Here’s a guide to Sapporo and the Hokkaido region, from skiing the stunning slopes to soaking in a natural hot spring.
The town of Niseko – technically four resorts radiating from the same volcano – is known for its powdery snow. Its slopes are fairly mellow, with a drop of just over 900 metres combined but it’s the consistency of its storms that set Niseko apart. During January, for instance, the area averages an astonishing 15 centimetres of snowfall a day, which means there’s plenty to go around for skiers and snowboarders alike. Visiting in early 2020? Sapporo’s famous snow festival, featuring hundreds of snow and ice sculptures, will be held from 31 January to 12 February.
The hamlet of Noboribetsu sits on the rim of a bubbling crater called Jigokudani, or Hell Valley. Its natural hot springs are rich in sulphur. Slip into the alkaline water around the crater and you’ll immediately notice its softness. There are several hotels in Noboribetsu but check out Dai-ichi Takimotokan, which boasts eight types of pools.
Each part of Japan has its own unique noodle dish. In the historic canal town of Otaru, it’s jimono-ko, a soba made from local buckwheat flour. Yabuhan, a cosy restaurant, is a friendly place to try it; just be sure to arrive close to opening time at 11am because the soba sells out quickly. It offers a well-balanced and filling meal, with side dishes including shrimp tempura. Afterwards, try a broth made with the nutrient-rich water the soba was boiled in.
The finest hotel
One of Japan’s finest ryokans, Zaborin is hidden away in a white-birch forest near Kutchan. Each of the 15 sleek villas includes its own private indoor and outdoor baths fed directly from hot springs on the property. When you’re not relaxing in the cedar tub, enjoy multi-course meals prepared by a Hokkaido-born chef who employs local ingredients such as Wagyu beef and fatty tuna. Retire to the library after dinner for Japanese whisky then collapse into the cloud-like mattress on a traditional tatami floor.
Hokkaido is Japan’s birthplace of beer and Sapporo is its hometown brew. After a visit to the Sapporo Beer Museum, housed in a former brewery from the Meiji period, head to the Beer Garden, a group of restaurants where a single cover charge includes all-you-can-drink draught beer and unlimited Genghis Khan or lamb barbecue, a local specialty named after the Mongolian war lord.
While the country as a whole prefers pour over coffee, lattes and other milky espresso drinks are more popular in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, because of its superb dairy cattle. At Baristart Coffee, you not only pick your roast but you can also choose from three different milks, all locally produced, including a Jersey drop from Tokachi Ranch.