Take an international flight from your chosen airport, rest up, enjoy the ride and dine in flight before your adventure starts in earnest tomorrow.
The next morning, after breakfast on the plane, you’ll arrive at Haneda Airport’s International Terminal in Tokyo. After clearing customs, a short shuttle bus will take you to the domestic terminal, where you can grab lunch before a short connecting flight to Kushiro Airport on Hokkaido.
Here you’ll be introduced to your English-speaking guide, who’ll be leading you through the dramatic Hokkaido countryside for the next six days. The final leg of your journey will be a short drive to Akanko Onsen where you’ll check into your hotel for the night, the four-star Akan Yuku no Sato Tsuruga, which stands on the secluded shores of Lake Akan, surrounded by tranquil forest.
Akanko Onsen is Hokkaido’s go-to destination for lovers of nature and culture alike, and you’ll be greeted with breathtaking scenery from the moment you arrive. This region has long been home to the indigenous Ainu people, who were the earliest settlers of Hokkaido. Their culture and connection to the land is proudly celebrated and cherished throughout the area and inside the hotel itself, with its wooden carvings and calming, natural decor.
After dinner, you’ll set out for a short evening walk around Ainu Kotan, a nearby village where the Ainu people live and hand down their culture. You’ll be invited to the Akanko Ainu Theater Ikor, a centre dedicated to preserving Ainu history and tradition, where you’ll be privy to an ancient ceremonial dance specific to the Lake Akan region. You’ll watch the dancers wield the “inau”, a wooden ritual tool that the “kamuy” (local deities) taught the Ainu how to make, which represents an offering to the gods. It’s an expression of trust and resolve from the very people who have looked after the land for thousands of years.
You’ll breakfast early at the hotel, ready to meet your guide ahead of the day’s adventures. Your first stop is the stunning Lake Onneto, known to the Ainu as “old pond”, which draws visitors by the thousands for a shimmering view of waters that shift colour depending on your position, the weather and even the wind. It’s for this reason that the lake is also called “Goshikinuma”, which means “the Five-Coloured Pond”. Travellers come from miles around at this time of year to enjoy the view as the trees that line Lake Onneto’s banks erupt into dazzling colours of their own.
You’ll then be whisked further afield to the sacred Lake Shikaribetsu, Hokkaido’s highest-up body of water – also known as the “Lake in the Sky”. Arriving for a midday lunch at Cafe Mubanchi, which sports magnificent view of the lake itself, we recommend the house special: French toast made from bagels baked in- house, soaked in custard made from local milk and eggs – even the flour is grown nearby.
It’s time to take to the water for a very different way to catch the colours of the leaves: via a 90-minute kayak tour, where you’ll slip serenely through dazzling reflections of autumnal colour on the water’s edge.
A private car will then take you to Sounkyo, two hours further north, pausing at the Mikuni Pass for a glorious view of the primordial forest on a route that stretches over a sea of scarlet foliage. Your hotel, Sounkaku Mountain Resort 1923, is close at hand, and you’ll head there for dinner at an open kitchen which specialises in freshly grilled meats, teppanyaki, sushi and tempura. You should take full advantage of your night at this hot-spring hotel and soak in the pure, cleansing hot water pulled from beneath the earth in a soothing onsen bath.
Breakfast at Sounkyo is an elaborate affair. Alongside the enormous range of Western breakfast classics, the chefs will craft seafood bowls to your taste, or whip up a hot fluffy omelette from local eggs.
Your guide will collect you promptly at 8am for a scenic climb via ropeway and chairlift up Mt Kurodake. This peak is one of many in the Daisetsuzan National Park, which is known to the Ainu as "The Garden Where The Gods Play", and there are outstanding views at this time of year. You’ll stop off at a height of 1,520m and enjoy an hour or so of easy hiking along the mountain trails. An experienced guide will teach you all about the wildlife that flourishes in the region and point out local landmarks.
You return to Earth for a brief while with a break for lunch at Fratello di Mikuni in nearby Kamikawa. Set in the foothills of the Daisetsuzan range, this gorgeous restaurant has fantastic views, and proudly translates the local harvest into vibrant Italian dishes. It was awarded a Michelin star in 2017.
After lunch, it’s time to strap on some proper hiking gear. You’ll walk off lunch with a brisk guided trek at Ginsendai, an hour away. As you ascend to the viewing platform, you’ll pass along moss-lined paths through flower fields of purple, slate grey, orange and vermillion.
That afternoon you’ll travel by car again to visit two dramatic waterfalls, Ryuseino Falls and Gingano Falls, which tumble from sheer cliffs into the Ishikari River. Returning to your hotel for an evening of relaxation amid luxurious surrounds, dinner will be provided before you retire to exquisite rooms for a well-earned rest. And for those who have energy for a little more, the bar and its views await with warm sake and cocktails.
