After spending a few days on the northern coast of Hokkaido in Otaru, we hopped in the car and trekked inwards towards the mountains and lakes for a weekend escape in nature. About 2.5 hours south of Otaru, and about an hour south of Sapporo, is the stunning Lake Shikotsu. Lake Shikotsu is a deep caldera lake, surrounded by 3 active volcanoes – Mount Eniwa, Mount Tarumae, and Mount Fuppushi. As we drove in from the north, stopping alongside the Izari River to take in the gorgeous, wintry nature of Hokkaido, we drove down alongside Mount Eniwa before the lake suddenly appeared.
Since it was cloudy and cold, it made the lake appeared dreamlike. In the distance, Mount Fuppushi and Mount Tarumae’s silhouettes dominated over the ice-free lake. Of course we had to stop the car and pull over to admire the serenity that laid before us. It was silent, with the occasional winter breeze swaying the foliage in a sort of slow dance. It felt so much like a whimsical dream. After spending some time lakeside, we got back in the car to make it to our next destination just 10 minutes down the road alongside the lake – Shikotsu Lake Tsuruga Resort Spa Mizunouta.
Shikotsu Lake Tsuruga Resort Spa Mizunouta
Our hotel‘s main message is wellness by the lake in the forest. That’s exactly the vibe you feel as soon as you arrive, with the resort looking more like a spa than a hotel with its water features and gorgeous fireplaces, as well as the stunning Lake Shikotsu right in its backyard. The hotel was quiet when we arrived, with most guests out and about exploring nearby parks and soaking in onsens (Japanese hot springs). After staying in a ryokan in a traditional Japanese room, we ended up selecting a Western room with a balcony for this visit although the hotel’s Japanese rooms looked extremely cozy. If you can, splurge for a room with your own private onsen. These were all sold out by the time we booked our room, but they would have been our first choice! Home to a spa and two restaurants, the resort is the perfect home away from home right on the lake for those looking for a weekend getaway. The resort is family friendly, but it’s perfectly romantic for couples, too.
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For lunch, we chose to have some warm, hearty homemade ramen at Showa Bussan, which was conveniently located a few steps from the hotel near the water. Dining at this spot felt like we were welcome guests in someone’s home, specifically their living room. The couple who own the restaurant make each ramen dish themselves in their kitchen, while their fireplace roared with a comforting fire and their beloved dog curled up with us for some cuddles. The ramen hit the spot just as it started to snow.
After wandering around in the snow, exploring the little lakeside village near the hotel, we took a small nap before getting ready for dinner. The hotel has two restaurants – a casual buffet restaurant and a more elegant, sit-down restaurant. For our first night, we chose to dine at AMAM, the buffet restaurant. Since the beginning of the pandemic, however, the buffet restaurant has changed a bit to reduce the spread of germs. The menu is still the same, offering delicious dishes from cuisines around the world.
The next day, we woke up to yet another snowfall. Waking up to a dreamy snowstorm on the lake was simply magical. After enjoying some tea in the room, and enjoying a warm breakfast at AMAM, we took another walk outside alongside the water as the snow fell. This day was all about relaxation, and the snowy weather was forcing us to stay put for a minute to enjoy ourselves.
The day before, the beau had arranged for me to enjoy a day at the spa with a 60-minute massage. The spa had just one spot left, so he made sure I had a nice afternoon treat. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything for the beau to do. Lake Shikotsu has a hot spring/onsen called Bijin no Yu, and the hotel also has saunas as well. If you really want to relax and focus on wellness, this place is it.
After our afternoon of relaxation, it was time to get dressed up a little nicer and get ready for dinner. After falling in love with kaiseki at our ryokan in Otaru, we were looking forward to yet another kaiseki experience at Ama no Uta, which is also conveniently located at our hotel (reservations are a must!). Upstairs from the busy buffet, Ama no Uta is much quieter, with tables far apart offering a bit more privacy and overlooking the lake. Once again, our minds were blown as course after course in our kaikseki dinner was presented to us.
Not only did we fall in love with each dish (the chef took my allergies seriously once again, so there were no worries about what I could eat), we also fell in love with something quite unexpected. Did you know Hokkaido has its own wine region? I didn’t! When we saw the wine menu listed local Chitose wines, we decided to forgo our usual sake order and try Japanese wine. The best words I can use to describe the wine are light and refreshing. It actually paired well with our kaiseki dinner, and we immediately made plans to visit the winery the next day since it wasn’t far.
After saying goodbye to Shikotsu Lake Tsuruga Resort Spa Mizunouta and thanking everyone for our weekend retreat, we jumped into the car and followed our phones’ directions to the Chitose winery. It was only about a half an hour away, and it ended up being on our route back to Sapporo so it was the perfect stop! We enjoyed a small tasting at the winery, indulging in different Hokkaido wines including some new ones as well.
Our favorite though was the Pinot Noir, and we bought several bottles to bring home to Hong Kong with us. While we have finished most of the bottles we purchased that day in 2019, we still have one bottle remaining on our decorative wine rack. We will open it one day, but for now it’s a pleasant memory of our time in Hokkaido.
If you are looking for ideas on where to visit for your next Hokkaido trip, look no further than Lake Shikotsu. Winter or summer, it’s the best spot to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and immerse yourself in the nature of Japan, surrounded by lakes, hot springs, mountains, and volcanoes. I’m looking forward to returning one day with baby bean, since the beau and I already got a chance to enjoy our lakeside retreat with just us two.
Be sure to also read about our ski trip to nearby Niseko, our ryokan stay in Otaru, and our city adventure in Sapporo.