Within walking distance of the golden, glittering Kinkanku-ji temple, Aman Kyoto is a series of standalone pavilions within a shrouded secret garden. The 80-acre site spans stone pathways, forested hillsides, medicinal hot springs and lovingly tended-to lawns, with stairs leading to the tree-lined upper levels for views across to Mount Hiei in the distance. The rooms riff on classic ryokan inns: wooden soaking tubs, tatami flooring and tokonoma alcoves offering artefacts to reflect on, only this time with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing the spectacular natural surroundings. And the onsens on-site mean you can really get to know your fellow guests.
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Canapés and a healing signature cocktail each at the Living Pavilion on arrival
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm, also flexible, on request.
Double rooms from £1264.79 (JPY177,100), including tax at 26.5 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional room tax of JPY1,000.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates don’t usually include breakfast (from 4,800 yen a person). There’s a daily 150 yen a person onsen tax, too.
Take the waters at the communal on-site onsens – separate alkaline hot springs for men and women – for a geothermal dip with naked strangers.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, onsens. In rooms: free bottled water, TV, air-conditioning, tea and coffee, and Aman bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Each room nods to typical ryokan traditions – cypress-wood soaking tubs, tatami floors and tokonoma alcoves – with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing the fabulously forested setting. For the most nature-surrounded seclusion, book either the Washigamine or Takagamine Pavilion, which have two bedrooms, wine cellars and views of Mount Hiei in the distance.
The hotel has traditional male and female onsens, along with three treatment rooms where you can enjoy ayurvedic, aromatherapy and Swedish massages, as well as yoga, facials and Jessica nail fixes.
You’ll need sensible shoes for clambering over the occasionally mossy stone pathways, but you can forego the swimwear: it’s birthday suits all round for bathing around here.
The hotel is not easily accessible for wheelchair users.
Welcome, but the gardens and grounds are better suited to older kids. Rooms with twin beds are available. Cots (free for under-twos) and babysitting (with three days’ notice for 8,000 yen an hour for a minimum of two hours) can be arranged on request.
Opt for a spot out on the garden terrace, or watch it from the warmth with a table by the window.
Temple-worthy finery: regal robes and colourful kimonos.
The Living Pavilion has a fireplace in the middle, with glass doors that lead out to the garden and traditional tiles crafted by a local ceramicist. The food is a mix of Japanese fine-dining, with some homely Kyoto cuisine (wild boar hot pots, equally wild vegetables and plenty of game) served all day, as well as some Western and child-friendly options. Afternoon tea is a serious ceremony in this part of the world, and the kitchen will also prepare hampers for you to disappear off into the gardens or a forest glade with.
There’s no separate bar, but you’ll be able to request drinks (including a series of herb-infused signature sake cocktails) at the restaurant.
Breakfast hours are 7am until 11.30am (last entry: 11am).
Some dishes, including comforting Western classics, will be available to order in.
This Aman outpost is in temple-toting Kyoto, once the country’s capital, on the island of Honshu.
The hotel is just over 100 kilometres from Osaka’s Kansai International Airport; the drive should take a couple of hours. Osaka also has a domestic airport, Itami – sometimes referred to as Osaka International, which isn’t very helpful – an hour from the Aman by car.
Kyoto’s train station is a half-hour drive from the hotel. Transfers are free if you’re staying in a Pavilion suite and taxis can be booked for guests of other rooms.
It’s 30 minutes by car to reach the centre of Kyoto and the hotel has valet parking, but with trains this fast and efficient, do yourself a favour and go by rail. The famous temple is under 20 minutes away on foot.
Worth getting out of bed for
This peaceful retreat is the perfect patch for channeling some zen vibes: find one of the meditation-ready corners of the grounds, do some yoga or learn how to make a miniature garden. Take your afternoon cuppa to new heights with a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at one of the Camellia teahouses in Kyoto; kimonos are included to help you get into the spirit. Hop in a rickshaw with Ebisuya for a riveting ride around all of Kyoto’s coolest corners, especially the more local-favoured spots. Go full geisha (technically geiko in Kyoto) with a maiko experience, in which you’ll choose from 200 kimonos, several fans and some wigs to play dress-up with white make-up and false eyelashes, then pose for a photoshoot. Travel along with the rapids of the Hozugawa river by boat from Tanba-Kameoka to Arashiyama with someone else doing the hard (oar-based) work for you. The dazzling gold exterior and pretty pagoda roof of the Kinkaku-ji Temple is probably what’s brought you to Kyoto – head to the city’s north-west to check out this mountain-flanked, Unesco-protected site for yourself.
Sweettoothed travellers should follow the sugar to Awamochidokoro Sawaya, a purveyor of authentic Japanese confectionery near the Kitano Tenmangu shrine; start with the awa mochi rice and bean cakes. Enjoy a traditional Japanese meal at Ajiro, or mainline sashimi and tempura at Shinme, an izakaya that’s still going after nearly 75 years. At Kitcho Arashiyama, diners can travel around Japan via the food and the decor – this former antiques shop, which has been a restaurant since 1948, has period treasures to discover in every room.
Head to the Common One Bar in Kyoto for well-crafted classic cocktails in a traditional Japanese setting.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this luxury hotel in Japan and unpacked their kimonos and Converse, a full account of their Asian city break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Aman Kyoto…
The supremely stylish Aman hotels are no strangers to moonlighting as temples, and the latest addition to the fold is no exception. The shrine-y new Kyoto retreat – close to Japan’s most memorable golden-pagoda’d site – is all lofty ceilings, floor-to-windows, standalone pavilions and sacred silence. The stewardship of this 80-acre site (90 per cent forest, 10 per cent manicured gardens) in the country’s ancient imperial capital has been passed to the Aman group by a collector of the obi (the kimono’s accompanying ornamental sash), whose aim was to turn this precious garden into a textile museum. That’s not on the cards these days, but an Aman outpost is a worthy alternative as far as custodianship goes: mossy stone paths weave their way through to the rooms within the hidden valley, enclosed by a stream on one side and a forested hill to the other; the upper levels are bordered by rusty maples and avenues of cedars. The grounds even have their own set of onsens. It’s a secret garden that’ll be just the tonic.