It’s another early hotel breakfast today, before your guide escorts you to the Asahidake Sanroku ropeway station. A local walking guide will lead you along a peaceful nature walk to Sugatami no Ike, the lake upon Mt Daisetsu, the highest peak in the range.
This pretty alpine trail is visited by many mountain animals, and the red squirrels will be in playful spirits this time of year. The treetops are an especially brilliant red, lining your route to the town of Asahikawa for a satisfying bowl of belly-warming ramen at Ramen Aoba Main Store.
Founded in the 1940s, this is the city’s oldest ramen shop, with a tradition of handmade noodles served Asahikawa-style: a light broth of “shoyu” ramen seasoned with premium soy sauce.
Your next destination is Shirogane Blue Pond, an exquisite cobalt-blue lake coloured by minerals dissolving into its waters. This is perhaps the most beautiful sight of the whole tour, where slim, silver- skinned larch trees surround azure waters which pop at this time of year with fiery yellow leaves. Ten minutes away is a startling contrast to the serenity of the pond: cascading curtains of foaming white water at Shirahige Waterfall which plunge into the chilly waters of the Biei River below.
You’ll arrive in Furano as dusk falls, where you’ll have an hour or so to settle in at the four-star Shin Furano Prince Hotel, and perhaps explore the local area before dinner. Next to the hotel is Ningle Terrace, a rustic parade of log-cabins nestled between the trees which sell souvenirs and local crafts.
Dinner is at Fukuzushi, a minimalist space for freshly made sushi, paired with local sake or perhaps a warming green tea. There’ll be time for a nightcap at the lounge bar on the top floor of the hotel, which serves spectacular views and signature cocktails. For the adventurous, the hotel’s cosy Soh’s BAR is a couple of minutes away, hidden away in the forest.
You’ll have time to relax a little this morning and enjoy a hearty breakfast at your hotel’s generous breakfast buffet. By 9am, your guide will be ready to escort you to Torinuma, a nature park with abundant wildlife and a scenic pond – a delightful place to stop and contemplate crystal-clear waters and the russet-tinged trees that hug its shores.
A further 20 minutes of travel will drop you off at Farm Tomita, which is an absolute feast of colour. The vast Autumn Field here bursts into rich hues from late September as beach rose, dahlia, scarlet sage and marigold bloom for a precious few weeks until the snow starts to fall in October. Meander between this magnificent kaleidoscope of autumn, as the stately Tokachi Mountains look on.
We’ve arranged an early lunch at Yamadori Grill, renowned for its charcoal-grilled sizzling pork and marbled Furano beef sourced from local farms, before the next leg of your journey to the outskirts of Sapporo, the largest city on Hokkiado. You’ll be welcomed by a spectacular display of seasonal colour at Hiraoka Tree Centre, a traditional botanical garden. Under canopies of crimson maple, you’ll be entranced by an astonishing spectrum of fiery yellow, purple and reddish tones.
Your hotel for the evening is the four-star Jozankei Tsuruga Resort Spa Mori no Uta in Jozankei, a beautiful modern structure set into the forest. It serves a wide variety of handmade local seasonal fare at the Forest Buffet, where you can sit and watch the chefs at work. And if you step outside, an inviting Forest Spa is available to all guests who want a breath of fresh air and a therapeutic dip.
Treat yourself to a lavish breakfast at the hotel buffet before your private car heads to the historic port city of Otaru on the west coast. Your first stop is a fun and informative lesson in sushi-making at Masazushi, a famed third-generation restaurant tucked down a hidden alley. And once you’ve learned how it’s done, you’ll eat your fill of the freshest Hokkadio seafood –combining what you’ve made, and a few more elaborate morsels from the experts!
Otaru flourished during the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century after Hokkaido became a vital port destination to new international trade routes, and we’ve prepared a charming walking tour of the town’s merchant quarter. Sakaimachi Street has preserved beautiful historical homes and shops, and you’ll stop in at the Kitaichi Glass Workshop to peruse the crafts. You’ll then embark on a cruise of Otaru’s canals, a waterway that was once key to the city’s busy trade and industry, and which is now lined with ivy-covered warehouses and filled with artists’ displays.
The famed Nikka Whisky distillery in Yoichi is next on the itinerary. You’ll follow the whisky- making process from start to finish at one of Japan's first distilleries, learning the history of whisky in Japan and discovering how the pure waters of Hokkaido create such a perfect blend.
