Located within three hours of Tokyo, Azumino is just such a region – a place of quiet villages, farms and orchards, temples and shrines – set against the stunning backdrop of the Northern Alps. Easily accessible from Matsumoto – home to one of Japan’s most impressive original castles – and the ski resorts of the Hakuba – wildly popular with both international visitors and Japanese – Azumino already attracts many travelers as they journey between these famous sites.
While Azumino does not share he profile of its famous neighbors or global fame of the not so distant snow monkeys, the region is quietly attracting attention from international visitors looking for those traditional pockets of Japan where time seems to slow and you can experience the true essence of Japan.
Japan is by tradition an agricultural society and though most Japanese now live in the large urban centers, the simplicity and quiet beauty of rural life has strong emotional ties to what it means to be truly Japanese – the true national heartland.
For international visitors, travelling to the countryside is the best way to experience traditional Japanese life and with that in mind, our 2-Day Private Tour: Matsumoto Castle, Nakasendo & Countryside Azumino is designed to combine some of the region’s most famous and historic destinations with the quieter experience of a day in rural Japan.
Staring and ending at JR Nagano Station – only 1.5 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen – the tour includes a private driver/vehicle and English-speaking guide for two days along with accommodation for one night at a guesthouse in Hotaka Onsen-kyo, Azumino, including lunch on both days along with dinner and breakfast at your hotel.
On day one of the tour, you’ll head south to the beautiful Kiso Valley and the historic town of Narai. Known as “Narai of a Thousand Houses”, the town marks the midway point of the ancient Nakasendo Trail and one of the best preserved Edo Period towns in Japan. Through the conscious effort of local residents, the town’s character and traditional buildings have been retained and strolling the town with guide is a journey back in time to the Japan of your imagination.
Following lunch in Narai you head toward Matsumoto and its iconic castle. As one of the few remaining original castles in Japan – and one of only two remaining 6-storey castles – this is one of the most iconic destinations in the region and a registered National Treasure. Your guide will take you around the historic precinct before joining you – should you wish to – to climb all the way to the top.
As the sunsets it’s then time to head to your accommodation in Hoktaka Onsen-kyo. Nagano is known for its many steaming hot springs, and there is no better way to unwind at the end of your day in the relaxation and comfort of a traditional Japanese guesthouse. Your accommodation will be confirmed at time of booking and is subject to your approval and will include both dinner and breakfast, and the comfort of Japan’s renowned traditional service.
Following breakfast on the second day, you have a range of activities and destinations to choose from in the Azumino region. The schedule allocates two hours in the morning followed by lunch and another two hours in the afternoon, for separate activities which highlight the essence of the region and match your needs and interests.
Optional activities include visiting one of Japan’s largest ‘wasabi’ farms – a scenic landscape once featured in the classic Kurosawa film “Dreams” – where you try stroll and sample this surprisingly versatile flavor, a guided tour of one of the region’s best ‘sake’ breweries, fruit-picking at one of the numerous orchards that cover the valley, countryside cycling, visits to local museums and galleries, gentle hiking courses or mountain river stream climbing for the adventurous are just some of the options available to you, as detailed on the tour page.
Between your morning and afternoon activities, your guide will accompany you to a ‘soba’ (buckwheat noodle) making experience, instructed by a local resident. Nourished by the snowmelt of spring and mineral rich waters running out of the Northern Alps, Azumino’s soba – not to mention its rice, fruit, vegetables, and sake – are famous for their clean, delicious taste.
You’ll be guided every step of the way was you knead, roll, cut, and boil your way to the perfect noodle before sitting down to enjoy your own handmade lunch.
The tour is scheduled to end where it began, at JR Nagano Station, at 18:30 with the option of drop-off at Matsumoto Station or other nearby accommodation at 17:00 if that is more convenient.
If you are interested in our 2-Day Private Tour: Matsumoto Castle, Nakasendo & Countryside Azumino you can find full details on the tour page including booking options. The tour operates all year round and can be combined with any other group or private tours including a visit to the world-famous Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park.