The days are getting longer, the sun is getting stronger. Where to go when the great outdoors beckons? Niseko in Hokkaido, Japan, of course.
Few places offer air as champagne-clear as Hokkaido, Japan. Now that it’s high summer, outdoor enthusiasts of all shapes, heights and sizes have long traded in their goose-down puffas for shorts, sandals and cotton tees. With pine-scented forests, lavender fields and crystal brooks to wade in, summer in Niseko is meant to be lived outdoors. From leisurely games of golf to adrenaline-inducing trekking and horseback riding as well as ziplining, you’ll find you’d be positively spoilt for choice.
To make the most of your sun-dappled summer, Niseko Village has introduced its special value ticket plan, known as the ‘Pure’ Super Passport. For children 15 years of age and below, it opens up 11 of Niseko Village’s fun and games to you, with unlimited play time. This includes trekking among the tree-tops on hanging bridges, a zipline forest adventure, bouncing and gliding down the biggest air cushion slider in town, kite-flying, mini volleyball and touring the park by golf buggy.
If you need a bit more excitement or variety, simply add to the pleasure with a medley of other activities, including participating in scheduled treasure hunts, woodcrafting sessions, exploring the local fields and forest on horseback or on a mountain bike, and even a hot air balloon ride. Those wishing to work on lowering their handicap seriously can consider the two beautiful golf courses nearby – the Niseko Village Golf Course that’s just right by the Hilton Niseko Village hotel and the Niseko Golf Course, a mere 20 minutes’ drive away. The former is a challenging 704-yard course with a rare Par 6 hole and stunning views of the mountain range, while the latter is an Arnold Palmer-designed course with a reputation for being challenging – particularly at its signature Par 3 hole.
All that tearing about can also prove hot and thirsty work – especially in summer – and the best place to retreat to for a spot of refreshment would be the charming machiya-style shops and restaurants, collectively known as the Village. The most popular spots for lunch are, undoubtedly, The Crab Shack and Yang Shu Ten, for fresh-as-can-be seafood, served in a variety of styles as well as in the traditional Japanese ways of sushi, tempura and teppanyaki. If it’s just coffee you’re after, head to the Village Patisserie, where you might just be tempted to give in and order a slice of cream-laden cake to go with your ristretto. After filling up, a short walkabout is always a good idea... except, perhaps, for one’s wallet. The Village offers several stores specialising in beautiful, locally-sourced and crafted goods. All the gear you need (utilitarian or trend-conscious) may be sourced from iGate Ikeuchi, while iZone Ikeuchi offers an array of Made-in-Japan fashion and beauty products. If you haven’t time to make your way to the pretty port town of Otaru, pick up some of its famous glassware at The Village’s Otaru Taishou Glass Palace.
Once the kids have used up all their energy and are neatly tucked into bed, treat yourself to some ‘me’ time at the Wakka Spa or even a simple soak in one of the outdoor onsen. Once your weary muscles are soothed and you’re gleaming and glowing, it’s always a good idea to head to Two Sticks for a spot of Asian-style tapas, washed down with a mug or two of the local (and excellent) draught beer. There’s live music from time to time, so make sure you don’t leave your room without your dancing shoes.
The Hilton Niseko Village, with its beautiful panoramic mountain-view rooms, has always been the preferred choice of travellers all-year-round, its location at the foot of Mount Niseko-Annupuri is positively charming but true eating enthusiasts will appreciate the fact it is but a short stroll away from Milk Kobo – the famous and hugely popular dairy-driven destination that sends fans into a tizzy at the mere mention of its ethereal cream-filled choux puffs, yoghurt drink and Milkuchen sponge cake. And what would summer be without the daily treat of an ice cream cone? Milk Kobo, thankfully, offers a mind- boggling choice of flavours (all delicious) but the popular ones are caramel, green tea and milk. Those staying at the luxurious Kasara Niseko Village Townhouse will also find Milk Kobo all-too easy to access. But, should you be too tired out after an entire day outdoors, make the most of your benefits as a Kasara guest by ringing for your complimentary driver-on-call to ferry you there and back.
And just as ice cream is a staple of summer, so is the smoky, earthy treat of a barbeque. The Hilton Niseko Village’s Flame Restaurant offers summer barbeque menus, featuring fresh local seafood, meat and vegetables, where you can cook your own supper while exchanging news from the day’s goings-on. And to ensure the Japanese element remains strong, finish the night with a session of the almost-national pastime of karaoke singing. The Hilton offers dedicated rooms for wannabe songbirds, although reservations are, wisely, recommended.
There will also be a variety of special events and activities happening throughout summer at Niseko Village and these may include friendly golf competitions, fireworks, exciting food promotions and visiting vendors selling tasty treats. To the global jetsetter, Niseko may have made its reputation as a destination par excellence based on its powder snow. But it is now time to discover all the charm and beauty of this special corner of Japan in a different shade. This season’s colour is undoubtedly green!