tofu made with the hot-spring water being the highlight, along with excellent miso soup, grilled fish, and small plates of pickles and other vegetables. Not to mention all serving bowls and plates were beautiful too, as another showcase of the products made in the region (some of them were made specifically for the ryokan and on sale at the shop next door)

After a session of the hot stone bath at the spa and another dip in one of the private onsens, we made our way down to the bar, ordered a Yamazaki 12-year Single Malt, and just chilled by the foot bath. That was pampering to the max, if only we could stay a bit longer here.

Where? Ryokan Yoshidaya, 379 Ureshinomachi Oaza Iwayagawachi, Ureshino, Saga Prefecture
吉田屋 嬉野市嬉野町岩屋川内甲379
Web: http://www.yoshidaya-web.com/

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