Selected departures from May to October 2020
A photographer’s dream, Japan’s northern most main island features large swathes of unspoilt wilderness: brilliant-blue volcanic lakes, majestically formed peaks, pristine coastlines, colourful fields and ancient forests teeming with wildlife such as bears, foxes and deer.
Once connected to northern Asia during the glacial age, Hokkaido became home to the ancient Jomon culture of hunter-gatherers, who bequeathed their beliefs and traditions to the Ainu, now recently recognised as an indigenous group who occupied Hokkaido up until the 15th century. The Ainu had their own unique culture, language and tradition, some of which can still be seen today. From nearly 1000 years ago with the expansion of the Japanese empire, the local population mainlanders gradually began to occupy the northern lands. Following Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905, the island of Sakhalin fell to the Japanese until Russia recaptured the island at the end of the Second World War.
Our eye-opening tour of Hokkaido takes us all across this beautiful island to discover the very best it has to offer. Absorb unforgettable scenery from the lakes and mountains of Shiretoko Peninsula, to the unspoilt coastlines and flora-filled islands of the far north. Experience a feast for the senses as we journey through central Hokkaido in the area of Furano-Biei’s famously fragrant fields of flowers and pause to admire the brilliant blue of Biei’s mesmerising pond.
Hokkaido has more than its fair share of manmade wonders. We take a trip down memory lane in historic Otaru and marvel at glittering modern cities such as Sapporo. We also discover the darker side of Hokkaido with a visit to the Abashiri Prison Museum – locally known as the ‘Alcatraz of Japan’ that was in operation from the 18th to early-19th centuries. Included with our tour are chances to immerse yourself in the local culture. Spend the day following in the footsteps of the Ainu at Akan Mashu National Park and getting to know them at the Ainu settlement of Akano Ainu Kotan.
Dining in Hokkaido is an absolute treat. The surrounding seas and ocean offer up a bounty of the freshest seafood, while the fertile countryside produces the finest ingredients from grains to melons and potatoes. Of course, we enjoy tours with tastings to leading producers of Japan’s finest food exports. With so much to enjoy, it’s certain to be an exceptional experience.
Arrive at the airport for your overnight flight to Sapporo via Tokyo Haneda airport.
Upon our early-evening arrival in Sapporo, we transfer by coach to the four-star Sapporo Excel Hotel Tokyu, where we stay for three-nights.
Well-located close to a metro station, this modern hotel features spacious rooms and a restaurant. Dinner is included tonight.
Vibrant Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and Japan’s fifth-largest city, rising to prominence in 1972 when the Olympic Winter Games were held here, and more recently as a host city of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Today it’s best-known for its ramen, a local speciality of Japanese hand pulled noodles and of course, excellent beers. Be it a booming food scene, chic cafes, glitzy nightlife or a plethora of shopping places, you name it, Sappora has it!
During our orientation tour we visit the Sapporo TV Tower, whose observation deck affords superb city views; Odori Park, a green haven in the heart of the city with well-kept lawns and flower gardens, separating the northern-southern parts of the city and the 19th-century Clock Tower, a symbol of Sapporo.
A highlight of today is our tour of the legendary Sapporo Beer Museum, Japan’s oldest brewery which has been producing its signature beer since 1876. After delving into the history of this golden elixir and the process involved in making it, we enjoy a satisfying tasting.
Later we sit down to a very special dinner, one of Hokkaido’s iconic dishes of jingisukan, a local treat of bottomless lamb and vegetables that you grill yourself on a metal skillet. This style of dining is popular throughout Asia and jingisukan, in particular, is named after the mighty Genghis Khan.
After breakfast we visit the Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery, one of Japan’s top producers and a celebrated institution founded by Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky. Born to a sake-brewing family, he studied whisky-making in Scotland for years before establishing Japan’s first whisky distillery. At the end of the tour we sample some of Nikka’s award winning whiskies, which rank among the world’s best.
We continue to the charming port city of Otaru for a relaxing boat ride along the beautifully preserved canal which has a dreamy and nostalgic feel to its atmosphere as we pass by old warehouses now converted into museums and cafes.
We also enjoy a short rickshaw ride through the city centre, where old storehouses, grand mansions and historic buildings lend an atmospheric air that harks back to decades past, then take time to wander and maybe try a ‘soft cream’, Hokkaido’s soft serve ice cream, an iconic Japanese dessert.
We come across a variety of flavours during our journey in different areas from vanilla to green tea an soya bean to lavender. Otaru is also known for its intricately designed music boxes, so you may wish to visit the largest music box museum in the world. Admire its impressive collection of over 30,000 music boxes each with its own different design, size and music to suit one’s taste.
