One of the most prestigious places to stay in the hot-spring resort of Kusatsu, the aptly-named Kusatsu Hotel has been accommodating guests in fine style since it opened in 1913. Despite plenty of competition, it continues to attract visitors with its traditional comfort, elegant atmosphere and range of facilities.
The high level of service starts at the door; no sooner had I taken my boots off than they were whisked away for storage, to be brought out again every time I left. After I checked in I had the facilities explained to me by the English-speaking staff, then was escorted through the passages to my room; my bag was already there as I'd dropped it off earlier.
My room was properly Japanese style, with a tatami-mat floor, a low table and floor seats, an alcove with a decorative hanging scroll. Of course it's been updated since 1913, with modern amenities too, a TV, safe, air-conditioning and a very well-stocked fridge. Warm, comfortable and quiet, I could get a good night's sleep, then enjoy the morning view from the seats by the window.
The hotel has a charming traditional atmosphere, with lots of wood paneling, mellow earthtones for the walls and carpets, and stylish decorations such as prints, cabinets, statues and plants. There are a couple of lounges to relax in; the one by reception has very plush couches, and also near reception there's a little cafe with free tea and coffee, an outdoor foot spa to soak your feet in after a day's exploration, and a gift shop selling a range of souvenirs.
Kusatsu being a hot-spring resort, the hotel of course also has baths for guests to relax in; the public baths are segregated by gender, each side having one indoor and one outdoor, and there are also private-use baths for reservation. It was winter when I stayed, and I enjoyed sitting in the outdoor bath with snow around me, watching the steam rising from the hot water.
The town isn't big, so the hotel is close to everything: at one end of the charming Onsen Street, it's an easy walk to the bus terminal and the sights, such as Sai-no-kawara Park and the tropical animal dome Nettaikan. Immediately round the corner is the Kataoka Tsurutaro Art Museum; you can get a discount voucher for the museum from reception, and each guest receives a gift of a poster from a past exhibition.
All the rooms are Japanese-style, and some have private bathrooms attached. Prices depend on the season, type of room and whether you include meals, but you can expect to be paying roughly ¥10000 a head without meals, ¥16000 with breakfast and dinner included.