It’s a Hakone hat trick with my third visit to this getaway town, being the most memorable to date. This time we’re journey-bound to visit the IHG newborn, Hotel Indigo Hakone Gora, a jewel amongst a many star-studded locale, famous for its hot springs. It’s under two hours of travel time, whether by train or car, but we make the most of a one-night sojourn by skipping out as soon (or almost as soon) as our respective work bells ring, jump into a rental car and sped away to make it in time for last order at the hotel’s Riverside Bar & Grill.
By the time our car pulls into the main doorway, it’s pitch-dark and far too cold for my weak Malaysian blood. The entryway is a small one but met with our anticipation, it felt like the entrance to Aladdin’s Cave of Wonders. Inside all that’s gold isn’t glitter but polished wood of warm tones and hues of indigo, like its namesake. We’re greeted by Kunihiko san, who sits at a communal table with a fish-shaped pothook suspended over an irori fire pit. This is the check-in desk. Kunihiko san’s warmth is already melting the icicles that I sometimes call my fingers. It takes true demonstrations of hospitality and flourished decor to distract us two hungry bears from the promise of dinner.
We check into our room, a Deluxe King Hillside, which is the entry level room type. It’s a miniature of the vibe and the look of the lobby, with muted beige to set the scene and splashes of orange and geometrical patterns to add the flavour. While we both adored the cute ばあ sign that hung over the mini bar piece, my favourite was actually the two glass bottles of Mt Fuji water. Both modern and vintage, it felt like the pièce de résistance, a simple testament to how detail-oriented this hotel is. What might draw more attention is the possibility of drawing a bath, a natural mineral-rich onsen water and hinoki one at that. Hinoki, Japanese cypress is a sacred tree only grown in this part of the world. The scent of the wood permeates every inch of the bathing area, has powerful relaxation properties and is true catnip for onsen and ofuro enthusiasts.
It’s over dinner that the decor of the hotel starts to make sense. The aforementioned mosaic design is actually寄木細工 Yosegi-zaiku, a style of woodworking craft originating in Hakone Gora. It’s in details of the bar counter, the furniture of the restaurant and the pillars at the entrance, but tilt your head a more 30 more degrees and there it makes an appearance again, dressing the ceiling. The meal we had is cosy, facilitated by the friendly staff who were not shy to offer tips. The ghost of friends’ past lingered as recommendations hit my phone from a group of colleagues of mine who had been here just days ago. Behind the counter is a chef who doubles as a fire master, broiling and toiling away at everything from the complimentary wood-fired bread to our Ashigara Sirloin.
Also noteworthy was the grilled octopus with smoked potato purée, with the former being perfectly toothsome and the perfect vessel to deliver the chimichurri sauce to our mouths. The potato was well, dangerous, especially when a certain someone(s) is still on a post-Chinese New Year diet. Emi, caught in some kind of carb frenzy was using the remnants of bread to mop up the potato.
The gym, which we perused on both days, was clean as a whistle and contained brand new equipment, all signs of a gym that’s only weeks old. I love that it is 24/7 which is frankly, the way of the future for fitness. Now whether you’re an early-bird, night-owl or a jet-lagged pigeon, there’s no reason you can’t work out! The digital art in the backdrop lights up an otherwise static room and is reminiscent of the can’t-stop-won’t-stop popularity of teamlab back in Tokyo.
It wouldn’t be the neighbourhood story of Hakone without an onsen and here Hotel Indigo tells its own tale. Another mesmerizing digital art wall cascades across the centre of this indoor hot spring, said to change according to the season. The variety is there, with pools of varying temperatures and bath-styles from from jet-streamed, to bench sofas to a foot bath should you want to keep most of yourself dry. The real kicker though, is the fact that it’s mixed-gender, swimsuit and tattoo-friendly, allowing guest of all kinds to frolic within its walls. I’m normally a traditionalist when it comes to onsen, preferred complete nudity and outdoor-style, but this freestyle approach means sharing an onsen experience with family and/or friends no longer requires careful consideration of protocol. Having such a no holds barred approach to what is usually ridden with rules, is so liberating.
Bad luck might come in threes but this rule certainly doesn’t apply to Hakone when my third visit was by far the most captivating of them all. If you’ve never been to this part of Japan, Hotel Indigo Hakone Gora is the perfect first foray with its fusion of modern meets local. And if you have been to this part of Japan, let this very hotel turn tradition on its head and make it fun, with all due respect of course.
I work for an IHG hotel but wrote this post of my own volition and receive no tangible benefit for writing it. All opinions are my own and the cost of the accommodation was paid in full by me.