This morning we journey to the most northerly part of Japan, up the north west coast of Hokkaido, via Cape Ogon and the Torii Gate, Konpria Shrine. Cape Sōya boasts spectacular scenery along its coastline. With more than a dozen monuments scattered around the area, Cape Soya could be dubbed the ‘Cape of Monuments being rich in history much of which is commemorated there. Our journey takes us around the rolling Sōya Hills to soak up the beautiful views at Cape Noshappu, well-known for breathtaking sunsets across the Sea of Japan. On a clear day one can see the islands of Rishiri and Rebun. You might also catch sight of the Russian island of Sakhalin, a mere 27 miles wide at its narrowest point between Cape Sōya in Hokkaido and Cape Krilon on the Russian island of Sakhalin. Even more interesting is the fact that the ocean depth varies just from 167 to 387 feet. We also stop to view the 1,400-foot-long Wakkanai North Breakwater Dome, built to shield Wakkanai from the area’s powerful wind and waves.
We stay two nights at the three-star Surfeel Hotel Wakkanai. Dinner is included, and you have a choice of buffet or the local traditional set menu option in the Japanese restaurant.
Today we discover two of northern Japan’s most scenic islands, Rishiri and Rebun, both part of a protected national park. A ferry takes us to Rishiri, dominated by the majestic Mount Rishiri, a 5,650-foot-high dormant volcano that seems to soar straight from the sea. Surrounded by lakes and forest, locally called the ‘Mount Fuji of north Japan’ for its conical peak.
In the afternoon we continue by ferry to beautiful Rebun, renowned as the ‘isle of flowers’. During the warmer months, particularly in summer, the lush undulating landscape is dusted with pretty alpine flowers, some not found anywhere else in the world.
You may wish to try the island’s local delicacies: unidon (sea urchin served on a bed of rice) and hokke no chanchan-yaki (grilled Atka mackerel). A picnic lunch included.
Dinner is included tonight, and you have a choice of buffet or the local traditional set menu option in the Japanese restaurant.
After breakfast we drive south for a panoramic drive towards Asahikawa in central Hokkaido. We call at a Japanese sake brewery to discover the area’s rich sakebrewing heritage. Our next destination is the lovely Ueno Farm, set in an English-style garden designed to complement the unique climate of Hokkaido. More than 2,000 varieties of perennial plants bloom across ten themed areas, notably the Mirror Border that features symmetrical rows of flower beds lining a red-brick walkway. It’s a wonderful place for a stroll, giving you ample time to admire the meticulously landscaped garden.
Today's itinerary may change subject to season.
We then check in to the three-star Hoshino Resorts OMO7 or Furano Prince Hotel Furano, where our two-night stay includes breakfast.
Today we drive through the picturesque countryside of the Furano-Biei region in central Hokkaido, first visiting the beautiful flower garden of Shikisai-no-oka, a 37 acre (15 hectare) hill of seasonal colourful flowers from late April to October resembling a vibrant patchwork blanket. Feast your eyes on the rainbow strips of dahlia, lavender, salvia, sunflowers, tulips and Japanese anemone. We also experience the famed lavender fields of Farm Tomita, which started around 1903 and is one of the oldest in Japan. Featuring a combination of nine fields, two quaint gardens and a greenhouse, we discover these carpets of colour. The farm produces an array of lavender products of which in 1990 Farm Tomita’s essential oil won first prize at the ‘Lavender Perfume Fair’ in France. Seasonal flowering from mid-April to October and flower varieties depend on season visited.
Another highlight today is the famous Shirogane pond of Biei, developed from aluminium seeping into the water of the River Biei, causing it to turn luminescent by accident as a result of efforts to control mudslides after the 1988 volcano eruption of Mount Tokachi to protect the town of Biei from volcanic mudflows. The unusual colour isn’t its only interesting feature – while it’s surrounded by living trees, there are the remains of birch and larch trees that once grew here before the pond was formed.
After breakfast, we drive eastwards to the Shiretoko Peninsula to delve into the region’s more recent yet no less compelling history. Our first stop is the Abashiri Prison Museum, originally built in the 1890’s and in operation from the 19th to early 20th centuries. Abashiri was the country’s first maximum security prison, known locally as the ‘Alcatraz of Japan’ for the sheer remoteness of the location. As we explore the carefully reconstructed buildings, we get compelling insights into the lives of the prisoners, who were made to build the roads within Hokkaido and to link to the more populous south of which a majority of the main road infrastructure still stands today.
We experience an included ‘prison lunch’, similar to what is offered to inmates at the present Abashiri Prison, now in a different location. Grilled fresh fish is served with rice, barley, vegetables and miso soup – healthy and simple.
Our stay for two nights is at the four-star Kitakobushi Shiretoko Hotel & Resort, located next to the Shiretoko National Park area. The hotel features a seafood restaurant, a tea room and traditional Japanese onsen hot-spring bath. Dinner is included tonight.
