Wine & Inn Chitose
A tranquil oasis that offers travelers great food and a casual, relaxing place for an extended stay, Wine and Inn Chitose is located near the pine-covered sandbar known as “Bridge to Heaven” in Amanohashidate in northern Kyoto prefecture.
When staying overnight at a ryokan in the countryside of Japan, it can seem like you’re a pilgrim in The Canterbury Tales in old England or a merchant on the Silk Road in ancient Asia. You are expected to arrive at your ryokan (inn or caravanserai) at sunset, wash off the grime and sweat of the day, have a meal and good night’s sleep, and be on your way first thing in the morning after packing up your car (horse or camel). Granted, at ryokans in Japan you’re likely to find a hot soaking tub to bath in, meals that rival those of Michelin-starred chefs, and beds like nimbus clouds. But if you’re looking for a place to stay for more than one night so that you can relax, catch up on your reading, nap or sleep in, and experience your destination by spending time quietly contemplating a beautiful view from a comfortable chair, you’re likely to be disappointed. Most ryokans don’t have a lounge or garden to linger in. Your hosts may be a bit hard-pressed at the prospect of having to make something different for your second day’s meals. And you may not have access to your room during the day.
Except for its exquisite cuisine, natural hot spring baths, and comfortable beds, Wine and Inn Chitose is not like these other ryokans. When you arrive at the inn, which is located in the small village of Amanohashidate on the Sea of Japan in northern Kyoto prefecture, you are shown to a guest-only lounge area cordoned off at the Cafe du Pin a few doors down that is part of the inn. Here you can have complimentary drinks—champagne, wine, beer, soft drinks, and tea and coffee—and stay for as long as you like. You’re even encouraged to drag a chair outside onto the deck hanging over the clear water canal that connects Asokai Lagoon with Miyazu Bay to better enjoy the lovely view of the pine-covered sandbar opposite. Called Amanohashidate, or “Bridge to Heaven,” the sandbar is one of Japan’s “Three Scenic Views.” The small boats and fishermen plying the canal in the morning and the spectacular sunsets over the mountains to the west in the evening are equally enchanting.
The casual, relaxed atmosphere of Wine and Inn Chitose is a reflection of Hirotaka Yamazaki and his family, who run the inn. Hirotaka is a leading local businessman who has done a lot to help make the area a gastro-destination. His passion is wine, and his first project in 1999 was creating the Amanohashidate Winery on the slopes of the mountains on the opposite side of the lagoon from the inn. The next year he opened Wine and Inn Chitose with the aim to create a place that is a destination in itself. It was a pioneering concept at the time, and he modeled the inn on a French auberge—a country inn with all the comforts of home. The inn’s two-hundred-year-old building was renovated to keep dramatic features like its massive wood ceiling beams and provide a rustic setting for an eclectic mix of Japanese furnishings, modern facilities, and touches of whimsy. Its seven rooms are large, most of them are suites. They are filled with chairs and couches, raised beds, bathrooms, and extra sinks if you are a large group or want to have a wet bar. The communal baths epitomize the inn’s design. There is a large wooden tub in one and a stone basin in another and both have comfortable bamboo benches and playful water spouts and troughs made from old roof tiles and garden features. Each bath also has outdoor tubs that are reached through glass doors at the back of the rooms.
Auberge are essentially restaurants with rooms, designed to provide a place to stay for people who have made the journey especially to eat there. Wine and Inn Chitose’s excellent dining room is another reason to seek out the inn. The cooking reflects Hirotaka’s support of the local community and ideas about healthy living. All of the ingredients are locally-produced, fresh and seasonal, with an emphasis on the Sea of Japan’s famous seafood, which is caught directly offshore from the inn in the canal and bay or obtained from the fish market in nearby Miyazu. The light and delicious dishes are perfectly prepared by two chefs—Chef Toyama and Chef Yamamoto—who alternate days, which ensures a regularly changing menu for the nightly eight-course dinner and morning breakfasts. Their cuisine is loosely termed French. But that has more to do with some of the ingredients and cooking techniques than recipes and dishes, and the restaurant’s food is really Japanese cuisine that has assimilated the best of the West.
