With it’s gorgeous and carefully-preserved old town, and proximity to the Japanese Alps, it’s obvious why Takayama is a perennial favourite – and a true star of all four seasons. Some of the nearby regions – such as Kamikochi – are only really accessible when the blue-skies of summer show up, but the Christmas-card village of Shirakawago twinkles and comes alive in the snow of winter. You can enjoy the refreshing alpine waters that run under Takayama in two key ways: hot and steaming in the onsen hot-spring baths of a traditional inn, or ice-cold and suitably-alcoholic in the sake rice-wine that this town is renowned for.
Although things get pretty busy during the twice-yearly Takayama Matsuri (festival) when colourful floats proceed through the old town, it’s at its most atmospheric during the quieter months, especially towards sunset each day. Photogenic as it is, the town is also a great culinary destination. A pair of morning markets offer tasters and snacks to passers-by, and many cafes and confectioners reside in the antique wooden buildings. Hida beef – marbled meat to melt in your mouth – sizzles throughout Takayama, but the non-carnivores can rejoice too. Incredible vegetarian-friendly restaurants are becoming more commonplace, allowing everyone to try some delicious home-style cooking (washed down with a cold sake, naturally).
Takayama is a popular place to experience rural Japan, and rightly so. The central parts are easily navigated on foot, with the bus and train stations being a short stroll from the much-photographed Sannomachi street, but the accessible suburbs are a welcome contrast to the busy urban sprawl that you will find in Tokyo. Whether you spend a few hours exploring the open air Hida Folk Museum, or burn some calories scaling the temple-lined paths of the Higashiyama Yuhodo, Takayama is a destination that’s best enjoyed slowly. Take in the simple sights, the cool fresh air, and relax.