Without a doubt, the one thing I enjoy above all other travel experiences is the sense of adventure that comes with walking around and finding hidden gems tucked away where regular travellers never venture. If you enjoy discovering places for yourself, you are going to love this walking tour of Fuefuki City, Yamanashi.
The walking tour starts at Isawaonsen Station on the JR Chuo Line. The first surprise awaits you inside the Tourist Information Centre where you can taste 16 different wines (selection changes twice each year). Just pay ¥200 and try the wine of your choice! Follow the instructions in the booklet provided by the tourist information centre. If you are lucky, they might serve you a couple of crackers. Better yet, bring your own crackers and cheese. In addition, you might want to pick up a real wine glass at a 100-yen shop.
Now, before you enjoy yourself too much, exit the station and get a taxi to Nadesiko Farm:
The taxi ride to Nadesiko Farm is about 2.9 km from the station, and costs about ¥1,200. The number to give the taxi driver is 0553-26-3520.
Call ahead to ensure that Mr. Wakaitsuki (The proprietor of Nedesiko Farm) is available. Tell him you will bring bread and cheese. Make sure he says, “Okay.” His mobile number is 090-5754-2510. He and his wife make different flavours of balsamic vinegar that are to die for! You can get simple French bread at the Aeon Supermarket near the train station, but the cheese selection is a bit limited. If you have a favourite hard cheese, bring it with you. I think Mr. Wakaitsuki charges ¥500 per person for tasting his vinegars with extra virgin olive oil.
Of course his vinegars are for sale, so you can take some home. You have got to try this stuff! I went through most of a baguette all by myself.
In addition, his 120-year-old farm house and garden are absolutely stunning! The previous Emperor’s younger brother actually stayed in this very house for a time.
After you have enjoyed dipping your favourite bread in balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, walk south to the next beautiful old house and turn right along the narrow road.
You will reach a T-junction where you can either go right and walk into a huge orchard, or turn left and walk to the Folk Museum to see 6000 years of local history on display (admission is ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for children/ closed on Tuesdays).
Once you finish at the museum, continue walking south. You will pass through local vineyards, Sano Shrine and another smaller shrine before you come to a main road. Cross the main road to enter the next section of your walking tour.
Now you have entered the Hot Spring District. The onsen (hot spring) is my favourite Japanese tradition. If you want to experience authentic Japan, become a regular at a public bath. Once you have had your back scrubbed by your fellow patrons, you will begin to feel right at home. I wish I could recommend more hot springs, but I will have to add more at a later date as I only had a chance to view a few on the morning I visited. I am sure there are many beautiful hot springs in Isawaonsen. The staff at the hot springs marked with a red star on the attached PDF (Fuefuki Wine Tour Map Part 3) seemed friendly, and their prices started in the ¥1500 per person range. Some of the hot springs provide towels, while others ask you to rent for an additional fee of around ¥500 (you might want to bring your own towels). Please remember you will have to bathe nude. You can use a tenugui (small towel) to cover yourself as you move around the bathing room, but please do not put the towel in the bath. Also, please wash and rinse thoroughly before you enter the bath. It would be a huge faux pas to get soap in the bath. Finally, before you exit the bathing room, please dry yourself off with the small towel so you don’t drip all over the changing room. Just do what the locals do, and you should be fine.
Meiseki no Yado Kagetsu
This is a must-see hot spring hotel. With its central garden containing 8,000 Japanese carp and 20 waterfalls, I am sure you will never experience anything like this again.
If you want an unforgettable bath, you will have to make a reservation at least a day in advance. You have two choices: You can book kaiseki lunch or dinner for as little as ¥6,000 per person (4 guests minimum), or, you can book a night for as little as ¥19,000 per person (meals included).
After your bath (or before), I recommend visiting Hattake Shoin. This 400-year-old property is the former residence of one of Takeda Shingen’s, a famous warrior in Japanese history, retainers (admission is ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for children/ closed on Tuesdays). I am particularly fond of the thatched roof and hand-painted sliding doors.
Finally, we arrive at the wine-tasting. The two best places to taste wines are Mars Winery and Monde Winery. Each winery offers year-round tours and wine-tasting. In addition, don’t forget that you can taste many wines at Isawaonsen Station. My favourite wine at the station was the Prestige Rouge (2013) from Château Mars (I always prefer full-bodied/ dry/ red wines). At Mars Winery, my favourites were the Koshu Karakuchi (Dry) and the Misaka Muscat Bailey A.
At Monde Winery, my favourites were the Merlot Black Queen (medium-bodied/ dry) and the Merlot Barrel-Aged (full-bodied/ dry).
This walking tour could easily be completed in a full day. I recommend doing parts 1 and 2 in the morning, followed by lunch. Try part 3 in the afternoon. It might be a good idea to bring some emergency snacks along as there are only a couple restaurants between part one of the tour and the wineries. There are, however, many places to eat once you return to the main road that leads to Isawaonsen Station. After your tour is finished, you can catch a late afternoon or evening train back to Tokyo. However, if you have the time and money to really pamper yourself, plan to stay at one of Isawaonsen’s many hot spring hotels for a night.