After a hectic few days at the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix a little bit of rest and relaxation was definitely in order before continuing our Japanese adventure. For this we chose Okinawa and the serenity of The Ritz-Carlton.
This was to be one of the best decisions we made on our trip. After a short two hour flight from Tokyo we were greeted by the gracious and helpful Aiko at Excel Car Rental who escorted us to our Range Rover before we started the hour long drive to the hotel. It wasn’t too long before we wound our way up the palm lined driveway which also serves as the entrance to the Marriot Hotel and the Kanehide Kise Golf Course. The Ritz-Carlton sits up on a hill overlooking the golf course and the ocean, making for a spectacular feeling of calm and serenity.
As soon as we stopped we were greeted by name by the hospitable staff, it felt like we were being greeted by old friends. After a short check-in we were escorted to our room on the 4th floor. Now I mention the floor as the size of the hotel is perfectly disguised and I was surprised to discover that in fact there were 7 floors with 97 rooms in total. There are only two suites: The Presidential and The Ritz-Carlton. On the ground level, each of the cabana rooms have their own private terrace and outdoor jet bath as well as direct access to the outdoor pool.
Our room had awesome views over the golf course and out onto sea and the bathroom offered the best way to enjoy these views, the bath is set against a full length window from where you can gaze out over the vistas whilst relaxing in an indulgent bubble bath using the Asprey cosmetics supplied by the hotel. The little patio off the bedroom is great for enjoying a morning cuppa or just unwinding from a full day out exploring.
On our arrival we enjoyed a one of a kind experience of Buku-Buku tea which is made from the water remaining after rice is boiled, the ‘action’ is called buku-buku. The bowl and mixer are originally from Okinawa and in order to prepare this tea you have to be a member of the Buku Buku Tea Association. The Buku-Buku experience was in conjunction with the hotel’s High Tea : a sumptuous feast of both traditional Okinawan delicacies and Western delights. We absolutely loved this!
For a small hotel there is quite a selection of dining options. Our High Tea was in the Lobby Lounge and breakfast and one dinner in Gusuku situated on the 3rd floor. Gusuku has a wide selection on the buffet including traditional Okinawan cuisine. Our dinner experience here introduced us not only to the delights of Okinawan food but also to Awamori an Okinawan rice based spirit. Awamori is not brewed like sake but rather distilled.
The popular way to drink it is with ice and water but I thoroughly enjoyed the cocktail – Dushi- guwah, Awamori with Mango and Tankan (a citrus fruit not unlike an orange) The Umibudo – Okinwawan sea grape intrigued and I just had to give it a go. We also tried the local sushi and stir fried seaweed with spice seafood. Unusual for our palates but interesting and satisfying. When we travel we like to at least try some of the local foods and this was a delightful surprise.
We also had the opportunity to dine at Chura Nuhji, the popular Italian restaurant which has Executive Chef Alberto at the helm. Expensive though it may be, the service is stellar, the food divine and the wine selection outstanding. Not only was the food picture perfect but every plate was a taste sensation from the amuse bouche right through to the dessert. If there is only one item you ever order here it has got to be the lobster pasta for two, that was quite simply, divine. The wines were beautifully paired and the ambience was just perfect. There is also, Kise, a teppanyaki restaurant which is highly popular, so popular in fact that getting a reservation there is a bit like hens teeth and we were not so lucky, so please do book in advance if you would like to enjoy this intimate dining experience.The Bar, On the 4th floor is an absolute delight, warm and cozy and offering a wide variety of cocktails, drinks and dining options on the menu from each of the hotel restaurants, this is the perfect late night relaxation spot. It is also here that you can witness the reverence with which Awamori is treated. With an entire wall filled with beautiful clay jars with varieties of the liquid and special scoops to extract it, you too will be intrigued by the allure of Awamori.
This small delight of a hotel also has arguably one of the finest spa’s I’ve been to in a while. Even the short walk from the hotel to the spa is delightful. You can choose the “tunnel of relaxation” which allows access for golf carts or a short ‘hike’ through nature (a beautiful garden) to get there. The spa faces the Yamburu forest and this feeling of being “at one” with nature resounds throughout the facility. Organic materials are used in the design and aesthetic is one of tranquility and peace. I enjoyed the Fu-Chi-Bah scalp treatment with the Fu-Chi-Bah bath before the treatment. Fu-Chi-Bah (mugwort) is said to be great for the skin and hair. The treatment ended with a honey pack being applied to my hair, and I must say my hair really did feel amazing after. My hubby enjoyed the Yambaru Umikaji, a holistic Okinawan treatment for purifying body and spirit. After our treatments we both were feeling so relaxed, we could have stayed in our room all day, but we didn’t.
The next day it was up bright and early and off to the beach. Although, the hotel is not situated on the beach itself, the Ritz Carlton shares beach space with the Kanehide Beach Palace Hotel, complete with loungers, umbrellas and bar service (available from April to October during the summer months). There is also a hotel shuttle to get you there and back if you do not feel like driving. A picnic basket is provided complete with towels, water and beach slops. The only thing to mention is that we are early risers and wanted to watch the sunrise and alas, there is no shuttle service until 9am in the morning. But, on the bright side the beach is literally a 2 min ride away.
Our stay at The Ritz-Carlton was beautiful and exactly what we needed after the crazy days we’d had before that. This set the tone for the rest of our stay in Japan and I am really glad we broke our vacation up in this way. A word of caution, tradition is still strong on the island and most of the rooms have twin beds, side by side, as this is the way the older generations do it. They sleep in separate beds once the children come, however, Yuka, our gracious host, tells us that this is changing as the younger generation are now requesting queen size beds.