This weekend away to the South of Hokkaido, between Hakodate and Noboribetsu, has been organized at the very last minute, so all the planning was really rushed, but very well worth it!
Within the 3 months around Japan, we had originally planned to stay in Sapporo for 2 weeks straight. During the first few days in the city, we have been bombarded by information about things to do around the Region and places to see that we couldn’t miss!
And who are we to say no to a juicy occasion for a long weekend away (or two)?
- Time: we were free from Friday to Sunday, so our total time was 3 days.
- Places: I had heard about the scenic beauty of Hakodate and the magic of the hot springs of Noboribetsu.
- Itinerary: I added the two places on Google maps and checked the result:
- Transportation: if we had more time, maybe going by train would have been an option, but for such a short time, I have decided that renting a car was our best shot. We also had all our luggage with us and being able to leave the big ones in the car all the time was a huge plus! I found a great last minute deal with Budget through Rentalcars and I booked it straight away.
- Order of Stops: thanks to my experience, I think it’s always better reaching the furthest place as soon as possible and then adding stops closer to the return destination, on the way back. This is mainly for three reasons:
- at the beginning of the journey you are less tired, more energetic and can face more Km with less effort;
- you never know what you can find on the road (roadworks, bad weather, accidents,…), so we want to be the closest to “home” possible to avoid being stuck far away for too many hours;
- while driving towards the first (furthest) destination, you can see interesting places along the way that might turn out to be good additional stops on the way back. In fact, there are places that are not famous and do not end up in travel guides, but that awake special feelings in some of us. It is always worth to keep some time for non-planned stops when you are on the road!
- Where to Stay: being Noboribetsu so famous for its “onsen” (the Japanese thermal water pools), we really wanted to choose a place with nice public baths that we could enjoy and we selected the Hotel Mahoroba. The package included both breakfast and dinner and it was quite expensive (we booked it at the last moment, which is not the best!), so we chose to balance things up by staying in the Capsule Hotel Hakodate on the first night. You can book the same places by following these links!
Be aware when planning a car trip in Japan: highways are expensive (but worth it)!
Lunch break on the road
When I am hungry, I am hungry! That’s why it doesn’t matter where we are or how difficult it is to find a place where to grab a bite: if food doesn’t come to me, I’ll go to food! I’m sure you can relate (ish)?!
And during this long trip, I ended up being hungry when we were in the middle of nowhere and there were no stops like petrol stations for kilometers!!!
I looked on Tripadvisor and found a place with nice review not too far away from the highway and so we went! Of course, it meant slowing down and “waste some time”, but actually that’s the beauty of traveling by car on our own time!
The name of the area was Harvester Yakumo and it must be a beautiful place when it’s sunny! When we arrived, there was a terrible weather outside, but luckily they made pizza anyway!!!
What to see in Hakodate
Goryōkaku Tower & Fort
On Friday afternoon, arriving from the north, after few stops and a long drive surrounded by clouds, rain and fog, we decided to visit Goryōkaku Tower & Fort before heading down to the centre of Hakodate.
The tower has only a panoramic intent and it was built in 2006 to allow visitors to enjoy the view of Goryōkaku Fort from above. This Western style Citadel, in fact, has a peculiar star shape that would be almost impossible to be seen from the ground. Nowadays, the Fort has lost its military purpose and has become a very nice park.
To find all the updated information about opening times and admission fees, you can visit here.
At the end of our tour, we were tempted by the weirdest ice cream flavors (purple potato, black sesame and pumpkin to mention some) and we honestly couldn’t resist!!! The “gelato” was not amazing, but it was definitely an experience!!!
Dinner in Hakodate
After reading a lot about this hamburger chain called “Lucky Pierrot“, we decided to give it a go! There are so many restaurant of this type in Hakodate, that we chose only by proximity to our hotel.
The food is good and pretty cheap: burgers, fries, omelettes etc… We tried their famous Chinese Chicken burger and it was actually really good! 🙂
The peculiarity of these restaurants, though, is the uniqueness of their design. Every branch follows a theme and this theme is bombarded in every single corner in one of the most “kitsch” environment I’ve ever seen!
The logo is a “scary clown” and everything from furniture to pictures on the walls is a bit surreal!
Hakodate Asaichi (Morning Market)
This is the main fish market of the area and it is extremely known among tourists and locals. On the ground floor, a number of stalls sell fresh or dried fish. Many of them have a restaurant area on the first floor where they cook you whatever you choose.
The heroes of the market are squid, crabs, scallops and sea urchins. There is even a pool where you can fish your own squid and eat it as sashimi immediately after).
At every corner, tiny restaurants serve bowls of rice and mixed seafood that, if eaten for breakfast, will surely give you a boost for the day!
Hakodate Bay Area
Walking from the Morning Market for about 10 minutes along the sea, towards the south, we arrived at the famous area of the “Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse“. These are 4 big buildings that used to be shipping warehouses when Hakodate port opened its doors as a trading centre, back in the mid 1800s.
Today, three of them are nice and elegant shopping centers and one is an event/banqueting/music hall.
The shops inside are mainly “boutique style”, while in the tiny and clean outside area, you can enjoy some relaxing time listening to jazz music from the speakers near the doors!
Following -as always- Tripadvisor, we had breakfast inside the “Bay” building, at the famous “Petite Merveille“, which specializes in delicious milk-based puddings, mousses and soft sponge cakes!
Just few minutes’ walk from the bay, towards Mount Hakodate, we arrived in the “Motomachi” area. This is the location where, after Japan ended the “isolation era”, many foreign traders went to live. The result, now, is an exquisite mix of Japanese and Western buildings.
It is a very nice place for a morning walk (up and down the hill!)! It is far from the traffic of the city centre and surrounded by an atmosphere that seems to have stopped in the past.
From Motomachi, it is possible to take the ropeway to the top of the mountain, which is also accessible by car. Lonely Planet says that the view of Hakodate from the mount is spectacular, especially at night and especially in the winter!
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to see this famous view because of the clouds and fog on that day! Look here:
Have you been up there? Was the view really stunning as they say? Let me know in the comment or through my Facebook page!!!
Continue reading about the rest of the weekend on Part 2!
Thank you so much for reading!
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