Nestling on the peaceful shores of the Seto Inland Sea, Ako is a small city with a rich history, rising to prominence from the 17th century as one of the country’s prime salt-producing areas. But there is much more to Ako than its famous salt industry, as the city is home to wonderful cliff-side hot spring hotels, ancient temples, and shrines, and has a quiet small-town atmosphere and rural charm, yet remains well off the usual tourist trail for foreign visitors. With easy access from the Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen running between Osaka and Hiroshima, and only 30 minutes by train from the ever-popular Himeji, Ako is the ideal place to relax and unwind, and a perfect seaside retreat for those looking to slow down and escape the crowds.
Ocean hot springs
A short bus or taxi ride from Banshu-Ako Station, the Misaki area is one of Ako’s most scenic spots and star attractions. Located at the far southern end of the city, the small and rugged peninsula juts out into the shallow waters of the Inland Sea, and among its cliffs and coves, you will find a number of luxurious hot spring hotels and ryokan, all of which offer spectacular sea views whatever the season.
For one or two night stays, Ginpaso is one of Ako’s most prestigious ryokans; a traditional Japanese inn with a long history, sublime kaiseki cuisine (using fresh and local ingredients), and supreme hospitality. But it is the stunning hot spring baths which really impress, with infinity-style open-air pools overlooking the ocean - the views of distant islands and soothing sounds of the sea helping to reinvigorate the body and calm the mind.
Boutique by the bay
Or perhaps you may opt to stay at Imai-so, a former beach house that has been beautifully converted into a stylish, boutique-style minshuku (guesthouse), complete with original wall art by the Okinawan artist Ryu Umehara.
With only two guest rooms, the service and attention to detail are personal and refined, and what rooms they are; luxuriously spacious with hardwood stylings and tasteful décor, plus panoramic sea views and bathrooms which overlook the ocean. Meals are served in an open-front space just yards from the beach and consist of elegant seafood courses for dinner, and fruit platters with French toast for breakfast—pure bliss.
Photo spots and scenic sojourns
A pleasant coastal path loops around much of the peninsula, allowing for relaxing morning or evening strolls, while providing easy access to popular seaside spots such as the Kirakira-zaka. This charmingly picturesque sloping cobbled street has a slightly Mediterranean feel, lined as it is with fashionable shops and cafes, and is a great place to enjoy ice cream and snap a few photos. The nearby Iwatsuhime Shrine has a deity dedicated to love and marriage, and a large torii gate looking out to sea. Follow the path east and it will lead you to Higashi Misaki Observatory Park, a great place to sit, meditate and admire the far-reaching views of the Seto Inland Sea and nearby islands.
So whether it be soaking in a hot spring, spending an afternoon in a fashionable seaside cafe or walking along the quiet streets and taking in the ocean views, Ako is the ideal getaway for a taste of the slow life in Japan, and a great addition to the itinerary for any trip to Himeji!