After checking out we headed back to Fukuoka in about 130km away. Dropped by Dazaifu Tenmangu in the outskirts of Fukuoka.
Though it was a Friday, it was fairly crowded on the road and inside the temple ground, where lots of locals were praying – probably for good luck in the new year, and students passing exams. While it was famous for Ume blossom – with 6000 Ume trees, one or two trees have started blooming in early stage.
locals lined up praying
Camphor tree estimated to be over 1000 years old
early Ume blossom
Returned car in Hakata and checked into hotel nearly station. It was lucky that we bumped into the Light Festival by teamLab in Fukuoka Castle Ruins.
Visited the Borderless teamLab in Tokyo/Odaiba 1 year ago. As the show was outdoor the night sky and night views of Fukuoka (featured photo) could be observed. Winter constellations such as Orion, Canis Major, Taurus, Gemini could clearly be seen by naked eye on a cloudless night.
After checking out we headed to the Harajiki falls in Bungo-ono (豊後大野) near Taketa, in less than 80 km to the south of Beppu. The falls span 120m across and of 20m tall. In summer the falls is at its peak volume. Strolled around and had lunch in one of the large road stations nearby.
viewed from the bridge
Fuko-ji Magaibutsu (普光寺磨崖仏)
Noted about this from the pamphlet in the road station. Dropped by Fuko-ji – the stoned buddha was sculpted on a cliff wall. Of over 11m this is the tallest in Japan, sculpted during the Kamakura-era.
Before returning to Beppu for our last onsen stay, we dropped by the Okajoshi and Taketa town. Have contemplated of possibly returning in Spring so did not stay long.
Checked into seaside onsen hotel in Beppu, selected French dinner course. While all rooms have ensuite onsen we soaked in the furo on the top floor with no one else occupying it 🙂
First we arrived at Usa Jinja (宇佐神宮) in less than 1 hour. It was built in the 8th century and is the Head Jingu for thousands of Jingu dedicated to Hachiman in Japan. Unfortunately, the treasure hall was closed so we left after 1 hour.
entrance to Usa Jingu
Happy New Year (in red), Reiwa 2nd year (in black)
Next we drove further eastward to Fuki-ji (literally wealthy), which was also built in the 8th century. As a national treasure, the main hall is the oldest wooden structure in Kyushu. Inside there are paintings and wooden sculptures of Amida Buddha (no photo is allowed). As the temple was small we stayed for a while. Had casual lunch in a cafe nearby and caught sight of Ume in early bloom.
headed further uphill to this temple of 1300 years old beneath Mt. Futago (literally twins). It’s the head temple of the Tendai sect in the peninsula. Approaching from the lower car park there is a pair of stone Nio guardians (featured photo), followed by a flight of stone stairs before arriving at the main temple area, where the Gomado Hall (literally protection against evils) is.
head temple of Tendai sect
Before returning to Beppu, dropped by Kitsuki for a coffee break and the Kitsuki Castle, which has been reconstructed and probably is the smallest castle in Japan. From the castle, it offers nice views of the Beppu Bay, Beppu and Oita city in the distance. Did not stay as rest of the ground was under construction.
After checkout on the next morning I drove eastward to Yufuin, about 160km away – D1 of using the KEP. Dropped by Hida town for breaks and lunch along the way. It was raining and probably snowing on the expressway. Snow was on mountains/trees but not on roads.
Went for Unagi and ordered Hitsumabushi-style – our fav on a cold day.
Strolled around the small town after lunch but not for long as it was cold around 2C and drizzling.
Returned to Yufuin (5th time) and had coffee in Snoopy Cafe again before checkin.
snoopy in yukata
Checked into an onsen hotel in Yufuin – in a small mountainous area where onsen is in slight bluish colour (2nd stay) and also smooth for skin complexion ! Elsewhere in Yufuin onsen is transparent.
Booked an Italian dinner course for a break. The restaurant was in the onsen town so had to meander slowly downhill via narrow road allowing 1+ car to pass thru’.
Dinner was delicious using local and Italian sources. Apart from us it seemed there were other customers though seated in a separate room. Had more than enough privacy and good service.
orange, mozerella, pork pate
50 types of fresh vege
Pasta in clams (hamaguri)
seafood in wrap
grilled Chianina beef from Italy
Strawberry parfait, Pannacotta, marshmallow
checked out on the next morning with clear views of Mt Yufuin and head to Kunisaki Peninsula.
Before leaving Takeo onsen, we dropped by the Takeo gate (Chinese style).
Headed north to Okawachiyama (大川内山) in Imari (伊万里) – a famous porcelain town less than 1 hour by national road.
While we visited Arita – another porcelain town in Saga more than 2 years ago, this porcelain village is tucked inside mountains. At the entrance is the Nabeshima-Hanyobashi (Clan Kiln Bridge) decorated with porcelain. There are pottery workshops and store-fronts inside the village, easily visited on foot.
The small Nabeshima Oniwayakikan displayed some precious and beautiful wares, where the abdicated Heisei emperor and other Japanese royal family have visited.
visits by the Japanese royal family
Next we headed further north to coastal town Karatsu for lunch, also dropped by the renovated Karatsu Castle.
Marugame udon with oysters, scallops. Goubou and white fish in tempura
Ureshino onsen (嬉野温泉)
Finally we returned to our next onsen ryokan in Ureshino where we stayed 2 years ago. One of its annexed ryokan (15 min drive) has a large rotenburo by a mountain stream. We soaked in it before having dinner. The onsen was also smooth and good for skin complexion.
huge rotenburo – taken from poster
Dinner was sumptuous as expected. The ryokan is famous of its in-house “yu-tofu” (tofu in soup). The pot of yellow Ume (plum) on my back was fragrant.
