In August 2023, I checked into the Premier Garden View Room at Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto. Located within the historic Higashiyama district in Kyoto beloved for its feudal-era architecture and tradition, the 123-room property is within walking distance from notable temples such as Sanjusangendo, Yogen-in, Kiyomizu-dera and Chion-in. It takes 10 minutes to reach Kyoto Station by car, while Osaka’s Kansai International Airport is an hour’s drive away.
Notable nearby hotels include Hyatt Regency Kyoto and Park Hyatt Kyoto.
The UTW (“Under Ten Words”): Zen sanctuary with scenic 12th-century pond garden.
The must-dos (if any): Take a long soak in the bathtub with Diptyque and other indulgent bath amenities provided, have a Japanese breakfast at Brasserie, take a stroll in the hotel’s scenic pond garden.
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL KYOTO
Designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates (behind Capella Bangkok, Fairmont Singapore and The Fullerton Hotel Singapore), the hotel adopts a minimalist, contemporary-meets-traditional approach in its stylings, pairing neutral tones and creamy marble with Japanese flourishes such as seasonal floral pieces and cypress wood textures. From the main road, you turn in and pass through a bamboo tree-lined road which evokes feels of the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, and you find yourself being slowly disconnected from the buzz and busyness of Kyoto reality as your taxi slowly pulls into the driveway, where an overhead roof which resembles traditional Japanese umbrellas as well as a Four Seasons-branded traditional rickshaw start your hotel journey on a suitably visual note.
The property is located at the foot of a mountain in Kyoto’s Higashiyama temple district, and the hotel’s crowning glory is its 800-year-old shakusui-en (pond garden), once owned by a powerful samurai family during the Heian period. Each of the four seasons (hurhur) offers an entirely different pond garden experience. My visit was in the summer, during which the shakusui-en was dressed in lush, verdant green, but other seasons will see it cloaked in cherry blossom (spring), dramatic red (fall) and snowy white (winter). With its soaring pagoda, tempered glass bridges, glorious animal families in residence (I spotted storks, a rapidly expanding duck family as well as various fishes and turtles) and traditional teahouse across the pond, the pond garden is quite the immersive and picturesque attraction.
The hotel dedicates two levels to wellness. Guests enjoy access to a spa and boutique; a 20m indoor pool with two whirlpool pods and multiple lounging cabanas; and a fitness centre which also offers sauna and ofuro (traditional Japanese bath) facilities.
One of the hotel’s signature experiences is its complimentary maiko performances, which take place at the hotel lobby on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. Past the whole geisha mystique of it all, the performance was quite a fruitful experience, not only because private maiko and geiko performances (the former refers to a young apprentice geisha, while the latter is full-fledged and older) usually cost more than your actual Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto stay, but also because the hotel staff takes the effort to do a short introduction about the geisha tradition in Kyoto before each performance commences, and even organises a quick phototaking session with the visiting maiko after her performance.
PREMIER GARDEN VIEW ROOM
Offering calming views of the pond garden and its verdant greenery, the 52sqm Premier Garden View Room pairs marble textures and dark hardwood floors with shades of striking purple and elements of traditional Japanese design such as fusama screen doors and lantern-style light fixtures. There are modern technological touches, such as automated blinds and an in-room tablet for making housekeeping requests. A large desk with a swivel chair caters to your work needs, while the window-side sofa with movable side table is well-placed to allow optimal appreciation of the 12th century shakusui-en. (My room faced the pond garden’s central pagoda.)
The pantry offers TWG tea and Nespresso coffee-making facilities along with a selection of snacks and chocolates, including some complimentary local nuts and crackers, while the indulgent minibar comprises Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve champagne, French wines and an assortment of spirits, beers and sodas. My welcome amenity was a jar of Japanese sugar balls packed within a Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto-branded masu (wooden square sake cup).
The spacious marble bathrooms come with Toto bidet toilets, double vanities and perfumed Diptyque bathroom amenities. Interestingly, the glass doors of the rainfall shower space are swivel-adjustable such that you can combine the rainfall shower space with that of the bathtub area to form a giant shower sanctuary. There are additional special amenities such as a yuzu-scented bath sachet as well as an Anne Semonin scented soap (“exotic verbena”) for an extra-luxurious soaking experience.
