Takayama, in northern Gifu, is mostly appreciated for its proximity to nearby Shirakawa-go, the village with the traditional thatched roofs with UNESCO World Heritage site status.
Finding ourselves there last weekend, however, we discovered a wealth of other things to do in the city and surrounding areas.
There is delicious Hida beef, locally distilled sake, morning markets, traditional villages, a ropeway up a mountain, and skiing, all within day-trip reach.
But, having spent two lovely—if a little cold—days up there, my traveling companions and I agreed that the highlight was the Associa Hotel Onsen.
Yes, we were probably a little biased; it was below zero most days and any hot water would have been good hot water, but I’ve seen a few onsen and this one was pretty great.
The hotel runs a free shuttle from the main station to the hotel once an hour, so we hopped on that and headed up to the lovely hotel in the hills.
Despite the snow outside, the fragrant changing room was beautifully warm, and we wasted no time in shedding our many layers and heading for the showers.
We made generous use of the shampoo, conditioner and body wash provided, and when we were clean, we briefly slipped into the first pool before heading outside, where the icy air was a beautiful contrast with the ultra-hot water.
There are three pools outside, as well as some gorgeous red tin bathtubs, of varying temperatures, all of which offer a panoramic view across the snow-dusted mountains in the distance.
My personal favorite touch was the mounted binoculars; checking out the beautiful scenery in detail while standing outdoors, naked and dripping, is quite an experience.
We spent some time lolling in the hot water, erasing all memories of frozen toes and icy fingers. When we couldn't take the heat any more, we headed back inside to dress.
This hotel is thoughtful enough to provide towels, as well as face and body cream and hairbrushes, and hairdryers at each individual dressing table in the warm changing room, making getting out of the water not such a hardship.
Post onsen, we paused in the dining room upstairs to drink milk and enjoy the view one last time, then it was time to go back into the snowy night.