Tokyo Skytree and Sumida River. Image courtesy Tobu Railways
Japan is a dream destination for travellers who want to make their way around by bike. Not only a country with a unique culture and delicious food, Japan has a great climate for cycling and incredible landscapes waiting to be explored giving cyclists options for urban cycling to rural bike-packing adventures.
From cycling through downtown Tokyo to packing your bike up and jumping aboard the Tobu Railway to explore the routes away from the big city filled with nature and some of Japan’s most spiritual and historic sites, you are sure to get your fill of adventure. Here is a list of some of the best for your inspiration for your next biking journey.
Downtown delights in Asakusa, Tokyo
One of downtown Tokyo’s most lively spots, Asakusa, is a popular and historic town in Tokyo that retains its retro vibes from when it was a merchant town – a true mashup of old and modern Japan.
Today the area is home to some of Tokyo’s most popular attractions, such as the towering Tokyo Skytree – the tallest broadcasting tower in the world, Asahi Beer headquarters and its surrounding historical sites such as the Senso-ji Temple and its outdoor shopping arcade, Nakamise Dori.
Start off your urban cycling adventure by exploring the Back alleys of Asakusa and experience the downtown side of Tokyo. After visiting Sensoji Temple and some of the back alleys, cyclists can use the Sumida River Walk bridge to cross the Sumida River for a faster and scenic route from Asakusa. Once you make your way to the other side of the river, treat yourself to a pit-stop at Tokyo Mizumachi, a shopping and entertainment complex built under the elevated train tracks of the Tobu Railway. With an array of cafes, shops, souvenir stores and even Lattest Sports that sells biking gear as well as delicious coffee to give you a caffeine rush, you will be ready to get back on the road to cycle to Tokyo Skytree.
If visiting in springtime, cycling along the Sumida River is a must as it is lined with somewhat 700 cherry blossom trees along a one-kilometre stretch and is listed in the top 100 Cherry blossom spots in the country.
Irohazaka in Autumn cycling holidays in Japan. Image courtesy Tobu Railways
Winding roads of Spiritual destination Nikko
Once you are ready to get out of the city, load your bike and jump aboard one of the Tobu Railway’s express trains running north to Nikko. In just a 2-hour ride, you will arrive at the historic and spiritually significant destination situated on the edge of the 1,150 km square Nikko National Park. Aside from being home to the culturally significant UNESCO World Heritage site Nikko Toshogu Shrine and a surplus of natural hot springs, Nikko has a vast abundance of nature and provides the active traveller with an array of cycling course options to choose from.
A must visit for cyclists in Nikko is the Irohazaka Road, which is especially enjoyable in Autumn. The winding road is the only road into and out of the Nikko National Park Highlands that is open year-round, and takes you on twists and turns through the mountains as you make your way along the route. Once you arrive at the peak, there is a tunnel that cuts through the mountainside and takes you into the heart of the Oku-Nikko Highlands where you can take in the sweeping views of Lake Chuzenji and Mount Nantai in the background.
For those looking for a longer route, they can take the 103.2km two-day trip that leads you on a loop through the Nikko National Park to Kinugawa Onsen. This route allows you to stay overnight at the 2/3 mark, Kinugawa Onsen and relax in the town’s famous natural hot springs that can be found at most lodging facilities.
Fukushima Tsurugajo Castle in Autumn. Image courtesy Tobu Railways
Castles, lakes and Onsen bliss in Aizu
Heading further north from Tokyo on the Tobu Railway network, cyclists can visit the Aizu region in Fukushima and enjoy some Samurai history along their travels. From Aizu Wakamatsu Station, cyclists can start their journey by making their way through the city to see Japan’s only Red-tiled castle Fukushima Prefecture’s historic icon –Tsuruga Castle. From there, cycling north you can make another stop off at the Sazaedo Temple, the 16-metre temple from 1796 that features the rare double helix structure staircase design. Cyclists can then make their way north-east through the mountain roads until they find themselves on the banks of Lake Inawashiro. On the northern banks of the lake, cyclists can enjoy the scenery of the lake to one side and the view of Mt. Bandai on the other, either making a while loop of the lake (if time allows) or turning back halfway.
Once you have had your fill of lake cycling, make your way back towards the city and for your final pit-stop, Higashiyama Onsen which lies hidden on the mountains just east of Tsuruga Castle. Here you can treat yourself to a stay at Fukushima’s renowned onsen town, and rest your tired muscles in the mineral waters before resting.
Special railway passes for your journey
The Tobu Railway offers special discount passes for foreign visitors using their railway network. The Nikko Pass all area is ideal for those visiting Nikko from Tokyo, including a round trip from Asakusa in Tokyo to Nikko, as well as unlimited travel on trains and busses in the Nikko area. The Yuttari Aizu Tobu Free Pass includes a return ticket from Tokyo, and allows you to explore historical landmarks including Tsuruga Castle and gives you special discounts at some tourist facilities, shops and restaurants.
