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Kyoto, Japan, is one of the few cities in the world to lay claim to a total of 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites. One of the best starting points for uncovering those architectural and cultural gems is The Westin Miyako, Kyoto, a hotel with an equally fascinating history and superb location.
On a clear day, you can actually spot more than 30 different landmarks from The Westin’s ninth floor sun deck. Sights include the stunning Nanzen-ji Temple and Ginkaku-ji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site also known as the Silver Pavilion. These are just two of the many temples and shrines that are linked along the city’s famed Path of Philosophy, a self-guided walking tour that clients can easily begin from the property.
The Westin’s own beginnings trace back to 1890, when a wealthy merchant, Nihei Nishimura, built a teahouse and the Yoshimizuen garden on the present-day site, followed by the Kyoto Hoyo-kan spa. In 1900, the Yoshimizuen reopened as the Miyako Hotel and has since hosted numerous heads of state and celebrities, from Albert Einstein and Marlon Brando to Ronald Reagan and Andy Warhol. Black-and-white photographs of famed guests hang in the expansive, white-marbled hotel lobby today.
Since 1900, the Miyako name has since grown into a chain of upscale properties throughout Japan and the U.S., Miyako Hotels & Resorts. In 2002, the Kyoto property became The Westin Miyako and, today, it resembles a thoroughly modern luxury hotel set over nearly 14 acres, with a total of 501 guestrooms; a fitness center; a tennis court; a jogging track; an indoor and outdoor pool; a full-service, women-only Sothys spa; and eight restaurants and bars.
Guestrooms are spacious and comforting. My Deluxe Room, with panoramic views of the city and mountains, was especially enticing after a long day spent walking through nearby Nishiki Market or the mysterious Gion district, home to Kyoto’s celebrated geisha. Much of that enticement had to do with the ultra-plush Westin Heavenly Bed, but I also appreciated the private balcony and relaxing sitting area, too. My favorite amenities included complimentary cotton robes for lounging, along with your traditional terrycloth garb. Sightseeing in the daytime was also exceedingly convenient thanks to the hotel’s complimentary shuttle service to/from Kyoto Station.
Dining at The Westin often proved to be a challenge, simply because it offered so many different options. Aquablu, the all-day dining venue, was my first stop every morning; I loved its presentation of both traditional Japanese and western-style breakfasts. Other restaurants include Shisen (Chinese), Kacho (Japanese hot pot) and even Mayfair, a traditional English-style tea room.
Clients coming to Kyoto for meetings or events will appreciate the property’s 16 different banquet rooms, one of which can accommodate up to 2,000 guests at one time. Westin Executive Club members have access to an exclusive library and lounge with complimentary continental breakfast, newspapers, drinks and snacks. The Westin is also family friendly, with an on-site Westin Kids Club and available babysitting services.
Yet even with so many contemporary conveniences, The Westin Miyako hasn’t lost any of its character or charm. In fact, clients who want a thoroughly authentic Japanese hotel experience can book a traditional, Japanese-style room — complete with tatami floors and futon-style beds. They can choose from one of 20 rooms in the Kasui-en Guesthouse or a suite in Karaku-an, a traditional teahouse. Both of these accommodations are surrounded by the exquisite Kasui-en Gardens. The Kasui-en Guesthouse first opened in 1960, and the Karaku-an was first built in 1933 and renovated to accommodate guests in 1992. From this part of the hotel, guests can also embark on a half-mile birdwatching trail that winds along Mount Kacho through pristine forests.
Finding these traditional elements in such a modern environment mirrored my own personal travels through Kyoto. The ancient city’s storied past literally comes alive when you walk along its streets, encountering beautiful temples and shrines at almost every corner. It’s those unexpected encounters that will keep me coming back to Kyoto — and The Westin Miyako — for many years to come.