From the moment we entered Noborioji Hotel Nara’s pristine lobby, we knew we were in for a luxurious experience.
Noborioji’s friendly rooms manager, Norihisa Matsutani, greeted us at the Nara Kintetsu train station exit, walked our two suitcases up the street and inside the hotel’s beautiful library, where we were greeted by both manager and staff at the main desk.
As we filled out the check-in paperwork, we were asked about our afternoon plans. Maps were immediately brought out to help locate sights we were interested in visiting.
A few moments later, we were presented with a non-alcoholic cocktail and warm towel on a silver plate, all before even entering our spacious third-floor room—small, thoughtful touches that help create a truly memorable stay from the start.
Noborioji is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection that includes over 520 hotels in 80 countries worldwide. With only 12 rooms spread out on two floors and one gourmet onsite restaurant, the Noborioji sharply contrasts our stays in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
We expressly chose a small, quiet property to sandwich in between the larger cities (following Nara, we returned to Tokyo for a few more nights).
As mentioned above, the well-appointed lobby is sleek and adjoins a stained-glass window-accented library with cozy seating containing guide books and maps to navigate this gorgeous little city filled with UNESCO heritage Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines—and a park filled with wild deer.
The deer are only too happy to mingle with visitors armed with food. After we settle into our room, we’re given a few lunch suggestions, then handed a small shopping bag with mineral water and special biscuits for the deer.
Noborioji is located just at the start of Nara Park. Within a couple of minutes we spot the deer (many of which come right to our bag, smelling the treats).
This hotel contains nine standard twin rooms, one deluxe twin and two suites.
Our room has everything you could wish for: wifi, airco, a humidifier, lots of outlets to plug in our tech, good selection of lighting, a comfortable work station, cozy couch and reading area, a huge bed with supportive mattress, plenty of storage space for clothes, flatscreen TV, Blu-Ray player, Bose bluetooth speaker, automatic drapes and easy-to-shut off light sources.
The cream-coloured striped wallpaper contrasts nicely with the dark wood furniture; at the foot of the bed is a cushioned seating bench for extra luggage and miscellaneous items.
The bathroom is spacious with floor-to-ceiling marble and contains a large walk-in shower, bathtub, small TV screen and makeup mirror (the latter not common in Japanese hotels).
In the hallway, a glass cabinet holds a selection of Japanese teas, bone china cups, wine and drinking glasses plus a couple of ramen noodle kits in case we need a snack.
A Nespresso coffee maker with pods, water kettle and minibar sit atop a counter that holds a mini fridge below.
Fresh fruit, Japanese sweets, a lovely red rose and mineral water set the stage for an extraordinary two-night stay. At turn-down, we noticed Noborioji-branded pajama sets, chocolates by the bedside and the following day’s weather forecast.
Everything in the bathroom had been returned to its original state, the coffee pods were replenished and a half-filled glass of water left in the room had a paper cover to keep it dust-free.
As well, the ice bucket had been filled with ice and the tea kettle with water. In other words, attention to detail reigns supreme here and this continues straight through to the staff who see to it that we have everything we need at every turn.
We can hardly wait to see what breakfast holds in store for us.
The elegant main floor restaurant serves both Western and Japanese-style breakfasts (about CDN $46 including tax). Rather than buffet style, courses are brought out in succession beginning with (Western style) fresh salad, juice or yogurt followed by choice of eggs, a basket of warm gourmet croissants and bread, seasonal fruit, coffee or tea with a little shortbread cookie to finish off the meal.
Dinner service is equally impressive. The hotel’s prix-fixe gastronomic menu changes monthly.
During our visit, we had a gorgeous selection of dishes starting with apple foam and jelly served in a fresh red apple, followed by a dish containing caviar, tuna, sea bream and eggplant atop a finely-chopped round of broccoli.
Executive Chef Masahide Sasaki draws inspiration from his culinary training in three-star restaurants in France (including the Hotel Ritz) as well as former executive chef positions in RIHGA Royal Hotels.
A major highlight of our meal was barracuda wrapped with prized mathutake mushrooms in butter sauce. This highly-sought after mushroom is a favourite of Japanese chefs for its unique spicy notes.
A steaming hot plate of Japanese beef was brought to our table to inspect before being plated with fresh vegetables and chestnut risotto artfully wrapped in a leaf in an aromatic sauce.
Roasted figs and fromage blanc sorbet came out alongside miniature blueberry tarts, a chocolate bonbon and coffee to wind down a fantastic culinary evening with many wonderful surprises including our first taste of Japanese red wine, a 2010 Chariot D’Or produced by fourth-generation, family-owned Marufuji Winery.
If you’re interested in dining in town, staff are also helpful in providing tips and will even phone ahead for reservations.
Our spacious bathroom’s marble countertop is stocked with products by innovative French marine cosmetics brand Algotherm, effervescent bath cubes by L’Occitane, a range of hair and shaving amenities plus Shiseido skin cleansers for women.
The hotel has an extensive list of additional offerings for guests from jogging shoes and workout clothing rental to multi plugs and cell phone chargers. On the second floor is a fitness room with state-of-the-art machines.
Aromatherapy and sen-tai (chiropractic and acupuncture) massages, facials and foot reflexology services can be reserved as well.
Hotel Noborioji is located at 40-1 Noborioji-cho, a few minutes away on foot from Kintetsu Nara station (note that if you have a JR pass, the JR Nara station is a five-minute cab drive from the hotel).
Depending on your departure point, Nara can be reached in about 30 minutes from Osaka.
This entirely non-smoking hotel is open to guests 12 and older (though younger children are welcome to dine in private rooms). We highly recommend staying in Nara as it’s worthy of more than just a day trip. Of all the cities we toured, we felt the most relaxed here, wishing we could have extended our stay by a couple of days.
It’s a pleasure to shop in the arcade close to Kintetsu station as well as to stroll the grounds at the end of the day when crowds have dwindled. Our stay at the Noborioji was truly an enjoyable one.
A huge thanks to the hotel staff who made a rainy afternoon all the better by taking the time to show me the art of origami. The colourful Nara deer pieces on display around the lobby perked my curiosity; a simple request led to an hour-long session in the adjacent bar where I learned exactly how complex creating this lovely animal can be!
We stayed as guests of Noborioji Hotel. Our 14-day Japan Rail (JR) passes were provided courtesy of Japan National Tourism Organization. Opinions, as always, are our own.