Welcome to VOYAGES, our monthly guide to Julie Elliott's most-loved cities and spa destinations. Learn how she unwinds, indulges, and explores—and discover which In Fiore products she carries with her.
Kyoto is my happy place. After a busy week in Tokyo, I like to take a few days in Kyoto to immerse myself in the beauty and rituals of the Japanese culture that I love so much: spirit-filled gardens, temples, and, of course, bathing. I could write an entire guidebook on Kyoto but to get started, here are favorite places to unwind, indulge, and explore.
The Four Seasons, new to Kyoto, is my choice for full spa immersion and relaxation. The hotel is a refuge—it’s quite secluded—and an ideal spot when you’re in need of a retreat. Built around an 800-year-old ikeniwa (a pond garden) in the scenic temple district, it has by far one of the most incredible spas I’ve ever experienced with pools, saunas, steam rooms, and private marble baths in each treatment room and every guestroom. If, like Tom Ford, you enjoy taking five baths a day, this is your place. They even have loungers in the pool. (To say that the Japanese have mastered water is an understatement.)
The Ritz Carlton is another go-to. It has the best location of any hotel in Kyoto; set along the Kamogawa River, it’s close to the Gion and Ponto-chō—two of my favorite areas—with excellent views of the Higashiyama Mountains. The Ritz is more lively than the Four Seasons and attracts a lot of locals who come for afternoon tea and to indulge in an insanely decadent assortment of Pierre Hermé sweets. The Ritz also has a beautiful spa, and, I might add, the best yukata I've found in all my travels within Japan.
Kyoto is famous for its tofu, and Syouraian is a beautiful place to get it. Bonus: it’s got views over the Qi River near Arashiyama’s bamboo grove.
Hanaore is the best sabazushi (pressed sushi) in Kyoto. Try the ABRI-style; it’s slightly charbroiled but raw inside and truly unique.
Spend a long afternoon strolling through the Nishiki Market which has, hands down, the best food in Kyoto. While you're there, be sure to check out Aritsugu, one of the oldest and most world-renowned knife makers in Japan.
Pop by Bar K-ya for a cocktail or single malt whiskey—it’s a gorgeous place and an absolute highlight.
Muromachi Wakuden is a stunning restaurant with the most exquisite kaiseki (quintessential Japanese haute cuisine of small dishes built around simplicity and natural, seasonal ingredients).
Teramachi-dori is a street filled antique shops, galleries, and tea shops where you’ll find ceramics, traditional geta, textiles, and books. Ippodo and Ryuoen tea shops offer matcha only available for purchase in Kyoto, which is a must. Be warned: it is a crime to order a matcha latte in Kyoto. They are only made for tourists at coffee chains. When you have the rare opportunity to drink pure, beautiful matcha in traditional ritual settings…don’t blow it.
The Gion is best explored by bicycle. I also adore Ponto-chō, a long narrow street, as it’s home to many geisha houses. If you go in the early enough, you’ll usually see Maiko and Geiko fully dressed.
Matsumaeya is a beautiful shop that offers the best kombu I’ve ever had (and don’t even get me started on their packaging—it’s exquisite). They’ve been making shio kombu since the Edo period for the Emperor. This type of kombu is soft and sweet, and meant to be eaten with tea or shoju. Each piece is wrapped individually and layered in a hinoki cedar box, which seems to infuse the kombu. It’s ridiculously good.
Kyoto has no shortage of temples—1,600, in fact. Here are the ones I never miss:
- Sanjūsangen-dō: A Buddhist Temple, this is home to 1,001 figures of Kannon carved out of Japanese cypress and gold-leafed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
- Ginkaku-ji: This Zen Temple, known as "Silver Pavilion," is the former retirement villa of an art-obsessed shogun. It became a center of contemporary culture in the fifteenth century.
- Ryōan-ji: This Zen temple garden is considered one of the finest surviving examples of karesansui ("dry landscape").
- Honen-in: Named after the priest who founded the Pure Land sect of Buddhism, Honen-in is located near Ginkaku-ji, down the road of philosophy or "philosopher's path."
Tangiers Body Balm is vital when it comes to combatting jet lag, sluggish circulation and lymphatic stagnation, tired feet and legs, and morning fatigue. Even if I’m coming from Tokyo, I often do this ritual upon arriving in Kyoto to hit the reset button. I also use Source d'Eclat Eye Serum and Transparence Botanical Water Concentré to hydrate, boost the flow of blood and lymph, and restore my skin's rhythmicity.
Tangiers Body Balm, Fleur Vibrante, and Veloutée lock in moisture, replenish the lipid barrier, nourish cell membranes, and strengthen the skin’s natural defenses—all key when traveling across the world.
Tangiers Baume Pour Les Corps