Vinegared fish is a specialty of Kyoto prefecture. During dinner on an August night, sardines (iwashi) were marinated in balsamic vinegar and served as an appetizer together with roasted Japanese ivory shell clams (shiro bai-gai) set on top of ratatouille. The selection of condiments for a platter of seasonal sashimi included salt and lemon, soy sauce and wasabi, and a bright, peppery olive oil, which was good for the richer fish. Most nights there is a clear soup of Amanohashidate’s famous clams, harvested from the canal. These small plates were followed by fish and meat courses. A Japanese sea bass (suzuki) was lightly pan fried in the French manner and served with steamed mussels in a seafood broth. Tiny dices of green pepper, yellow zucchini, and okra seasoned the dish in the Japanese way of using fresh vegetables to add accents of flavor instead of spices. A touch of butter was added to the dish just before it was served to give it the aroma and barely traceable taste of this French source of umami richness. The meat course was seared cubes of A-ranked Kyoto wagyu beef in a red wine sauce accompanied by grilled manganji togarashi peppers, eryngii mushrooms, and kabocha pumpkin. Not as well known as other types of wagyu, Kyoto wagyu beef is appreciated for its delicate richness and slight sweetness. The final savory course was soba noodles made with grains grown in fields outside the fishing village of Ine. The high mountain terraced fields of Ine produce richly flavored grains because of the strong sunlight they receive during the day followed by cold nights. There were two desserts. A Japanese wagashi sweet made with sticky mochi-gome rice rolled in sweetened red adzuki beans. The other dessert was more complicated, a Bavarois milk pudding in a melon puree topped with a granita made of Niagara wine grapes.
The most French aspect of the meals at the inn are the wines. Featured are the wines from Hirotaka’s Amanohashidate Winery, which have consistently won prizes in the annual Japan Wine Competition since it was opened. The wines are not only served at dinner but also used to make the red wine sauce and a wine salt that accompany the beef course as well as to make the granita for the dessert. Another one of Hirotaka’s roles is specialty importer of fine wines to Japan, and the restaurant has an excellent selection of wines from France and other countries.
Story & Photos: Tom Schiller
Wine and Inn Chitose ワインとお宿 千歳
472 Monju, Miyazu, Kyoto 626-0001
Tel: +81 (0772) 22 3268
The inn has seven rooms. Four of them are located in the main building and have views out onto the canal. The other three are in an annex across the road behind the inn. Check-in is from 15:00 to 18:00 and check-out is at 10:30. You can make a reservation through the inn’s website and a number of English language hotel booking sites. You can also call the inn directly or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The inn is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Free parking is available.
The standard plan at Wine and Inn Chitose includes dinner and breakfast. But if you’re staying more than one night, you can request a rate without dinner for a night. This is helpful if you want to try another restaurant in Amanohashidate or nearby Miyazu. But if you do eat dinner at the inn both nights, you’ll have two excellent and different meals. The inn’s breakfasts also mix Japanese and Western cuisine, and are a great way to start a day of sightseeing or relaxing. They include a serve-yourself counter of fresh juices, salad, and coffee and tea. The main breakfast is Japanese and consists of fresh fruit, tofu, Japanese omelette, several kinds of cooked and pickled vegetables, grilled fish, miso soup, and rice.
Breakfast one morning included white miso soup and okayu rice porridge made with nutty kogai-mai brown rice and seasoned with dried katsuobushi bonito fish flakes.
Breakfast another morning was served in a makunouchi bento box and included locally-grown white rice and red miso soup with mussels.
Wine and Inn Chitose is a member of the YADO Authentic Japanese Resort group, which includes thirty-four other similar types of inns across Japan. Like Wine and Inn Chitose, they are well-priced and offer unique experiences in local areas, great food, and warm personalized service.
Amanohashidate is easy to get to from Kyoto. There are trains and express buses from Kyoto Station and the ride takes about 2 hours. You can also go to Amanohashidate from Osaka via train and express bus. By train, you'll need to change at Fukuchiyama. The total ride is also about 2 hours. From the Amanohashidate train station it is only a 2-minute walk to the inn.
Wine and Inn Chitose is an excellent get-away from Kyoto and also a base from which to explore the Tango Peninsula. The inn is located on the main street of Amanohashidate. It's a small area centered on Chionji Temple, and has the usual lively shops, tea houses, restaurants, and inns found in temple districts. Next to the inn is a bridge that crosses over the canal to the southern end of the sandbar, where you can take walks and ride bicycles, sit under the pine trees, and go swimming in the bay as local residents do in the morning. Next to Cafe du Pin is a pier that offers boat tours of the bay, and on weekends from spring to fall, there are boats that will take you down the Sea of Japan coast to the charming fishing village of Ine.