A real highlight awaits us in the magnificent UNESCO World Natural Heritage area of Shiretoko Peninsula, one of Japan’s most beautiful national parks and last stretches of true wilderness. Cliffs rising straight out of the sea compete for attention with towering mountains.
This morning, we enjoy a coastal boat cruise along the peninsula to soak up the splendid scenery from a different perspective. If you’re lucky, you might just spot an Ussuri brown bear, a subspecies native to Hokkaido.
In the afternoon we stop at the Shiretoko National Park Nature Centre for an introduction to the area. Nothing quite prepares you for the series of awe-inspiring panoramas we witness today: the spring-fed Shiretoko Five Lakes which serenely reflect the sky, mountains and surrounding wilderness; the spectacular Oshinkoshin, considered one of Japan’s top hundred waterfalls and nicknamed ‘twin beauties’ for its two streams; Shiretoko Pass which traverses a stunning mountain range and affords outstanding views of 5,450-foot-high Mount Rausu; and Furepe waterfall which dramatically plunges down a steep, seabattered cliff into the Sea of Okhotsk.
Dinner is included tonight.
Today is devoted to the Ainu, whose culture extended from the 15th to early 18th centuries in parts of Hokkaido and Russia. With the government’s official legal recognition of the Ainu as indigenous people of Japan in 2019, steps have been taken to preserve their culture and language.
We drive inland to Akan Mashu National Park, renowned for its volcanic craters, hot springs and trio of crystal-clear caldera lakes: Akan, Kussharo and most notably, Mashu. Considered by many to be Japan’s loveliest lake, Mashu is also one of the world’s clearest with visibility up to 131 feet. Ringed by sheer crater walls, the lake features a small isle at its heart that the Ainu call the ‘island of the gods’.
Our journey continues to Ainu Kotan, an Ainu settlement located on the scenic shores of Lake Akan. There’s free time here to meet the friendly Ainu and immerse yourself in their fascinating culture. We take a small workshop and learn how to play a mukkuri, a traditional mouth harp that can mimic the sounds of nature. Browse the traditional craft shops filled with ornate wood carvings, intricately patterned embroidery and other handmade crafts.
In the evening, we enjoy an ancient Ainu ceremonial fire dance (He-Matsuri) performed to the magical sounds of the mukkuri. Watch as performers elevate their singing and dancing to an expressive crescendo – an experience you won’t soon forget.
We stay one night at the three-star New Akan Hotel. This lakeside hotel has a restaurant, outdoor pool and rooftop hot-spring baths. Dinner is included tonight.
Hokkaido is renowned not only for its fresh seafood, but also its delicious dairy. This morning we travel to the area of Memuro, home to one of largest confectionary companies in the world, Meiji is responsible for some of Japan’s best-loved products, from milk and yoghurt to cheese, chocolate and ice-cream.
Later we check in to the five-star Windsor Hotel Toya Resort & Spa. Set on the shores of Lake Toya with lake views, surrounded by mountains on the horizon, in 2008 it played host to the world leaders of the 34th G8 summit. Dinner is included tonight.
This morning we take at leisure and take a late afternoon flight to Tokyo staying overnight at the four-star Excel Tokyu near the airport.
We fly directly back to the UK, arriving later the same day, after an exhilarating encounter and happy memories of Hokkaido.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a room. Single rooms are subject to availability, at the relevant supplement. The price includes:
There is currently no official health advice nor inoculations required to travel to Japan, however, this is dependent on your personal medical history and previous travel destinations. Please contact your GP at least one month prior to travel to discuss any travel and health information.
There is a fair amount of walking involved throughout this tour, and as many places we visit as part of this itinerary are in national parks and historical areas, we cannot expect or guarantee the terrain to be flat and even. Whilst this should not pose any difficulty for clients who are in good health, please consider any mobility requirements personal to yourself.
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
UK nationals do not require a visa to travel to Japan, but other passport holders should contact with the relevant embassy, however, please ensure that your British passport is valid for at least six months after the intended return date.
Whilst care has been taken to ensure that the information provided relating to visa requirements is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in requirements after this time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information. therefore, whilst we strive to provide the most up-to-date information, we strongly suggest that you re-confirm requirements with the relevant embassy prior to travel.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival airport||First hotel location||Transfer time||Final hotel location||Departure airport||Transfer time|
|New Chitose Airport||Sapporo||1 hr||Tokyo||Tokyo Haneda Airport||1 hr|
Jean & Trevor Stockwell
We have just returned from the most wonderful river cruise we could have imagined! Our accommodation and comfort in room 322 on Hamlet deck of the William Shakespeare was superb, the service was really 5-star and the food was of t...
Linda and John Upham
What a fantastic trip. The usual Riviera organisation meant we travelled effortlessly through time and country. Noel the rep, and Omar the driver were excellent but worth 5 stars was Mehmet who imparted information and enhanced e...