Saturday 9 January 2010

Snow Trippin in Shiga: Biwako Valley Ski Resort and Hikone City

After just coming back from my Australian Christmas trip home, I promptly realised that there was a long weekend coming up. These are not to be wasted lightly!

A couple of my Irish gal pals made a quick plan to head to the ski slopes, along the Kosei train line.

Biwako Valley Ski resort is a relatively small ski resort close to Shiga Station, you can take a bus from the station up, but be careful about getting back to the bus for the station, as the last one is approximately 5:30pm. Unlike most resorts I'd been to where you take a ski lift from the bottom of the slope up, this resort you must take a cable car to the top of the bunny slope, and the other slopes meander off from this. The afternoons cable car ticket, ski rentals and wear cost us around 9000yen.

The conditions were not so great as it was fairly early in the season, there hadn't been much recent snow fall, and the weather was quite sunny. All being relative beginners, I tried to show the girls what I had learnt from my previous 2 experiences. Obviously this wasn't quite enough to get us any further than the bunny run.

The fine weather meant that we had a spectacular view once we got to the top of the cable car.

For those Japanese speakers, check out this link

After a great afternoon of skiing, we head down the cable car to change, grab our gear and head back to the station, luckily for us, this day an extra 6:30pm bus was running. As we jumped onto the train, the main thing on our minds was food.

However as we approached our station (Nagahara 永原), we realised that there wasnt much around, so we figured that there would be somewhere to eat or grab some food, and frequent trains running at the transfer station, Omi-shiotsu (近江塩津). We figured wrong, so we got a little stuck at this station. So we played in the mountains of snow near the station as we waited.

We were called by the staff who also informed us that there is no taxi service at 8pm from the station so they asked us what time we would be arriving at the station as they would send the resort bus to pick us up. I also explained to the staff member that we hadn't been able to get anything for dinner. The kind staff took pity on us and drove us to the nearest convenience store to grab food for dinner and breakfast the next day.

When we finally arrived at the Japanese Style Lodge Tsuzurao Sou (つづらお荘), we were pleasantly surprised, for the 4605JPY we spent each on the room (booked through jalan the accommodation was a beautiful, big and new tatami room. We quickly ate our dinner before heading down to the baths.

The Japanese style baths consisted of a jet bath, normal bath and rotenburo (outdoor bath), which obscured from perving eyes, sat on a balcony overlooking the beautiful Lake Biwa and the snow covered surroundings.

After enjoying a long and relaxing bath and soaking our sore muscles we retired to our room, where we promptly fell asleep. 

The next day we decided to make the most of the lovely baths and had another dip. Then the helpful staff helped us plan our day of sight seeing in Shiga, before driving us down to the station. We made it the station with minutes to spare, but didn't quite understand the directions of the staff member to go to the furtherest platform, and our hesitation meant that we were stuck at the station again (makes you really appreciate the 2 normal trains an hour from Sasayama!). This time a small cafeteria was open so we could enjoy a coffee and relax while we waited. 

Finally on our way, we headed to check out Hikone Castle. But first we had to see to our grumbling stomachs. After consulting the local tourist information centre on where to find some good vegetarian food we were on out way, stopping to have a photo op with the local mascot. 

 A fifteen minute walk from Hikone Station, the castle grounds are extensive and the Genkyuen Gardens attached, were filled with tourists due to the long weekend. More information about Hikone Castle can be found on the Japan Guide website

After walking around for a few hours we were feeling pretty exhausted still from our ski day so we decided to head back to our respective homes in Hyogo Prefecture. 

How to get there:
Shiga prefecture is situated between Kyoto to the west, Fukui to the north-west, Gifu to the north-east, and Mie to the south-east. 

You can jump on a local train from Osaka, tranferring at Kyoto station to get to Shiga Station to visit Biwako Valley Ski Resort (Approx 81minutes, 1280yen one way) Check hyperdia for further details

Thank you Ruth and Aoife for joining me on this largely improvised trip, It was a blast! xx