***This is part 8 of my “Fat and Furious” trip report detailing a recent trip to Japan which included stops in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Matsuyama***
2. Star Alliance First Class Lounge at LAX
3. Singapore Airlines Suites Class Los Angeles to Tokyo
4. Conrad Tokyo
5. Eating Tokyo Part 1 – Department Store Hopping in Ginza
6. Funaya Ryokan In Matsuyama
7. Living The Onsen Life In Matsuyama
8. The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
9. Eating Kyoto – The Search for Matcha and Geisha
10. Kaiseki Dinner at 3-Michelin Star Kikunoi Honten
11. The Peninsula Tokyo
12. Eating Tokyo Part 2 – Maids, Robots, and Cosplay
13. Eating Tokyo Part 3 – Cherry Blossoms and THE BEST STEAK EVER
14. ANA Business Class Lounge at NRT
15. ANA Business Class Tokyo to San Jose
This hotel review could easily be summed up in a single sentence – The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto is one of the best hotels that I’ve ever stayed at, and I would be absolutely shocked if it didn’t soon ascend into the rankings of “Best Hotels In the World”.
But as tempting as it is to drop the mic and walk away, what’s a trip report without a few pictures?
We arrived at Kyoto Station in the late afternoon, and while the hotel is semi-walkable from the station (25-30 minutes), we had our luggage with us and instead jumped in a taxi. The traffic around the river was backed up, and it took 30 frustrating minutes and more than $20 to get to the hotel.
As the taxi pulled into the garage, all the road rage was forgotten as we got our first glimpse of the hotel. Even though the Ritz Carlton Kyoto is a Western luxury hotel in the middle of one of the most historical cities in Japan, it’s anything but an eye-sore. The building’s architecture blends perfectly into its surroundings along the Kamogawa river, with no obnoxious signage or neon lights. In fact, other than the blue Ritz-Carlton flag outside, you wouldn’t even know that this a 134-room hotel.
We were immediately greeted as we jumped out of the taxi, and escorted into the hotel. The path follows a beautiful water feature leading up to the main entrance.
The hotel organized complimentary bike tours twice a week, and also made the bicycles available for rental to guests. As you can imagine, independent bike shops are about 50%-75% cheaper, but you can’t beat the convenience factor of renting directly from the hotel. In addition to the standard bikes, special “Lance Armstrong” edition bikes were available which provided battery-powered performance enhancement.
We walked through the hotel’s entrance and into the lobby, which I’d describe as the perfect balance of modern architecture and traditional Japanese aesthetics.
There was beautiful bonsai tree at the entrance, and the hotel’s signature scent which contained cherry blossoms and lychee wafted throughout the lobby.
If I were to design my dream hotel, it’d look exactly like this.
The service at the hotel was simply phenomenal. Our information had been relayed from the garage upon arrival, so by the time we arrived at the check-in desk an attendant was ready to escort us to the room.
It’s worth noting that this was one of the few times we were asked for our name. After this, about 75% of the time we were greeted by name, even by staff who we didn’t remember encountering before.
It’s refreshing to be in a hotel that isn’t a huge sky-scraping monstrosity. The hotel only had 5 floors, and we were assigned to a room on floor 3.
As we walked up to our room, #342, we took a second to admire the gorgeous door.
You know how there’s that signature new car smell that lingers for several months? Well, even though this hotel has been open for over a year, everything about the room still has that new hotel smell to it.
Since we had booked our stay on points in the middle of peak season, there was no surprise that we were assigned to an entry level room overlooking the courtyard.
The room featured all the high-tech gizmos, with some impressive blackout shades. In fact, all of hotels we stayed at in Japan had blackout shades, and I finally realized how big of a difference it made in terms of sleep quality. So much so, that one of first things I did after returning home was to install them in my bedroom.
There was a seating area overlooking the garden, with a delicious plate of strawberries waiting for us. The Japanese take their fruit really seriously, and each one of the strawberries was perfectly ripe and delicious.
