Name in Japanese: ロテル・デュ・ラク
Pronunciation: roteru dew raku
L’Hôtel du Lac is a resort hotel located in a bay on the indented northern coast of Lake Biwa in Nagahama. From Kinomoto, a post station on the old Hokkoku Kaidō road, you pass through a tunnel beneath the mountaintop Shizugatake Battle site. After a couple more tunnels, you emerge into a bay resembling a small fjord. Chikubu Island in the northern part of the lake looks very close. The winding lakeside road passes through a hamlet before arriving at the gate of the hotel, which slides open. The hotel stands at the top of a slope, and the staff are waiting to greet you.
I was met by Shimamura Yukio, General Manager, who showed me to the lounge where guests check in. From the airy front desk, stairs take you down past a picture window with an amazing view of the lake. In the lounge, guests can help themselves to a selection of complimentary drinks such as champagne, local beer and sake, with macaroons and other snacks.
The main theme of the hotel is relaxation – simply enjoying the flow of time without obligations. But there plenty of things to do if you want to. L’Hôtel du Lac is within easy driving distance of all the attractions of Ōmi, as well as the west side of the lake.
“I saw a small port on the way here. Do you use that for boating on the lake?”
“That’s actually used by fishermen rather than for leisure. But we can arrange a Yanmar luxury cruiser for guests who want to go to Chikubu Island. We also have our own little boat for about ten people. The cherry blossoms at Kaizu Ōsaki on the headland just along a bit are famous, and we take guests out to see them from the lake, with lunch included.”
Shimamura-san shows me two very smart electric bicycles that guests can use to explore around the hotel. They fold up, so if you get tired, you can simply call the hotel and they’ll come and pick you and the bikes up.
Beyond the lounge is a terrace and a small swimming pool, and a slope leads down to a flat area.
“That space can be used for landing helicopters. Sometimes wealthy guests like to fly in, from Kobe for example. With a helicopter, the hotel makes a good base for tourism, because you can easily fly to numerous regional airports. A helicopter is also a good way to enjoy Lake Biwa. We’re working with a tour company to offer a cherry blossom plan by helicopter in April.”
There are a variety of rooms for diverse needs. There are two types of room in the main building, suite rooms, and ‘theatre’ rooms which offer a particularly fine view of the natural theatre provided by Lake Biwa.
Dotted around the grounds are six villas each with two double beds. A futon in the loft space can accommodate one more guest. There’s a spacious lounge and bathroom, with underfloor heating for the colder seasons.
“With the coronavirus, many people are looking for this kind of separate accommodation”, says Shimamura-san. “They’re very popular with families.”
Each villa has its own deck with a table and chair.
“At night, it’s very dark here, and the starry sky is beautiful. In the summer, you can clearly see the Milky Way.”
Guests in the villas can choose to eat at the French restaurant in the main building, or order room service. In one of the villas, you can even stay with your dog, which is a popular option.
Behind the hotel are wooded grounds inhabited by deer and monkeys who come down in large groups and disport themselves in view of the guests. Since the hotel is surrounded by nature, there are opportunities to observe the big insects that enliven the summer in Japan.
L’Hôtel du Lac is all non-smoking, apart from a small area in the main building. “Apart from the health aspect, we’re located in a quasi-national park, and there are very strict rules concerning the use of fire.”
In keeping with the hotel’s mission to provide elegant relaxation, you can enjoy leisurely meals in Le Paysage, the French restaurant managed by chef Yamamoto Takuya. Ōmi is known for its fermented funazushi, and fermented foods are enjoying something of global boom for their healthy properties and the umami-rich flavours that fermentation produces. Yamamoto-san is master of several methods of fermentation which he employs to bring a unique accent to many of his dishes. Le Paysage was listed in the Gault et Millau 2020 edition.
Today I’m at the restaurant for lunch. The winter sun streams in through the big windows. As the friendly waitress shows me to the table and makes me comfortable, Chef Yamamoto greets me with a smile and a nod from the open kitchen.
Lunch starts with a glass of champagne for me, and for my companions, a glass of a remarkably rich and complex tea from Uji. The meal unfolds with an amuse bouche of sea urchin on a carrot mousse, followed by an hors d’oeuvre of luscious shrimp tartare with fondue of fermented tomato and an apple salad. The fish dish is a poêlé of mackerel with a tangy shikuwasa sauce, followed by a meat dish of Ōmi beef with a truffle sauce. Dessert is baked apple with chocolate crunch and a delicious and unique honey ice cream.
After this fine repast, Yamamoto-san comes to our table. Originally from Higashi Ōmi, he worked in administration at a resort hotel. Then in his late twenties, he went to New York where he realised that his calling was food, after which he learned his craft at a succession of some of Japan’s smartest hotels – Okura and Hoshino Resort among others.
“How did you become interested in fermentation?”
“Fermentation is a natural part of the food culture of Ōmi where I grew up, and for me it was just a normal part of my environment.”
“What sort of things are fermented?”
“Pickled vegetables, funazushi … we can easily picture seniors making these sort of fermented foods as a matter of course.”
“What’s the source of the microorganisms that cause fermentation?”
“It depends on the foodstuff. Sometimes they come from the rice husks used for making pickled vegetables. In the case of the tomato sauce served today, fermentation starts with lactic acid in the tomatoes themselves and I also add some honey which also contains microorganisms. The fermentation takes about a week and imparts an added sweetness and richness.”
“Do you have a favourite fermented dish?”
“I particularly like mackerel fermented in rice husks for about a year. You sear the outside and eat it with rice and green tea. It’s really good.”
“Do things ever go wrong?”
“Occasionally. Managing the process isn’t easy, especially in summer. You need to control the temperature carefully”.
“The beetroot dressing for the apple salad was amazingly rich and sprightly. Was that fermented too?”
“Actually no. I added some raspberry to the beetroot which is what gives it that zest.”
My time at L’Hôtel du Lac was short, but the amazing scenery, the unhurried hospitality, and an inspired meal left me thoroughly relaxed and at ease with the world.
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