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Hotel review: The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto (Japan)

Wednesday newsletters always feature a luxury hotel and/or flight review.

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed a lovely holiday with one of my best friends in scenic Japan. The hotels we stayed at were spectacular, and the flights to/from Japan were not bad either. You can read my trip reports here:

Today (September 7, 2016): Review of The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto  (Japan).
  • Location: Google Maps
  • Address: Kamogawa Nijo-Ohashi Hotori, Hokodencho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto Prefecture 604-0902, Japan
  • Hotel website: The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
  • Tip: enjoy free VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso

The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto creates an experience that seamlessly blends the centuries-old traditions of Kyoto with the finest services and facilities that The Ritz-Carlton is renowned for. Describing itself as an international modern-day luxury ryokan, the hotel is built on the banks of the Kamagawa River on land that was gifted to the original owners in the early shogunate era five centuries ago. It features 134 rooms and suites, and enjoys panoramic 180 degree views of the Higashiyama mountains in the East which turn a rich shade of imperial purple at sunset.

The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto features in my top 10 list of the best luxury hotels in Japan and my list of the best new luxury hotels of 2014.

In this review (more info below my Youtube clip & slideshow):

  • Pros & things I like
  • Cons & things to know
  • My verdict
  • Tips for future guests & save money
  • Best time to visit
  • How to get there

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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto enjoys a terrific, tranquil location. The low-rise hotel building sits on the gentle banks of the Kamogawa River in Nijho Ohashi, within walking distance of Kyoto’s popular downtown areas including Gion and Kawaramachi-dori, the city’s retail and entertainment districts.
  • The hotel is well connected to Kyoto’s public transport, which makes it a very convenient base for exploring Kyoto’s historic treasures and/or doing day trips in the area. The hotel is 15 minute taxi drive from Kyoto station (where you probably will arrive by high-speed train or skinkansen) and it’s a five minute walk to two subway stations (the Kyoto Shiyakusho-Mae Station on the Tozai line, and the  Sanjo Station of the Keihan line).
  • The hotel honors Kyoyo’s cultural heritage through its architectural splendor. The designers have retained the character and aesthetic of a traditional Meiji house and courtyard into the architectural structure of the building. The interiors created by Peter Remedios and Spin Studios pay homage to the traditions of Japan, with patterned motifs created by local artisans.
  • The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto is brand new. Heralded as one of the most highly-anticipated openings of 2014, it is Kyoto’s first truly international luxury hotel, although stiff competition is on its way since the Four Seasons Kyoto is set to open this autumn.
  • From the moment you step inside the hotel, you feel cocooned in a sea of calm and tranquility, that makes you forget that you are right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city with 1.5 million inhabitants. Zen rock gardens (karesansui) and water features, including a four-story waterfall, are aesthetically positioned in the heart of the hotel, between the car park and the entrance door (which will be your first impression of the hotel upon arrival). Complimented by a series of walkways and bridges, these outdoor elements create a serene and mesmerizing environment.
  • The sleek, 2-story lobby – which is separated from the main entrance door by a small reception & concierge area – features a minimalist, modern decor that incorporates traditional Japanese design. Works of art are scattered throughout the space as are beautiful bonsai trees, seating areas and floral arrangements. As you walk around the lobby, the views consistently change, with new shapes, textures, art and lighting around every corner. One side of the lobby features the reception desk and a cake shop and the other side a lounge, with a majestic staircase in between that leads to the lower floors.
  • The Pierre Hermé Paris cake shop in the lobby brings the popular creations of the creator of Haute Patisserie to Kyoto. The shop features an exclusive range of signature desserts and sweet treats that are very hard to resist overtime you enter or leave the hotel.
  • The hotel features 134 spacious rooms and suites. During my visit, I stayed in a Luxury Room, which is the highest room category (but not a suite). The floor-to-ceiling windows offered a nice view of the Kamogawa river (although the foliage blocked part of the view). Large in size to any standards (but especially Japanese standards), the room featured a wonderful, airy decor, with soothing colours and light wood furnishings. The room felt very modern and luxurious but left little doubt that I was in Japan, because of the presence of bonsai plants, abstract calligraphic artworks, and cherry blossom motifs on the walls. All the latest technology was present, with master controls by the bed to control drapes, sunscreens, and lights.
  • The beautifully designed bathroom deserves a separate mention. Besides a double vanity with large mirror and excellent amenities and wonderful toiletries, it features a wet room with shower and bathtub lined with wood floor planks. The tub is large enough for two people to soak.  Of course, this is Japan, so there’s also the usual high-tech toilet.
  • Wi-Fi is free (as long as you have made the reservation through an official Marriott or Ritz-Carlton channel) and works excellent. You do not need to sign in daily, unlike other hotels.
  • The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto features two high-end restaurants (with prices to match). You can experience the pinnacle of Japan’s gastronomic art at Mizuki, serving four classic styles of Japanese cooking. And at La Locanda, you can enjoy fine Italian cooking with a contemporary twist in a historic, century-old dining room.
  • The delicious breakfast is served at La Locanda Restaurant, with an exquisite buffet that offer a wide variety of both Western and Japanese items, such as fresh fruits, marinated vegetables, cold meats, smoked salmon, pickled radishes, juices, salads, mackerels, miso soup, congee, lemon cake, and pastries. In addition, there’s also a menu to choose your eggs or other hot items (e.g. pancakes or waffles).
  • The ESPA spa, nestled at the foot of the waterfall on the hotel’s lowest floor, features seven intimate and inviting treatment rooms and offers signature services inspired by the rich culture of Japan. These include a traditional Acupressure massage using the dry Shiatsu techniques as well as the Ryokucha Serenity Ritual based on green tea leaves, Gyokuro, dried from the Sun for 20 days in Uji, southern Kyoto and famed for their restorative properties.
  • In its basement, next to the spa, the hotel also features a 20 m (66 ft) swimming pool and a state-of-the-art fitness center.
  • Each morning, the hotel offers a complimentary bike tour in the area. Make sure you sign up the day before no later than 6pm.
  • The hotel provides excellent concierge service which can help you with everything, from organizing excursions to booking restaurants. Like most cities in Japan, it’s very difficult to randomly pick and find great restaurants in Kyoto yourself due to language barriers and the usual tourist traps, so you’ll be very happy to rely on the superb concierge service.

