Gora, Hakone, Japan – A Volcanic retreat in a beautiful mountainous region

Getting to Gora from Tokyo meant an early start, and heading to Odawara, where we bought the Hakone Freepass. This pass gives you access to all the transport in this mountainous location.

Tourists and nationals head to this area for the beautiful natural scenery and the volcanic spas. But that is only part of the attraction.

Taking the Hida Express along the mountain railroad with stunning views was just the start of this part of the adventure. The train wound its way up the mountain railway, passing ravines, rivers and breathtaking landscapes full of autumn colours.

As the train entered its first station, it waited as the train coming down the mountain drew up alongside. Our train then reversed and changed track to head up the hill, while the train coming down from Gora also changed track and continued to Odawara.

Our train made two further track changes and eventually arrived around 600 metres above sea level in Gora. It’s a tiny spa village with a rail crossing and a funicular called a ‘cable car’ that takes you up to the Sulphur mines of Owakudani. First, the ‘Cable Car’ takes you halfway, then you change to a cable car called a ‘Ropeway’. Confusing, I know!

We had booked a rather stunning hotel spa, Hakone Gora Karaku. This was a fully immersive Japanese experience with dinner, bed and breakfast included.

As Westerners, we must be impatient because check-in was around one hour, and they ensured that they accommodated our times for dining and explained everything about the place. Trust me, there was a lot to show us.

For instance, our room, which had a hot spring bath on the balcony overlooking the mountains (to be used only when naked), was stunning. It was a Japanese West Wing room. Robes, four sets of footwear each, pyjamas, and a myriad of electrical appliances for our comfort were everywhere and a full explanation of the public onsens and the complimentary lounge and dining facilities.

We explored Gora after checking in, travelling one stop on the train to the Sculpture park. It was stunning with works by global artists such as Picasso.

After using our private hot spring bath and dressing in our kimonos and footwear that evening, we headed to dinner.

Breakfast and dinner were incredible over the next two days. Much care was taken to explain everything, specifically where dishes were exchanged to suit our dietary requirements.

We had already provided our dietary requirements so the chef could remove anything we wouldn’t eat. Everyone else in the dining room received everything on these menus.

After an incredible night’s sleep and shower, we headed to the ‘Cable Car’ station next to the rail station.

We boarded the funicular and headed up the mountain. It was busy but all good-natured, and whilst cold, the skies were bright blue with barely a wisp of cloud.

Halfway up, we changed transport for the ‘Cable Car’ or Ropeway as it was known. As we moved towards the top of the mountain, we came over the ridge and there … right there in front of us … the most beautiful majestic sight.

Mount Fuji.

We arrived at the sulphur mines of Owakudani, where we disembarked and wandered around the tourist shop, taking in the incredible views of Mount Fuji.

It was cold up here, so we didn’t stay more than half an hour before heading down the other side of the mountain to Lake Ashi, which was only a short ride away on the Ropeway.

The station was busy but well organised. After showing our Hakone Free Pass, we made our way down a staircase and out to the dock. This allowed us to board the Pirate ship waiting for us.

Our cruise along the lake allowed us to take in the autumn leaves and finally catch the remaining views of Mount Fuji just behind the lower mountains.

On arrival in Motohakone, we explored the village, had a delicious lunch and then took the bus back to Gora and our hotel.

This had been an incredible day of fresh air and memorable scenes, and it left us ready for our final evening in Japanese attire for dinner, a hot spring bath in the open, and our last night’s sleep in this fab hotel.

Our cases, already on the move, would likely reach Kyoto before us. So we had a magnificent Japanese breakfast first and then returned down the mountain on the Hida to Odawara, where we took the bullet train to Kyoto.