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Travelers' Experiences

Awaji Love Stories: Christmas Edition

“…let’s conspire, as we dream by the fire,
              to face unafraid, the plans that we’ve made…”                                                
~A Winter Wonderland (Christmas carol)

With nights lit with winter lights, snuggling by the fireplace, hot cocoa, mistletoe, and most of all, the pleasure of giving, Christmas is a time for romance. Too often, we take for granted the turns of fate needed to fall in love, to love someone who truly loves us back! Too often, we fail to appreciate the kindness of those who love us most.

Yet, recent world events have reminded me to seize every moment, to celebrate those I love to the max, hold nothing back. What else could be more precious than sharing moments of peace and harmony, hand in hand?

So, this Christmas, I want to do something really special. I’m considering a couple ways. Maybe you could help me choose?

Plan #1: the Powerhouse Soul Engine Date

YumebutaiZenbo SeineiAuberge “French Forest”

In this scenario, we hop off the bus and float up the escalator in the gleaming, high ceilinged lobby of the hotel at Yumebutai, a posh gateway into Ando Tadao’s sprawling, world-famous, architectural masterpiece. Surprisingly, this is where we locate our luxury car rental agency . Knowing the power they promise, the clinking of the keys in our hands is a thrilling “Jingle Bells.”

But not yet. Whenever we visit Yumebutai, we always climb up to our secret place. It was here, in the concrete grid of flowerbeds amid the 100 Step Garden where, for the first time, I held her hand and we both understood what that meant. Wordlessly, we gaze at the horizon and remember that moment together, staring out across Osaka Bay.

A little later, walking through the parking garage 2 floors belowground, she suddenly screams, “Bumble Bee!” and rushes forward to snap a selfie in front of the bright yellow Camaro, the same model as in the Hollywood blockbuster, Transformers.

“I’m driving” she decides and holds out her hand for the keys.

Vroooooom! Our Bumblebee Camaro climbs through the winding mountain roads, sunlight flickering through the shadows of trees all around us. As we skirt the edge of the slope, my eyes search the forests and farms of the idyllic countryside. Where is it? Then, I catch a glimpse, pointing to the sea is the long wood form of Zenbo Seinei, the zen wellness retreat I’ve heard so much about lately, sprung from the mind of the groundbreaking architect, Shigeru Ban.

We park, check-in and change into loose, breezy clothes, feeling at home and in touch with our minds, our bodies and each other. Hand in hand, we climb the stairs and step barefoot onto the cedar deck stretching to the infinite horizon. Together, we float at the roof of the world. During the relaxing yoga session, arms outstretched in Warrior Pose, our fingers touch.

Click here for reservations

Name Zenbo Seinei
Address 2594-5 Aza-Banaka, Kusumoto, Awaji City, Hyogo Pref. 656-2301
Tel 0799-70-9087
Website https://www.zenbo-seinei.com/en/
Program Reservations https://zenbo-seinei.urkt.in/direct/offices/587/courses
Hotel Reservation https://rsv.temanasi.jp/29/room/search
Operation Hours 11:00-16:00/14:30-19:30
Closed: Varies depending on a month. Please inquire.

Click here for details of ZEN Wellness SEINEI

A last cup of tea at the edge of the world, then back into Bumblebee. Onward Ho! As m’lady steers us around the tree-lined curve, we suddenly encounter a trio of classic French chalets among flower-lined paths strewn with lights. Finding this extraordinary place sparkling in the dusk light feels like stumbling upon a diamond in the forest.

There is still some sunlight left, so we rush into the garden to catch what we can of the sunset. I can’t stop snapping photos. The sight of my love under the delicate lace of the white, domed lookout and the epic sunset beyond, is all too irresistible. I want to capture this moment forever.

The dinner bell rings, and we wind our way back along the lit garden path into the warm, candle-lit dining room. Knowing that we will spend the night here is liberating, our journey is done for the day. I take a deep breath and open the wine list. Talking to the resident sommelier helps us choose an impressive vintage.

“Kampai! Merry, merry Christmas, my love!”

For the next 2 hours we marvel over course after course that blend the finest French and Japanese cuisine with local ingredients. The Prince Etoile Noel course includes the famous “Ise Ebi,” a delicacy all but impossible to find overseas. The fishing season of this “Japanese lobster” is restricted only to winter months, a Christmas gift to any foody lucky enough to be in the region.  At the end, over a final glass of champagne with our Christmas cake, the brilliant, France trained chef comes out to toast the new year with us. Hearing about his journey conjures dreams of Europe in our minds.

One last stroll through the glittering grounds, then I take her hand once more and head upstairs to one of only 2 rooms in the chalet, feeling that this entire building, this whole world, is ours for the night.