In my planning, have budgeted to buy a 6-day KEP @JPY7.6k for the entire car rental period. However during car pick-up, the car rental staff advised that it’s possible to activate the KEP at a later date, thus saving 2 days and paid JPY5.6K for the last 4 days. On the first two days (national holidays), toll fees were charged at 30% less using ETC card.
Takeo onsen town (武雄温泉)
Arrived at Takeo onsen town about 85km away in 1 hour+, expressway was less busy after passing by Tosu IC. Before checkin we dropped by a cosy coffee house. Apart from us, another local couple were chatting while locals were buying cakes/bread.
Stay in Mifune-Rakuen Hotel (御船山楽園ホテル)
When we first stepped into the lobby, we took a step back – we thought we went to the wrong place. It was dark though decorated by lightings akin to teamLab.
Nice, renovated rotenburo and onsen was nice to skin complexion. Selected dinner course serving Saga A5 beef and seafood. Room and onsen areas where refurbished with a tint of modern design. Overall it was a nice stay. Service was meticulous and sincere.
welcome drinks upon checkin
steamed Saga A5 beef
After check out on next morning, we visited the Mifune-Rakuen (with free entrance as overnight guests). It was built over 150 years ago by the 28th Nabeshima Lord in Saga. It has an area of 50 thousand square metres below a cliff.
Though it was in winter, we walked around the garden in about 1 hour. Some red Tsubaki (Camelia) was in full bloom.
Visited Akame 48 falls (赤目四十八滝) in Mie Prefecture as a day trip. The car park was full (on weekend) when we arrived at around 10am. Car key was surrendered to car park staff for parking.
Commenced our hiking close to 11am, where there were many people on the way. The falls are spread out along a deep and narrow gorge of about 4km, heading uphill with plenty of rocky stairs along the trail – some are slippery. We turned back after 1+ hour for lunch at the entrance where there are more local eateries.
Akame 48 falls (赤目四十八滝)
Rocks layered in 8 levels
bottom of gorge
It was lucky to have another nice day with blue sky and peak Koyo. At the entrance the Japanese giant salamanders could be watched living in tanks, though most of them were immobile. After lunch, we strolled around the local shops displaying Ninja related artifacts/toys before returning to Nara/Tenri. The ancient Iga Ninjas were trained in the mountains/gorge in Akame.
Returned to Luzern for the last 2 days before leaving Switzerland. We stayed in a Junior Suite of a 5-star hotel overlooking Lake Luzern.
Did not plan any specific day visits as our last stay was 16 months ago including a day trip to Mt. Pilatus. Besides, it was gloomy and misty for those 2 days when not even Mt. Pilatus could be seen. We strolled around after checking into the hotel.
view from balcony
Junior Suite that we stayed for 2 nights
boulevard below on lakefront
On the next day, took free city bus (using Transport Card) to Seeburg, which is about 20 min from our hotel along the lake rim. It was tranquil and serene.
Returned to Luzern bus station for a change, dropped by KKL Luzern again while waiting for the next bus to Horw.
Hofkirche and the hotel that we stayed
Strolled around small town Horw – views of the other side of the lake along the way were beautiful. Had lunch in an Italian restaurant – it was quite full with locals, some were from offices looking at their attires.
Visited this Roman fortress town as another easy half day trip – just 30 min away served by frequent trains from Lugano (free rides provided by the travel card).
The town is famous for its 3 castles built/expanded by the dukes of Milan during the Middle Ages. All of those have been declared as UNESCO World Heritage sites. We visited 2 of those closest to the old town.
Easily accessible from the train station in less than 10 min on foot. It was the oldest and probably the largest of all three castles. With a lift ride we ascended onto the castle sitting on a high plateau, featuring two towers – the White and Black Towers.
Castelgrande viewed from Piazza del Sol
White and Black Towers (r to l)
vineyards within the castle
wall from Roman times
Castello di Montebello
This castle from the 13th century is located on the opposite side of the valley. To approach it, we had to climb plenty of stairs via narrow alleys from the old town. It was a residential palace. Great views of Castelgrande and old town below, the Castello di Sasso Corbaro further uphill.
via narrow alleys
Castello di Sasso Corbaro – further uphill
Castelgrande – downhill
old town – downhill
Castello di Montebello viewed from Castelgrande
Returned to old town for lunch. Strolled around the piazzas before heading back to Lugano for the only ferry ride in this entire trip.
Visited Locarno as a day trip while weather forecast predicted it being the last sunny day (while in Lugano).
Ponte dei Salti
Took commuter train to Locarno with 1 change in about 1 hour. Change a local bus heading into the Valle Verzasca in northern Locarno – all these rides were covered by the transport card issued in Lugano !
Bus was quite full and it started to meander uphill along narrow roads. Passed by a large dam and an artificial lake behind it. Took about 30 min to reach Lavertezzo where river Verzasca was spanned by Ponte dei Salti, a medieval double-arched bridge. It is famous for people taking dives from it into emerald river water beneath, though there are plenty of signs warning about slippery rocks and rapid/hidden currents in the river. Rocks along the riverbed was sculpted into different shapes.
fall foliage higher up
Strolled around bumped into a church and a small rapid nearby before taking bus back to Locarno.
Santuario della Madonna del Sasso
Once back in Locarno, took a funicular uphill to this pilgrimage church, which overlooks the town. The church was built in 16th century to mark the spot where Madonna appeared to a Franciscan monk.
After returning to town, had a coffee break and strolled along the lake rim of Lago Maggiore and the Piazza Grande before calling it a day in Locarno.