About Tobu Railway/Group
The Tobu Railway Co., Ltd. is one of Japan’s largest commuter railway networks which operates in Tokyo as well as in large portions of the surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, Gunma, and Tochigi. It opened in 1899 and was the first railway in the Kanto region to adopt the use of quadruple tracks, and to this day is Kanto’s largest private railway. Tobu Railways is part of the Tobu Group, which is engaged in other transportation sectors such as bus and taxis, they also operate Department stores, Hotels, health clubs, golf courses and theme parks, as real-estate. They are the largest investor in the Tokyo Skytree – the tallest structure in Japan, which is the centrepiece of the large commercial development.
Discover great wines in good company at Gundog Estate in Pokolbin, Hunter Valley. Image courtesy Destination NSW
These boutique Hunter Valley wineries in and around the town of Pokolbin, a two-hour drive north of Sydney, prove the power of thinking small. Some of them boast spectacular settings, while others offer blending classes or opportunities to meet the makers. What they have in common is a dedication to creating memorable wines.
Meet the family at Scarborough Wine Co.
Run by two generations of the Scarborough family, this rustic Pokolbin winery is known for its rich and structured chardonnay and award-winning hospitality. The Scarborough Wine Co. cellar door is located right next to the family home on the original Gillards Road vineyard (chosen specifically by founder Ian Scarborough for its free draining red clay over limestone soil – imparting the bold characters of their chardy), and offers 360-degree views of the surrounding Hunter countryside. Tastings come with a cheese platter and showcase contemporary varieties and styles of the region.
Scarborough Wine, Gillards Road. Image courtesy Chris Elfes and Destination NSW
Get experimental at Gundog Estate
Gundog Estate, housed in an old schoolhouse in Pokolbin, specialises in Hunter Valley classics semillon and shiraz, the grape varieties that thrive in this warm climate. That doesn’t mean the wines are predictable, however. Winemaker Matt Burton enjoys finding new ways to treat these old favourites. His range of semillons includes not just the classic, bone dry, citric semillon, for example, but also ‘wild’ semillon – a portion of which is fermented on skins, like a red wine, to give it extra body and texture. Keen to try some more adventurous drops? Gundog’s Indomitus label features more experimental, minimal-intervention wines.
Relax in the garden at Briar Ridge
Briar Ridge, a 10-minute drive south of Pokolbin at Mount View, has expansive grounds with plenty of scenic spots — including a deck, terrace and courtyard — where you can enjoy a glass of wine, perhaps accompanied by a cheese or antipasto platter (there is even a pooch platter of doggie snacks for visitors who have brought their four-legged friend along). Don’t just play it safe with the semillon and shiraz — the crisp, summery, Spanish-style albarino and fiano wines are also well worth trying.
Learn to blend at Gartelmann Wines
There is more to do at the Gartelmann Wines cellar door in Lovedale, a 15-minute drive northeast of Pokolbin, than just taste wines. Enjoy a bite at the Deck Café or sign up for one of the classes; in the Blending Masterclass, you’ll not only learn about how blends work, but also create your own blend of Bordeaux-inspired red. Sourcing grapes not just from the Hunter Valley but also the NSW winegrowing areas of Mudgee, Rylstone and Orange. Gartelmann Wines offers everything from sparkling wines and pinot gris to merlot, and even a bright muscat with toffee and honey flavours.
Admire the art at Comyns & Co
Drop in to the stylish Comyns & Co cellar door on Broke Road, Pokolbin, and chances are you will find either winemaker Scott Comyns or his wife Missy at the counter. This is very much a family affair: Scott’s brother Angus designed the distinctive artwork that features on the walls and the wine labels, including the portrait of a Ford Escort on the front of the tempranillo bottle. Even the name of Comyns & Co’s sparkling wine, Popsy — made with grüner veltliner grapes instead of chardonnay or pinot noir — is a mash-up of the names of Scott and Missy’s daughters, Polly and Topsy. Scott uses only Hunter Valley grapes in his wines, which include not just semillon and shiraz, but also riesling and tempranillo.
Sample unusual varietals at the Meerea Park Wines cellar door in Pokolbin, Hunter Valley. Image courtesy Simon Hughes and Destination NSW
Mix classic and contemporary at Meerea Park Wines
You can’t miss the Meerea Park Wines cellar door in Pokolbin — it’s housed in one of the most striking buildings in the Hunter Valley, the architect-designed Roche Estate. The contemporary design provides a contrast to Meerea’s rich heritage, with winemaker Rhys Eather’s family having farmed in the Hunter Valley since 1826. Meerea Park Wines is best known for its award-winning semillon and shiraz, but it’s also getting good results with unusual varietals such as roussane and marsanne. With two acclaimed restaurants on the estate, it’s smart to time your visit for lunch.
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