Click here for reservations

Name Auberge “French Forest” Prince Etoile
Address 2593-8 Kusumoto Aza Banaka, Awaji City, Hyogo Pref. 656-2301
TEL 0799-70-9061
Official Web Site https://frenchnomori.jp/prince_etoile/
Reservations https://www.tablecheck.com/en/shops/prince-etoile/reserve
Operation Hours Lunch – 11:30~15:30 (Last Entry: 13:00)
Dinner – 17:30~21:30 (Last Entry: 19:00)
Closed Thursdays

Click here for details of Auberge “French Forest”

Plan #2: the 6S Plan: Sweets, Steak, Seafood, Sake, Show & Sunset (not necessarily in that order)

UminoyaNaminoritei TheaterKoshunoya Sake BarOcean Terrace

This time, we board the West Coast bus at Sannomiya and enjoy a ride on the world’s 2nd longest suspension bridge across the calm, shimmering currents of the Seto Sea. With no car, we can lean back, curl up in the pair seats, and enjoy the passing view without a care. The bus cruises down the gorgeous west coast of the island looking out over the famed seascape of the Harima Nada. We get off at Seikaiha, a multi-structure complex with a state-of-the-art theater, intriguing restaurants of both Japanese and Western cuisine, and a hide-away vintage sake bar to boot. Where to start?

It’s still early afternoon, so we head for tea at the Showa-era (1926-89) Western-style “yoshoku” restaurant. Seated in the glass corner facing the ocean currents, we feel united by the motion of the ocean and earth. An exquisite slice of the exceedingly rare Zucotto cake over coffee, and then we head into the show.

Click here for reservations

Name SEIKAIHA - Uminoya
Address 70 Nojima-okawa, Awaji City, Hyogo Pref. 656-1723
Tel 0799-70-9020
Operation Hours 11:00~15:00 (Last In 14:00, L.O. 14:00) 14:00~17:00 (Café time) 17:00~21:00 (Last In 19:30, L.O. 20:00) Closed: Thursdays
Website https://awaji-seikaiha.com/uminoya/
Reservations https://www.tablecheck.com/en/shops/awaji-seikaiha/reserve

Click here for details of SEIKAIHA - Uminoya

 

The Christmas concert last year got rave reviews, so I hope this year will be even better. Just knowing the cast of talents in the budding artist community on Awaji Island creates sky-high expectations. An award-winning taiko troupe and ballerinas from the Kyiv National Theater are just two of the stand-out creators currently in residence on Awaji Island.

The performances leave us thrilled, so we head up to the hide-away sake bar to discuss the highlights. We ponder each sip as we work our way through a taster set of 5 nihonshu vintages, often aged in wine or whiskey barrels. After serving us our drinks, the kind, generous bartender takes up his violin as another staff member sings a romantic, exotic melody. I sip a martini made with nihonshu instead of gin. On the way out, we find a bottle of the 1984 sake (our favorite), and head to dinner.

Click here for reservations

Name SEIKAIHA – Koshunoya
Address 70 Nojima-okawa, Awaji City, Hyogo Pref. 656-1723
Tel 0799-70-9020
Website https://awaji-seikaiha.com/kosyunoya/
Reservations https://www.tablecheck.com/en/shops/awaji-seikaiha/reserve
Operation Hours 11:30~21:00 (L.O. 20:00)
Closed: Thursdays

Click here for details of SEIKAIHA – Koshunoya

The free resort bus sweeps us away down the coast in search of the exceedingly rare Awaji Beef some consider the pinnacle of steak perfection. The nearby steakhouse is a knockout, as we climb the lit stairs gleaming alongside flaming torches like a doorway to another world.

We both agree the steak is like none other. Only 1% of world beef comes from Japan. The top of that roughly 1% is the world famous “Kobe Beef,” but the top Kobe cattle are selected as “Awaji Beef.” A bite of Awaji Beef is thus a taste of the top .001% of any beef ever cultivated in human history. Fit for nobility, seldom if ever found abroad, it remains a secret, unknown and unknowable to most of the world. A bite worth crossing the globe.

To enjoy it in front of the ocean panorama with a glass of wine, or perhaps one of Awaji’s own Tango Brewery craft beers would be sublime. “clink,” we toast the year past and the future ahead, as the sun sinks into the ocean horizon, waves aglow with the orange brushstrokes from one of Japan’s “top 100 sunsets”.

A little tipsy, I take her hand as she steps up onto the West Coast Bus that carries us directly back to Sannomiya station. Crossing the Ohashi Kaikyo bridge, the Seto Sea is aglitter with ship’s lights cruising between the city skyline of Kobe, and the illuminated Ferris Wheel on Awaji’s shores. Feeling as though we’ve visited a magical other world, we wave goodbye to the island.

Click here for reservations

Name Ocean Terrace
Address 816 Nojimahikinoura, Awaji City, Hyogo Pref. 656-1721
Tel 0799-82-1907
Website https://ocean-terrace-awaji.jp/
Reservations https://www.tablecheck.com/en/shops/craftcircus-oceanterrace/reserve
Operation Hours Lunch 11:30~15:00 (L.O.14:00) / Dinner 17:00~21:00 (L.O.20:00)

Click here for details of Ocean Terrace

Closing

So, those are the options I’m considering for a romantic Christmas date to celebrate the luck of love this year. For non-devout people like me, Christmas spirit is mostly about thinking of the people in our life and giving them a little happiness. “Make my wish come true…” goes the famous song, and that’s what I want to do for my lover. Which idea do you think my true love would truly love?