After a two-hour tour you’ll be delivered to The Royal Park Canvas Hotel at Sapporo Odori Park, where you’ll freshen up before heading out to eat. This green-conscious hotel has been built from the ground up with sustainability in mind – it’s constructed with local materials, furnished with local crafts, and uses local ingredients. Dinner tonight is at Genghis Khan Hige no Ushi. Smoky lamb barbecue is the high-point here, prepared at tabletop hotplates. And after dinner you have the option to take guided night-time tour *Image of Mt Moiwa for spectacular views of Sapporo.
There’s no early start this morning, and you can linger in the hotel’s elegant, light-filled restaurant before a relaxed checkout. You have plenty free time to explore until your guide meets you at 1.30pm, so we encourage you to take a stroll around Sapporo, a high-tech city that feels much more like the rest of Japan.
There’s much to see here, depending on your whims: you’ll discover Odori Park within easy walking distance, a tree-filled oasis at the heart of the city. Then there’s the Sapporo Beer Museum, and Tanukikoji shopping street, which squeezes 200 shops and boutiques into a bustling arcade.
Lunch is up to you and your appetite today, but we recommend homestyle restaurants such as Okushiba Shoten, Soup Curry Garaku for the traditional “garaku” soup curry, or the rich, savoury homemade ramen bowls from tiny local favourite Shirakaba Sansou. If you’re feeling more decadent, your hotel can book you in (with notice) at Molière, a Michelin three-star French restaurant, for an inventive lunch menu of mountainside harvests and delights such as Hokkaido deer and local lamb.
You’ll rendezvous with your guide for the last time back at your hotel, and drive to New Chitose Airport for a 3pm check-in. From here it’s a short hop back to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, ahead of a quick transfer to the four-star Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu (or an equivalent). Dinner is up to you this evening, but you’re in one of the culinary capitals of the world, with restaurants to suit every taste and budget. The friendly hotel staff will be all too pleased to make local recommendations.
As always, you’ll enjoy a generous breakfast served at your hotel, setting you up for a busy day in this eclectic, sprawling metropolis. First thing, you’ll alight on the Seat in Coach Tour for a full day of sightseeing, pausing for a Japanese-style BBQ lunch. You’ll experience Japan’s traditional culture with visits to the gardens at Happo-en and Chinzan-so, plus a demonstration of the tea ceremony, and a look at one of the best and oldest bonsai collections in Japan. You’ll also discover Tokyo from its historic waterways with a serene cruise along the Sumida River, where you’ll wind through the heart of the city, surveying the captivating blend of Tokyo’s progressive and traditional architecture.
Dinner is up to you tonight! Your hotel is right at the heart of the city in an area widely renowned for its excellent eateries, spanning the full range of traditional Japanese cuisine, such as donburi rice bowls, crispy tonkatsu, sushi and sake bars or juicy yakitori skewers. You’ll also find impressive world fare in the hotel itself.
It’s time to say sayonara to Japan. After your final hotel breakfast, you’ll begin your homeward journey. You’ll arrive at Haneda Airport in the middle of the morning, where you’ll board your return flight, with lunch provided onboard. You’ll have time to reflect on your wonderful experiences and the bright sights of Japan’s autumnal pleasures as you watch the cityscape disappear.
3 to 4 star hotels as mentioned in the itinerary, subject to availability.
DURATION 10 days / 8 nights
ARRIVAL Fly into Kushiro Airport
DEPARTURE Depart from Tokyo Haneda Airport
WHEN T O VISIT Mid-September to October
PERFECT FOR Nature-lovers and eco-tourists of all ages
Hokkaido is Japan’s most northerly island – an untamed wild rich in natural splendour and with a vibrant local culture. It’s a special place to visit at any time of year, but it’s at its best in autumn when summer fades and the vibrant greens of the countryside become deep reds, yellows and ochres. You’ll enjoy the best of what’s on offer in the expert company of a friendly local guide, fluent in English.
This tour will whisk you to the very best spots to immerse yourself in all the colours of autumn. You’ll hit great heights on cable cars through the mountains, drift past stunning stretches of tree-lined lakeside by canoe, and absorb fresh sights with every step as you hike trails lined with crimson, amber and gold.
Stopping by cerulean blue pools and cascading waterfalls, you’ll see the unique Hokkaido wildlife close up as you breathe in the cool, clean mountain air.
Dive into Hokkaido’s History
You’ll be introduced to the indigenous Ainu people, the caretakers of ancient Hokkaido, and learn the formative history of the island through their eyes. Meanwhile, in the historic port city of Otaru, where a bustling trade industry flourished, you’ll uncover a more modern history before heading to the modern capital city of Sapporo.
The real taste of Japan
You’ll sample an indulgence of culinary delights throughout the tour. We’ve laid on fresh, authentic ramen made before your eyes, a fiery medley of charcoal-grilled dishes, and a sushi-making workshop under the guidance of an award-winning third-generation sushi master.
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