For as long as I had been trying to secure a place on the Train Suite Shiki-Shima (you can read my detailed article on the trip here) I knew that we wanted to stay at Zaborin. This was one of the options on the 4-day; 3-night trip - two nights on the train with one off-train at a hotel within the Niseko area.
Zaborin is a luxury ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn focusing on good food and excellent onsen) on the island of Hokkaido. There are only 15 guest villas in total, each with two private onsen - one indoor as part of an opulent bathroom; the other outside on a private terrace overlooking the beautiful countryside. Both onsen are filled from a local natural hot spring in the surrounding birch tree wood.
We had the choice of two types of suite - Washitsu and Yoshitsu; we opted for Yoshitsu which was the western style configuration with a more traditional (for us) bed with a softer mattress and pillows. The Washitsu style is more traditionally Japanese, with tatami mats and futons. Both are similar though in amenities and space; some (like ours) were larger with an additional tatami mat room, ideal for families or those needing extra space.
There was a supremely comfortable king size bed with lots of wardrobe space, and the balcony overlooking the woods was the length of the suite. It was a few short steps from the bedroom area into the private onsen on the balcony. The views were just exceptional.
There was a large flat screen TV, DVD player and Apple TV; as well as high-speed Wi-Fi throughout the entire suite, and a Bluetooth sound system. A fridge mini bar (with complimentary local Hokkaido juices), tea/Nespresso coffee maker and bespoke Zaborin stationery completed this relaxing room with a super-sized sofa.
This was one of the highlights of the suite, albeit everything was just exceptional. As well as a separate WC (the usual automatic Toto toilet, but this was the very high-end model obviously) off the entrance hall, the full bathroom had dual sinks and another separate WC (it lit up as you approached it, cleansing the bowl before use). Dark grey tiles lined the walls and floors, with lots of glass and mirrors showing how spectacularly clean everything was. There were copious amounts of fluffy pristine white towels and all the amenities you could possibly need, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving gel and razors, a comb etc. Additionally, there were large bottles of Zaborin's original pine-scented Hokkaido soaps, shampoo and conditioner. In the area with a huge open-plan overhead shower unit was the inside onsen.
Through a door from the bathroom, but also accessible via the balcony in front of both the living and bedroom areas, was the outside onsen. This free-flowing volcanic spring-fed bath allowed you to inhale the scent of pine from the surrounding forest, as you gazed out over the expansive scenery around the ryokan. We were there in summer, but equally I would love to go back in winter and experience the outside hot onsen with freezing air and looking out to snow (they can get quite an extreme winter, apparently heaviest snow in the month of February).
Ryokans are apparently known for excellent food, and the meals here were exceptional. The presentation was just marvelous, I don't normally take pictures of food but couldn't not here - everything was just stunning, from design through to being an art-form. Breakfast and dinner are included here for all guests, and the multi-course dinner was such an experience. Dinner is served at a fixed time of 6 pm for all guests, including 9 courses in all. As a vegetarian, they had taken this into account; all dietary requirements had been passed on from the Train Suite Shiki-Shima travel company.
The dining room(s) were on the lower level of the building overlooking the large pond, and had multiple semi-private spaces varying in size. We had breakfast in the same area, albeit looking very different in daylight (it was illuminated during dinner the previous evening); this time we opted for a Western-style breakfast (not available at dinner) and it was perfectly presented with such great quality, more tuned for our Western palate.
Around the property
As well as the fantastic guest villas which are all situated for ultimate privacy and to maximize the forest views, there was a library, living room, bar, cigar lounge, massage room, and in-house boutique. Not that we needed this, but downstairs was a large ski and golf locker area. We would have loved to have a massage but did not have time - this can be pre-arranged in the superbly designed double room off the central corridor. It was so good to walk around the property to experience the incredible minimalist design (the ryokan was designed by award-winning architect nA Nakayama).
When we were there, we read about the ryokan having a footbath (足湯) - apparently this is common across Japan for travelers to soak their weary feet. It was described on the Zaborin website that this footbath (or ‘ashiyu’) was hidden in full view within the central courtyard. We almost made the mistake of thinking this must be the huge metal bowl in the welcome courtyard at the front of the property (silly us) until we realized that there was another courtyard between the triangular corridors from which all suites led off. Here was definitely the footbath, under a wooden lid. Apparently, when there's heavy snow, tunnels will be created from the building to this area, lit by candle light - another reason to go back in winter!
This was just such an amazing experience and nothing could be faulted. The only one thing I did comment on in my travel blog review (I also write articles for The Private Traveller website) was that the 9-course dinner, though magnificent, was quite a marathon for a Western palate.
4-day 3-night experience on the ultra-luxe Japanese residential train, the Train Suite Shiki-Shima (meaning ‘land of four seas..