Kyoto’s renowned and picturesque neighbourhood, Gion, or the geisha district, is home to the city’s most beautiful streets, quintessential shops, impressive restaurants and secret bars. It’s easy to overlook some of the gems with many of the most exclusive establishments hidden behind a noren – the soft beige curtains that hang outside the low buildings, acting as a more elegant sign of sorts. One of these secrets is Sowaka, a 23-room complex consisting of two buildings, the Annex and the Main House, each representing a different style of Japanese design. Both buildings share a front desk, tranquil courtyard, warm service team, and luxury products at every turn. Both are ethereally elegant, incredibly luxurious, and offer a nuanced experience that would make any traveler forget they are in one of the busiest neighbourhoods in the city, let alone in a consistently-at-capacity hotel.
The Main House, a refurbished building originally built in the early 20th century, is a nod to the most traditional and luxurious accommodations of Japan. Blending modern amenities, décor and features, this building is Japanese elegance at its finest, where guests will immediately get transported to a different era. Eleven rooms make up the Main House, with some featuring a private garden, or multi-level style maisonettes.
The Annex is a new building on the property that offers a complimentary but slightly different take on luxury at Sowaka. More focused on the modern, the Annex’s clean lines and minimalist décor are consistent with the Japanese design and furnishings of the whole property, but cater a touch more to Western tastes: a difficult feat to accomplish without losing the integrity of traditionalism. Thirteen rooms make up the Annex, with townhouse-style rooms and others with indoor/outdoor tubs.
Exclusive experiences are also at the heart of Sowaka. Where every tourist sight is packed to the brim with visitors, Sowaka has partnered with some of the finest in Kyoto to bring after-hours private tours to their guests. During peak sakura or cherry blossom time, guests may be treated to a private tour of one of the finest temples in Kyoto. Throughout the year, guests should look out for these special events that make a trip to Kyoto unforgettable.
Sowaka’s restaurant, La Bombance Gion, is overseen by the 10-year Michelin-rated La Bombance of Tokyo. The menu is adjusted as local produce and ingredients become fresh, and while it may have the same menu during the entirety of a guest’s stay, it is highly recommended to spend one coveted dinner time slot at the restaurant. For breakfast, guests are entitled to a choice of Japanese or Western-style meals. Like dinner, we recommend trying breakfast at least once during the stay.
Whether it is elegant tradition or chic modernity that is sought for a stay in Kyoto, none compare to Kyoto’s Sowaka hotel. The heart of Japanese culture resides both at – and through—its doorsteps.
Photography courtesy of Sowaka hotel.