One of the cool touches was our own mini-bonsai tree in the room.
The bathroom was really impressive, a perfect combination of design and practicality. Some of the over-stylized bathrooms take it too far, with complicated faucets or sinks that are so shallow that you end up splashing water everywhere.
The TV in the mirror was cool albeit excessive, given that the room’s main TV was just 25 ft. in the other direction.
An incredible selection of amenities were provided, and the emery board actually proved useful after I chipped a nail.
And Asprey-branded shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.
The shower room featured a shower/tub combo setup, with a unique floral pattern on the wall. The base of the shower was similar to that of an outdoor shower, with wooden slats that allowed the water to drain between them.
The room also featured an impressive selection of coffee, and tea, including both English and Japanese tea selections. The bottled water was refilled throughout the day, and was also available at the hotel’s entrance.
After settling in, we went downstairs to the lobby to take a closer look at the the afternoon tea options.
We had passed the Pierre Herme boutique and had made a note to come back down as soon as possible.
I drooled over the wide range of macarons, including a signature black sesame flavor unique to the hotel.
The cakes were as pretty as they were delicious – we settled on the “original cake” which was lemony decadence.
Rather than have afternoon tea in the lobby, our Asian instincts kicked in, and we realized that we had everything we needed to have afternoon tea in our room for a fraction of the price. So we bought some stuff from the boutique downstairs and made our own afternoon tea spread.
Between all the sightseeing and walking around in Kyoto, the best feature was the hotel’s incredibly sexy underground pool. Along with the pool there was a steam room and sauna, and we found it sparsely used each time we came by.
The hotel provided complimentary swim suits and gym clothes which was an added bonus.
Let’s move on to the food – while we ate most of our meals outside of the hotel, we did stop by one morning for breakfast where there were both Western or Japanese restaurants to choose from. We settled on La Locanda which was the Western option where we had a view overlooking the Japanese garden.
The highlight of the breakfast spread were undoubtedly the Pierre Herme pastries which were just fantastic.
Of course we had to try each pastry, since after all, that was the only way to figure out which was best.
The best of the lot was the Ispahan croissant, which was a type of jam that was so good that we bought a jar to take home.
In addition to the buffet, there was an a la carte menu which featured many different egg dishes. The entrees were definitely quality over quantity, which was appreciated after all the pastries that had been consumed. The egg yolks were beautifully yellow, rivaling the rich, golden color of the ones we had in Dubai.
The only other meal we had at the restaurant was in the Japanese restaurant, Mizuki, where several different dining options are available, including kaiseki, sushi, teppan, and tempura.
We opted for the tempura dinner to try something new, and it was served at the tempura bar where all of the food was cooked right in front of us. There were 3 set menus to choose from, all of which featured a range of seafood and veggies.
Perhaps the most impressive part was the selection of 4 different flavored salts – sea salt, cherry blossom, seaweed, and matcha.
First up, a cold appetizer with poached firefly squid. We had actually considered adding Toyoma Bay to our itinerary, which is one of the best places to view the luminescent blue firefly squid in Japan. I guess eating them would have to do.
And then a selection of tempura cooked for us, a couple pieces at a time. My wife was happy with this pacing, since for a fast eater like myself, there wasn’t any way to finish my meal quickly and then just sit there staring at (and annoying) her.
The best part of the meal was the green tea ice cream served at the end. Overall the meal was just OK, and given the vast array of delicious food available in Kyoto, I wouldn’t necessarily recommended it unless you were too tired to venture outside the hotel.
This was our first Ritz-Carlton experience, and we can definitely see how much pride they take in the guest experience, as the service was simply top-notch throughout the stay. As another example, we made several dining reservations through the concierge, and each time a letter would be delivered to our room the night before as a reminder along with a print-out of a map with detailed directions.
Overall, this is one of the best hotels I have ever stayed at, and I can’t imagine staying anywhere else next time I’m in Kyoto.