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

This is currently the best luxury hotel in Kyoto, and one of the overall best hotels in Japan. I could not really fault the hotel, but you may want to know the following nonetheless:

  • The front desk area is a bit small in relationship to the large and impressive lobby.
  • The food at the hotel’s restaurants is very expensive. Expect to pay more than 100 USD per person for a three course dinner.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 9/10
  • Design: 9/10
  • Pool (indoor): 8/10
  • Resort grounds: not applicable
  • Rooms: 9/10
  • Food: 9/10
  • Breakfast: 10/10
  • Spa: 9/10
  • Service: 9/10
  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Overall experience: exceptional: 9/10

TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto (and/or receive many free perks).
  • Save money: enjoy complimentary VIP amenities when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and $100 USD resort credit).
  • Members of Marriott Rewards with Gold or Platinum status are well treated, with – amongst other benefits – free WiFi, complementary room upgrade (when available), early check-in or late check-out  (when available), and free breakfast. You can even book a free night at the resort with your Marriott points. Click here to read my review of the Marriott Rewards program (with pros & cons).
  • Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.

BEST TIME TO VISIT 

The spring and autumn months of March, April, May and September, October and November are the best months to visit Kyoto as the weather is more favorable. The city is especially beautiful with cherry blossoms from around April, and autumn foliage from around November. It rains on most days in June. August is the hottest and most humid month. The first week of May is a popular Japanese vacation season called Golden week and is best avoided.


HOW TO GET THERE

The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto is located 15 minutes by taxi from Kyoto station, which is well connected by rail network to Japan’s other areas.


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HOTEL SURROUNDINGS

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