Tohoku Japan Ginzan Onsen

The Five Places You Need to See in Tohoku

Before coming to Japan I hadn’t heard of the Tohoku Region and now I’ve been completely charmed by this pastoral, natural part of northern Japan. This is the antithesis of the bright lights and hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and that’s what makes it special. Many retreat up North to enjoy farm fresh foods, breathtaking natural beauty and to take step back into Japan’s traditional roots.

1. Spend a morning at Hirosaki Castle

Though not quite a castle in the “fairytale” sense of the word, the Hirosaki Castle is a lovely Japanese style building, with ornate roof details and impressive silhouette. However, the real reason you visit is for the vast park that surrounds it. We happened to be fortunate enough to be visiting in the spring, when the cherry blossoms were at the height of their bloom. It felt like walking through a sea of pink, every different hue, with delicate petals floating in the breeze. The cherry blossoms created avenues of flowers, and I meandered over bridges that crossed the series of pleasant canals.  Everywhere I turned was worthy of a photo–especially when I got to the viewpoint of the majestic snow capped mountain in the distance.

My Recommendation: Go there early (like 7am) if you want more flowers than people in your photos. Also, next time I go, I am bringing a picnic so I can waste an afternoon under one of the swaying sakura trees.

2. Eat Wanko-Soba

Wanco Soba

Tohoku is famous for its buckwheat noodle, soba. I tasted it in tea, in ice cream and in many variations of the noodle form. However, the best soba experience that I had was Wanko-Soba in Morioka. Here, diners are encouraged not only to eat soba but to eat as much as they can and as fast as they can. An average lunch can turn competitive as the waitresses serve you soba in small “mouthful” sized dishes. The waitresses tower over you, shouting encouragement as you slurp, refilling as fast as you can eat. Of course the other options were delicious as well–I really enjoyed their tuna sashimi and pickled vegetables. But if you plan to nab the record, don’t waste stomach space. You are going to need it since you’ll need to eat over one hundred bowls! Slurp!

My Recommendation: Bring a competitive friend and have a soba eating contest!

3. Stroll through a Samurai Village

Kakunodate

Kakunodate

Tohoku is known for it’s storied Samurai culture and to get as close as you can to it today, visit Kakunodate, a well preserved Samurai town. There is one completely original house dating back 200 years and it’s still in the ownership of its original Samurai family line. There’s another home that also has a museum, just a few steps down. The museum has an impressive display of Samurai gear, with intimidating swords and helmets. Even just wandering down the streets, stopping for an ice cream  and to admire this organized village, makes for a picturesque visit.

My Recommendation: Earlier is better to avoid the crowds!

4. Commune with Nature

Sanriku Fukkuo

The rugged coastline of Tohoku blew me away. It looked like the Mediterranean coast or even New Zealand–but it certainly did not look like Japan. The Sanriku Fukko National Park stretches along a pristine part of the coast, with three steep trails that allow you to walk through old forests and view the majestic cliffs. There are three lookouts with views, number 2 being the best.
My Recommendation: If you want a good workout, hike all the way down to the beach to get up close with the bright blue waters.

5. Visit Teapot Workshop Iwachu Nambu Tekki

IMG_1333

I hadn’t paid much attention to teapots until now. Tea is an extremely important part of Japanese culture and here at the factory, you can witness how some of the finest traditional teapots are made by hand. You can step inside the workshop, watching the craftsman painstaking create the signature dots that cover these iron pots. Each teapot takes about 2 weeks to create so it’s no wonder that they aren’t cheap. I toured the museum but was most taken by the gallery where their finest work is on display. Neon colors and even Hello Kitty tastefully grace some of the newer models of this old brand.

My Recommendation: Visit the workshop first to understand the intense labor and dedication needed to create each teapot. Then go to the shop and buy one for yourself!

BONUS TIP: GINZAN ONSEN

Ginzan

Ginzan-Onsen is a hot spring town, built lining a central spring. Stay at one of the handful of traditional style hotels, from boutique to more contemporary, each with their own onsen experience. The postcard worthy town has charming pedestrian bridges, boutique shops and several eateries. But the real reason to come here is to soak in the geo-thermal waters. I didn’t realize how therapeutic it could be until I tried it for myself. After a few minutes in the healing waters, I felt renewed from the inside out.