Breakfast is served at Brasserie, the all-day dining concept located on the hotel’s lower levels with soaring floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the beautiful pond garden. The restaurant offers cosy fireplace-side and outdoor terrace seating alongside the usual conventional table setting at the main dining area.
Guests with breakfast privileges can go for the Breakfast Buffet spread – think fresh fruits like figs and cherries, pastries, stir-fried noodles, minestrone, chicken shumai, gyozas, sausages as well as bacon and turkey bacon – with one choice of a la minute mains, including the umami Truffle Onsen Egg (creamy spinach, truffle, chicken jus) and Brioche French Toast (caramelized banana, valrhona chocolate cream). Alternatively, you can select the Japanese Breakfast which comprises the day’s choice of broiled fish, rice from Kyoto, miso soup and homemade tofu with seasonal seafood along with a selection of small Japanese appetisers such as Wagyu beef simmered with Japanese sansho peppers, Hisami’s pickled mackerel fermented with rice and steamed duck with sweet and sour sesame sauce. The Japanese set was exquisite – the homemade tofu tasted like tau kwa dressed in Roberto Cavalli, the Kamura’s mizuna with green chili was audaciously spicy by Japanese standards, and the Fu Wheat Gluten in ginger soy sauce from Hanbeifu was possibly the most incredible vegetarian economic beehoon dish that never was. Interestingly, guests who order the Japanese breakfast do not have access to the buffet spread, a policy which gives rise to potentially awkward situations if, between two guests dining together, one opts for the Breakfast Buffet and the other chooses the Japanese breakfast.
During my stay, I had dinner at Brasserie and had the Chef’s Summer Course Set, which featured options such as Kyoto Higuchi Farm Tomato And Burrata Cheese (eggplant, raspberries), the moreish Squid Ink Risotto (Kyoto Kinuhikari rice, chorizo, basil), Chef’s Daily Catch “Fish Of The Day” from Japan Sea, the delectable Roasted Japanese Black Beef Fillet “Rossini” (pan-fried foie gras, truffle sauce) and the refreshing Grapefruit And Lychee (grapefruit lychee compote, citrus and herb granite).
Past Brasserie’s outdoor terrace, across a glass bridge and down a scenic pathway lies Fuju, a traditional teahouse concept which serves local crafted sweets such as shaved ice and Japanese afternoon tea presented in a two-layered bento box. The menu also offers a variety of sake and champagne options, including sake flights as well as the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto Special Cuvee. If the weather is suitable, terrace seats are recommended for their soothing and gorgeous views of the pond and surrounding greenery.
Located on the lobby level, The Lounge and Bar is the hotel’s destination for afternoon tea, coffee and tipples. Aside from classic cocktails such as Martini, Espresso Martini and Gimlet, the bar serves a variety of signature drinks such as Japanese Mojito (Ki No Tea gin, matcha, herb syrup, lime juice, mint) and Yuzu Mule (chamomile & yuzu juice, peach juice, citron vodka, ginger ale). During my visit, I had the luxury of having my cocktails prepared by the hotel’s Director of Beverage, Takashi Nakano, and the Smoky Old Fashioned (Japanese whisky, maple syrup, homemade cinnamon and orange bitters, cherry smoke) and Aged Negroni (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth) were the sort of boozy, delicious tipples that made leaving the premises for a second bar completely unnecessary.
Rounding up the hotel’s dining concepts is Sushi Wakon, a high-end restaurant specialising in Edomae-style sushi which has another outlet at The Peninsula in Tokyo.
In a magical city like Kyoto with cultural and dining surprises at every corner, I was pleasantly surprised by how the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto offers a stay product which actually makes staying within the property for the entire day an attractive and feasible proposition, from the confident dining options to the wonderful pond garden (itself an attraction worth experiencing) and the luxurious wellness facilities. It would be incredible if I could revisit the property during the other seasons to observe the visual evolution of the shakusui-en.
Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto
445-3, Myohoin Maekawa-Cho
Higashiyama-Ku, Kyoto 605-0932, Japan