Venetia's stay at Beniya Mukayu
Beniya Mukayu has all the age-old grace of an ancient ryokan but with the contemporary style and elegance to suit the most discerning traveller. Nestled in the forest, in the spa town of Yamashiro, the hotel effectively blends ultimate sophistication with the conservative customs embedded in traditional ryokan life.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by Mr and Mrs Nakamichi. Third-generation owners, they give the ryokan a very special sense of place. Beniya Mukayu dates back to 1928 and was refurbished in 2006. On first impression, the architecture is striking but also tasteful and subtle. Kiko, from the team, accompanied me to explore the beautiful grounds, which feature impressive landscaped gardens and elegant water sculptures. She explained how the views from every guest room change with the seasons – from the sakura cherry blossom season and the lush shades of green in the summer months to the bronze and rust-coloured maple leaves in autumn and the crisp blanket of snow that covers the ryokan in the winter months.
Mr and Mrs Nakamichi promote a feeling of stillness and inner peace. They urge their guests to embrace the Japanese way of life, wear their yukata, which are given to everyone on arrival, and to fully immerse themselves in the slower pace of life adopted here. Mr Nakamichi encourages you to enjoy this total contrast to the fast-paced city life and to let go of any anxiety or agenda. Guests are invited to a matcha tea ceremony every day at 6pm, performed by Mr Nakamichi himself, and to morning yoga sessions on the terrace with Mrs Nakamichi, which is a wonderful start to the day.
The interiors – from the peaceful library to the zen spa – are impeccable and very Japanese. The spacious, tatami-covered bedrooms are authentic yet comfortable and up to date. Our favourite room here is the Wakamurasaki Suite, which has a large terrace with a cedar onsen (‘hot spring’) overlooking the moss garden. Beniya Mukayu is the perfect place to unwind after a long day exploring Kanazawa or after hiking one of the many rugged trails in the hills of the Ishikawa Prefecture.
One of the highlights of any stay in a ryokan is the cuisine. The meals I enjoyed here were the best I had anywhere in Japan. Other guests padded around in slippers, wearing their comfortable cotton yukata, many looking rosy-cheeked from time spent in the onsen. The menus are handwritten and change every day. Dinner unfolded in a gentle fashion, with seasonal produce and organic ingredients throughout. The snow crab, for which the Ishikawa Prefecture is famous, was excellent. This was followed by some freshly foraged vegetables from the surrounding gardens and the best sashimi I have ever tasted. The finale was some very light duck in a clear broth, prepared in front of my eyes by one of the sous-chefs. Everything is presented with so much thought and care, making the experience really memorable.
When I returned to my room afterwards, my bed had been set up immaculately, with the crispest of sheets laid perfectly on the traditional futon. Before going to sleep, I decided to have one more bath in my private onsen, reflecting on what an exceptional afternoon and evening it had been. As I switched off from the modern world, all I could think about was when I would be able to come back here for a much longer stay.