My Recommendation: Check out Ginzanso if you want large tatami style rooms with your own private onsen on your deck.  

For more recommendations, leave me a comment! Be sure to tune in to CNN on May 18th to watch the full video of my Tohoku experience!

Adventure in Bahia, Brazil

I strapped on my sneakers and dove headfirst into all the adventurous activities of Bahia in the Chapada Diamantina National Park–from snorkeling in underground caves, ziplining off cliffs, hiking up mountains and swimming in grottos–this state of Brazil has so much going for the intrepid traveler. Our homebase was Lençóis for 4 action packed days. Check out my favorites!

Show: Live like a Local in Brazil with Kelley Ferro USTOA Travel Together

Papua New Guinea: The Highlands

Let’s travel to Papua New Guinea! Explore the tribes of Tari, the famous Birds of Paradise and all the adventure of the Highlands.

Traveling in Style in Peru

Live like a Local: Peru
USTOA’s Travel Together Series hosted by Kelley Ferro
If you want to travel in style, Travcoa, the luxury tour operator is for you. Every detail is planned out so you can just focus on enjoying the best food, sumptuous hotels, easy transportation and the best access to all of Peru’s gems.

Peru’s Andes & Machu Picchu!

Live like a Local: Peru
USTOA’s Travel Together Series hosted by Kelley Ferro
Home to ancient history, local indigenous communities and so much art & culture, the Andes are a must on your visit to Peru.

Swiss Miss for a Week: Saint Moritz

Swiss Miss in Saint Moritz Video

Swiss Miss: Skiing in Saint Moritz Video

Saint Moritz. Glitz. Glamor. Snow. Furry boots. There’s a reason “ritz” is in the name. The city is just as popular among the jetset today as it was 50 years ago. St Moritz feels like a really upscale fairytale. Softly falling snow, gourmet chocolates, bustling pastry shops, chic shops in whimsical buildings and grandiose 5 star hotels. No wonder the likes of Grace Kelly and George Clooney have called St Moritz their winter retreat.

Just getting off the train, I had this overwhelming sense that Saint Moritz was THE place to be “wintering.” It didn’t hurt that I was there just days before the “White Turf,” a series of equine competitions all held on top of the city’s now frozen glacial lake.

I was experiencing the city in style, staying at the oldest and one of the most famous 5 Stars, the Kulm Hotel and skiing incredible ski area. Now this is what it’s like to live luxe.

id=”attachment_220″ align=”alignright” width=”224″ caption=”The peak of Corviglia in St Moritz”

I only had two nights in the city and was quite busy filming, eating sumptuous breakfasts, checking out the spa & gym and exploring the town. To be honest, I almost didn’t really feel like going skiing–trekking up to the hill in all my gear, freezing my buns off for a few runs just to say I did it.

Wow was I wrong. My few hours skiing ended up being the best skiing of my life and probably the biggest highlight of the trip (which is saying A LOT). Not only did the Engadin Tourism board make the rental process and transport to the peak extremely easy (the funicular literally takes you from street to peak in around 10 minutes), but the mountain itself was just stunning. I still lose myself in the mental images of the incredible peaks, the perfectly groomed trails, the open spaces and lack of lift lines. When Angela forced me to stop for lunch, I had the most delicious ski resort lunch of rosti with ham. I think she thought it was pretty funny how much I raved and I’m pretty sure my actual skiing wasn’t so pretty as I was so distracted. I told her that she was so so lucky to have this in her backyard and to be able to take a few runs on her lunch break (what!?).

I indulged, as the Saint Moritz-ers do, in an apres ski gluwein at the Hauser’s lively outdoor bar before returning for a swanky evening of cocktail parties, night ice skating, a delicious dinner and a jazz concert at the Kulm. My adrenaline was still racing all evening from the amazing trails and I truly understood why St Moritz was the birthplace of the winter ski holiday.

To see more photos from the trip, take a look here: [slideshow]


Stay tuned for more St Moritz fun at the historic, and opulent, Kulm Hotel St Moritz.