A Japanese proverb says: "Never say Kekko (meaning I am satisfied), until you've seen Nikko".
Our ride starts in Nikko, a center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries and the seat of Toshogu shrine, an UNESCO’s world cultural heritage site. We then explore its surrounding area which offers magnificent landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, and hot springs. We spend the latter half of the trip in Aizu, which is a scenic region in northern Japan surrounded by beautiful mountains.
The route takes us through quaint farm villages, rice fields, and on narrow mountain roads. Our accommodations are mostly elegant ryokans (Japanese-style inns) which offer local charm and comfort as well as excellent onsen (natural hot spring bath). Our route encompasses several challenging hill climbs, and therefore is most suitable for intermediate to advanced riders.
Day 1: Nikko (52 km)
Train Tokyo-Shimoimaichi (takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes), which was once an important point of transportation in the old days. Our warm up ride starts on one of the old major roads lined with more than 380 years old cedar trees, and then onto quiet country roads amid rice field and gently rolling hills. Tonight we stay in a cozy pension which is located adjacent to Toshogu Shrine, and unwind in a nice onsen (natural hot spring bath).
Day 2: Okukinu onsen spa (40 km)
We spend the morning sightseeing Toshogu Shrine, the site for mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who established the shogunate government that ruled Japan for 260 years until Meiji Restoration in 1868. You will be overwhelmed by the serene atmosphere and series of gorgeous engravings and statues that decorate the shrine’s buildings. Take the Irohazaka road to Lake Chuzenji. Great ride in the Oku-Nikko (inner Nikko) area, which is blessed with magnificent natural beauty. We eventually head Oku-Kinu, which is known as The Home of Secret Spas. The last 7 km of our ride is on road with uncovered surface.
Day 3: Kinugawa onsen spa (73 km)
After a smooth and gradual downhill, we start a challenging 13 km ascent via Ozasa pasture to Kirifuri Highland, which is a home to beautiful azaleas in spring and colorful leaves in autumn. Past Kirifuri Highland, we enjoy spectacular downhill towards Nikko and then to Kinugawa onsen spa. Discovered around 300 years ago, Kinugawa onsen spa is one of the most famous hot spring areas in the northern Kanto region.
Day 4: Yunokami onsen spa (90 km)
We take a local train to the rustic Aizu region. In the morning we cycle on quiet country roads through rice fields. After lunch we ride into mountainous areas. We hunt two challenging passes, riding past beautiful rice fields and small farm villages. En route we encompass about 6 km of unpaved downhill terrain. Tonight we stay at Yunokami onsen, a secluded spa with excellent hot spring water. You can soak in abundant hot spring water and relax – perfect way to end a long day of riding!
Day 5: Aizuwakamatsu (80 km)
Following a smooth start on flat roads, we take on an ascent to Ouchijuku, an old post town on the road used long ago by Aizu feudal lords until the 19th century to travel back and forth to Edo (now Tokyo). Preserved thatched-roof houses give you an idea of what the town used to be like in old days. Past Ouchijuku, our ride starts with a steep but short climb, followed by a long descent through mountain forests into the Aizu Basin. On our way to Aizuwakamatsu, we stop by some of the oldest temples in the region and a sake brewery. We stay at a beautiful ryokan in Higashiyama onsen spa, Aizuwakamatsu’s back parlor.
Day 6: Lake Hibara (68 km)
We spend the morning touring the castle town of Aizuwakamatsu by minivan and visit Bukeyashiki (reconstructed samurai villa) to see what the samurai lifestyle used to be like. Our ride today starts with the toughest hill climb of the whole trip towards Lake Hibara, a serene lake situated halfway up the Bandai-san (Mount Bandai, a magnificent volcano). Following lunch by the Lake, we take on yet another climb to Shirabu Pass and enjoy spectacular sceneries. We retreat in a western-style hotel by Lake Hibara.
Following breakfast, we leave Lake Hibara by bus and local train and transfer in Koriyama to the Shinkansen (bullet train) for Tokyo. Once in Koriyama, it is time to say goodbye. You arrive in Tokyo in the afternoon.
Aizu's main railway station is Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, served by JR and the Aizu Railways. The city's attractions are not located within walking distance of the station and are distributed across the city center, with many concentrated in and around Tsuruga Castle Park.
The easiest way for tourists to get around are the Aizu Loop Buses, which connect Aizu-Wakamatsu Station with all of the city's sites of interest. The loop buses operate from 8:00 to 17:30 and depart every 30 minutes. One ride on the Aizu Loop Bus costs 210 yen, while a day pass for unlimited rides on one calendar day costs 500 yen.
Aizu has also a network of regular city buses, although most tourists will not need to use them, as the loop buses are easier to use. Fares for regular buses are dependent on distance traveled.