- Discover the historical and cultural highlights of Kyoto
- Visit the sacred Buddhist site of Mt. Koya
- Enjoy stunning views in and around the Kii Mountains
- Feast on a gourmet meal prepared by monks
|Arrive in Kyoto
|Explore Kyoto by bicycle
|Cycle to the ancient capital of Nara
|Ride up to the Kii Mountain Range
|Cycle to Mount Koya
|Bike down to the coast at Wakayama
Day 1: Arrive in Kyoto
The ancient city of Kyoto is Japan's cultural hub, jam-packed with history, temples, and tradition. But it's so much more than that - Kyoto is also home to a dynamic modern art scene and is a haven for foodies. When you arrive, you'll have the day to explore on your own until the early evening. Wander around the pretty alleys, visit the mighty Imperial Palace, or stroll around the geisha district, Gion. Then join your guides for trip briefing and a delicious welcome feast.
Day 2: Explore Kyoto by Bicycle
The wide roads, ubiquitous bike paths, and considerate drivers of Kyoto make for a wonderful urban riding experience. Today's ride will start out by the Kamo River and take you just north of the city, where you can visit the fascinating Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and when in season, the cherry blossom gardens. Stop at the Tenryu-ji Temple to examine the exquisitely preserved ancient architecture.
Then continue east towards Ryoan-ji Temple and it's famous zen garden. On the way, take a break at Kinkaku-ji Temple (also known as the Golden Pavilion) for sweeping views of the city. You'll find plenty of yummy traditional snacks to try along the route before returning to town. Dinner is up to you tonight - try authentic ramen at the famous Nishiki Market, or go high end with a gourmet multi-course kaiseki.
Day 3: Cycle to the Ancient Capital of Nara
Today you'll bike from Kyoto to the ancient capital of Nara. While leaving a city of this size may sound a bit daunting, you'll be supported by well-planned roads and courteous drivers. After just a mile or so on the road, connect to the bike path for a smooth ride along the river. Continue up past the bamboo forests, corn fields, and green tea plantations. Stop for morning tea at a small cyclist-friendly café with a viewing tower about half way through the ride.
Once in Nara, you'll stay in a hotel with Japanese, minimalist, and Hawaiian themed rooms for the night. Right around the corner are two imperial tombs set on little islands surrounded by moats. Your hosts will prepare a delicious meal for you, and afterwards feel free to explore the lovely historical lanes around your lodgings.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 4: Cycle Up to the Kii Mountain Range
This morning you'll set out on a ride through the ancient ruins of Nara, including an impressive replica of the palace that once stood there. Nara was the capital during much of the 8th century and modeled on an ancient Chinese capital. The route will bring you from the city out to the backroads of the countryside. You'll encounter gentle hilly terrain as you bike through small villages and farms.
The incline becomes steeper as you near Mount Yoshino. The uphill portion lasts only for 3.5 miles (6km) or so, and you'll have the pretty landscape to distract you. Picturesque Yoshino is famous for its cherry blossoms and is home to several temples. Tonight you'll stay in a traditional ryokan, or inn, with tatami mats.
Day 5: Bike to Mount Koya
Enjoy a tasty Japanese breakfast this morning before hopping on your bike and heading downhill. About a third of the route is rolling up-and-down terrain with a few steep uphills. You'll stop for a quick lunch before pushing on towards the longer incline at Mount Koya. Also called Koyasan, Mt. Koya is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Japan.
The road is narrow and mainly traffic-free, with stunning views of the surrounding landscape. You'll climb all the way to the top until you reach your accommodations at a shukubo, or temple lodgings for monks and pilgrims. Enjoy the inn's natural hot springs, or onsen, and a fabulous meal of vegetarian small plates prepared by the monks and served on ornate lacquerware in your room. In the morning, feel free to join the monks for their meditation.
Day 6: Bike to the Coast at Wakayama
Wake up early to explore the mountain town of Koya. Wander the winding lanes filled with lush greenery peaking out from behind rock walls. Watch the monks walking to their morning meditations before visiting the bright orange Konpon Daito Pagoda and the atmospheric Okunoin Cemetery. Enjoy breakfast back at the shukubo before taking a relaxing dip in the onsen.
Start your ride by mid-morning with an exhilarating descent from the mountain top. About halfway down, leave the main route and turn onto the quiet backroads. After a short climb you'll have an undulating ride through shady cedar forests and along the river. At the 18.6 mile mark (30km) you'll leave the hills and enter a more developed area. Take the flat bike path along the river all the way into the coastal city of Wakayama. Dig into a delicious dinner for your last night.
Day 7: Departure
Although Wakayama is a small city, there is plenty to keep you busy this morning. Check out Wakayama Castle, the Museum of Modern Art, or the train museum at Kishi Station, all within walking distance of your hotel. Then take the train back to Osaka or Kyoto for your onward flight.