Name in Japanese: クレフィール湖東
Pronunciation: kurefiiru kotō
Crefeel Koto is a modern hotel in Higashiōmi. It stands on the edge of the Suzuka mountain range between Kongōrin-ji and Hyakusai-ji temples. From the putter golf course in front of the hotel, you can see the expanse of the Ōmi plain with its rice fields and old mountaintop castle sites. In the distance is Lake Biwa, and you can see right to the high mountains bordering Kyōto on the other side of the lake.
Today, a cold front has moved down from the north, and it looks a bit like snow is on the way. I’m at Crefeel Koto to meet the General Manager, Kitagawa Masahiko. First, he takes me out to see the broad vista from the putter golf course.
“Does it snow much here?”
“It usually falls two or three times a year. Not in December though.”
“These trees below the front of the hotel are sakura aren’t they?”
“That’s right. In spring, there’s a profusion of cherry blossom at eye level. Guests can disport themselves on the putter golf green and enjoy the sight and scent of masses of blossom. In 2021, we’re planning to offer boxed lunches for guests who want to have a picnic.”
Next, we visit the covered plaza in front of the hotel entrance, where they’ve just built a pizza oven for guests to make their own pizzas. It takes about ten minutes to make a pizza, and it’s a popular option, whether for lunch or dinner.
On the slope behind the hotel, there’s a log house that sleeps four people. With the influence of the coronavirus, many families like to stay here. Kitagawa-san points out more cherry trees around the log house. “In May, wisteria also flower in the arbour here. Crefeel Koto is a place where you can feel the four seasons of Japan”.
The hotel has a big bath which is open to hotel guests and visitors, with indoor and outdoor sections. Whatever the season, it feels good to take a bath outside.
“How do visitors staying at Crefeel Koto generally spend their time?”
“Crefeel Koto is located midway between Hikone and Ōmihachiman, so it’s an ideal base for visiting those areas. We’re also close to the three great Koto Sanzan temples, where you can spend a good deal of time. Visitors also go to the pottery town of Shigaraki.”
“Do guests usually have their own cars?”
“Often they do, but for those who don’t, we offer a pick-up service from the nearest train station. With a reservation, we also take guests to attractions such as the temples.”
“Are there any adventure options for visitors to Ōmi?”
“Recently, a company has started flying hot air balloons from a field just down from here.”
One of the attractions of a stay at Crefeel Koto is indulging in some fine dining at Restaurant Grand Table, which also affords expansive vistas over Lake Biwa. Today I’m having lunch there, and I’m greeted by Restaurant Manager Matsuda Tsutomu who shows me to a seat with a view. Chef Kizawa Toshifumi appears from the kitchen to tell me about the fine spread, already waiting for me.
The starter is a pot of yuba tofu which was first made on Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei, which is visible across the lake. Other delicate morsels include winter yellowtail and a mild radish of a kind I’ve never encountered before.
There’s a selection of sashimi including fish from Lake Biwa, and Ōmi beef for cooking at the table, with vegetables and the dramatic red konnyaku favoured by Oda Nobunaga. Says Kizawa-san as if talking about an old acquaintance, “Nobunaga was enthralled by bright colours, especially vivid reds. The red is produced with iron oxide.” When the time comes to cook it, the Ōmi beef sizzles most beguilingly on its brazier.
A dish of tempura features a large red chilli pepper which is nonetheless sweet and not fierce at all. Like the other vegetables served, it’s a unique variety, produced in Kyōto.
Dessert is a colourful selection of delicacies including sweet red potato, a ball of golden Kintoki sweet potato, and a wickedly sweet, locally grown strawberry.
I’m curious to know where chef Kizawa-san honed his skills.
“I’ve been working here twenty-five years”, he says simply. “I learned everything from the staff who preceded me.”
It would be a shame not to have some Ōmi sake with all of this superb regional fare, so I ask what would be a good match. Matsuda-san recommends the dry and straightforward Asahi Kyokujitsu from Fuji Honke. “Guests who have their first taste of Ōmi sake here sometimes ask if they can visit the brewery where the sake is made. With a bit of notice, we can arrange that.”
After a thoroughly satisfying meal, and the warm hospitality of the staff, I feel ready to venture out into the winter chill to explore a major temple or two.
place 22-3, Hirayanagichō, Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture
Hyakusai-ji is a temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. It’s one of the Kotō Sanzan, the three major temples east of Lake Biwa, along with Kongōrin-ji Temple and Saimyō-ji Temple. The principal image
Saimyō-ji Temple is a Buddhist temple of the Tendai sect in Kōra-cho, Inukami-gun, Shiga Prefecture. It’s one of the Kotō Sanzan, the three major temples east of Lake Biwa, along with Kongōrin-ji Temp
Kongōrin-ji is a temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism located in Aishō-chō. It’s one of the Kotō Sanzan, the three major temples east of Lake Biwa, along with Hyakusai-ji Temple and Saimyō-ji Temple.