What To Do In Niseko
This summer, I traveled to Niseko for a short break. After looking at Three Unique Luxury Homes By The Pavilions Residences, I loved Keyaki Villa most of all. However, the question is, what else is there to do in Niseko when skiing is obviously out of the question? Based on my itinerary, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten things to do from your base in Niseko. Everything is within an hour’s drive from Keyaki Villa and the rest of the premium Ginto Residences.
Eat Well In Niseko
Of course, being Singaporean, a majority of experiences I’ll recommend unabashedly involve food. I’m excited to share about two of my favourite restaurants, both wonderful but vastly different.
Maccarina is a quietly confident French restaurant located in the small village of Makkari-mura, at the foot of Mt. Yotei. She is the brainchild of Hiroshi Nakamich, one of the Hokkaido’s leading French cuisine chefs. You can expect attention to detail at every level. The decor is charming with a fireplace at the entrance. A basement beckons with cured meats. The courtyard is covered with flourishing herbs that feature in many dishes.
In fact my lunch started with a colourful appetiser comprised of vegetables produced locally in Makkari as well as seafood and other meat from Hokkaido. When a lone sprig of broccoli appeared on my plate, I kept expecting to cut into it to reveal some other magnificent creature. But it really was just a broccoli. What’s more, it was incredibly delicious. Similarly, although the potato gazpacho seemed deceptively simple, it tasted so wonderful. Surely that is a true testament of the beauty of Hokkaido’s produce and the chef’s talent. I also enjoyed how well-balanced the more complex dishes were. Finally, don’t forget to check the wine list out or ask the competent sommelier to recommend something to pair with this excellent meal.
Rakuichi Soba represents everything authentic about Japanese cuisine. Without bells and whistles, it does not seek to impress. Yet everyone walks out delighted. My favourite dishes were the tempura and soba. I enjoyed these with sake while my companions had Japanese beer.
I appreciated the experience of this intimate restaurant, set in the house that the bosses built. However, I’m told that this prime property will be redeveloped. Although I look forward to returning to Rakuichi Soba in its next iteration as Niseko evolves, I will always miss this memory I have on a starlit summer’s night.
Savour The Produce Of The Land
Fruit Picking At Fudehara Blueberry Farm
Quintessential activities during summer in Hokkaido include photos with masses of flowers and fruit-picking. As one cannot eat flowers, I chose berry-picking in Yoichi town. There’s a second reason which I will reveal in the next paragraph. While there are vantage points for photos from the top of the hill, I was happy enough to dart about savouring berries. In fact, the berries made a great snack throughout the rest of my trip, including the ride to the airport.
Whisky Tasting At The Nikka Whisky Distillery
So the second reason why I chose to go berry-picking in Yoichi is the Nikka Whisky Distillery which lies ten minutes away. If you have time, you can opt for a tour of the distillery to understand how such heavenly pleasures are made. Otherwise, you can still sample them in the tasting room on the second floor. When I’m told a bottle of the apple wine costs USD$8 at the shop downstairs I nearly fall off my chair. Although the sweet apple wine and mellow Super Nikka blended whisky are both lovely, my favourite remains the Yoichi Single Malt. Peaty, salty yet rounded, this enchanting whisky is worth the trip to Yoichi.
Culinary & Dining Experience At Hokkaidian Homestead
If you crave a Hokkaido Summer Of Extraordinary Experiences, look no further than Hokkaidian Homestead. This red farmhouse stands out against the azure blue sky, surrounded by volcanoes, just beyond Lake Toya.
Not only does the host, Ian, regale you with agricultural anecdotes, he kindly does so over a generous spread of hors d’oeuvres & wine. His wife, Noriko, gently adds a local perspective to the stories and makes sure your plate and glass are never empty. The culinary workshop is conducted by the young, affable and experienced French-Italian chef, Chef Bastien. After an afternoon of preparing scallops & sea urchin, sautéing vegetables and baking pastry, lunch tastes amazing. Of course, Chef did most of the work. For more information on various culinary programmes, check their website out: https://hokkaidian-homestead.com/.
Enjoy The Great Outdoors
Sea Kayaking At Shakotan Peninsula
On days where you wake up feeling Niseko is too gentrified, drive an hour out to Shakotan Peninsula to hike the trail. For the best experience of nature’s beauty, I recommend sea kayaking to appreciate the wild beauty. Craggy rocks protrude from gorgeous turquoise waters. Flying fish dart across the glimmering surface while the seabed boasts of starfish, sea urchin & kelp through impossibly clear waters. My guide, the boss of Toyru, guided us along a scenic route that culminated in a swim & picnic by a lagoon. After a morning of kayaking, I absolutely appreciated his taco rice lunch, washed down with good coffee. Delicious chocolate topped off a brilliant day.
Stand Up Paddle-Boarding At Lake Toya
The best way to enjoy beautiful Lake Toya is on a paddle board. If you’re worried because you’ve never knelt on a paddle board let alone stand on one, just ask the team from Rhythm to guide you. As Lake Toya is calm and inviting, it’s a good opportunity to chill out and go for a quick dip on a sunny day.
Now, don’t forget to visit the charming town as well. Beyond the popular shops on the main street, lie quaint cafes in the little alleys. One such is Anan café which was opened by a teenager who loves his coffee. When he explains the coffee beans and skilfully prepares the pour-over, you feel like his age belies his passion.
Outdoor Photography With A Pro
Whether you’re visiting Niseko in the summer or winter, be sure to take lots of amazing photographs. Consider signing up for a photography workshop with a pro like Aaron Jamieson. He has worked for National Geographic and currently contributes to major Niseko-based magazines. I had the pleasure of visiting his gallery in Hirafu. Fascinated, I could not help but ooh and aah at his portraits of foxes and majestic mountains.
A Summer Night’s Dream
Don a traditional yukata and visit the Jaga Matsuri early to catch revellers celebrating the potato festival. In unison, they sing and dance all the way down the street while the sun sets. Then, the sky is lit up with fireworks. Everyone beams from ear to ear at the pretty sight, clutching plates of food from street-side stalls in one hand and glasses of wine in the other. Here’s a hint, check videos on YouTube out to learn how to tie the obi around the yukata as this can be pretty tricky!
Tanabata Fireworks Matsuri
Finally, if you are able to plan your itinerary around the Tanabata Fireworks Matsuri, make time to attend it. Go early to pick a good picnic spot. Although you can certainly buy delicious local food from the festival stalls, it’s just as fun to bring your own picnic basket. Our host pampered us with oysters, crabs, heaps of uni on sushi rice and lots of other goodies with champagne to boot. Don’t forget to bring a light so you can eat comfortably as it gets dark acutely on the field.
Meanwhile, the festival corridor reveals food trucks & stalls on one end and a stage for musical performances on another. Children clamber on a large mound of ice and squeal as they slide down. Teenagers dressed in traditional yukatas kid around. A hot air balloon takes off for a short distance but remains tethered to the fairgrounds. Regardless, the sight of the balloon being lit from beneath and bobbing up adds to the general excitement.
Undoubtedly, the highlight is the seemingly endless display of fireworks. Although I’ve seen many displays at friends’ weddings and various national holidays, this is by far the grandest and most engaging. You sort of wish your best friends and family were there with you to see it. As mine weren’t, the next best thing is for me to write home about it. And that’s exactly what I’ve done.
So here it is, my top ten list of things to do in Niseko. Let me know if you’re visiting and would like more details!