Soak up summer in Japan’s most well-loved ski town with a tour of scenic marshlands, verdant farmlands, and delicious local produce.
My sweater billows wildly in the wind as I cruise down a long and winding road lined with verdant farmland, colorful cottages, and the sight of the majestic Mt. Yotei in the distant. It was September in Niseko, the tail end of summer with temperate days and chilly nights. During this time of the year in Hokkaido, the Niseko mountain range trades powdery snow for lush greenery. Instead of skiers, bikers flock to the resort town either for leisure rides or a stage of Japan’s largest cycling race, the Tour de Hokkaido.
It’s easy to see why Niseko makes a hotbed for cycling enthusiasts—the air is fresh and crisp here, while the terrain is a good mix of gentle slopes, scenic valleys, and long uphill climbs that reward one with photo-worthy views of the chiseled Mt. Niseko-Annupuri range.
For guests staying at Niseko Village’s four properties, Kasara, Hinode Hills, Hilton, and The Green Leaf, electronic bike rental services are available throughout the green season from late April to October, starting from about US$21 (2250 yen) for two hours.
Here’s a guide to the cycling pit stops worth adding to your list:
Located within the sprawling resort grounds and about a 5-minute ride away, The Village is a dining zone inspired by traditional Japanese machiya architecture, with wooden lattice exteriors and charming lantern-lit walkways.
Head to the ski-themed Two Sticks—the name likely referring to the poles used in the winter sport) for a vegetable curry at lunch and shabu shabu in the evening. The latter features paper-thin slices of pork in a savory kombu dashi broth. Meanwhile, fresh Hokkaido seafood served in the form of a kaizen nabe(hot pot) can be had at Crab Shack.
For a quick tea or dessert break, order the delightful Cremia premium soft cream (the local way of saying soft serve ice cream) at Village Patisserie. The soft serve comes in a buttery langue de chat cone and is as photo-worthy as it is tasty.
Beyond Niseko Village, there’s plenty more to explore when it comes to savoring local eats. Just 10 minutes’ ride away is Milk Kobo (888-1 Soga, Niseko, Abuta District, Hokkaido 048-1522), a café popular for desserts made fresh with milk sourced from the nearby Takahashi Farm. The signature cream puff, with choux pastry enveloping silky smooth milk cream, as well as the milk soft serve, are must-tries.
Dairy lovers can also check out the nearby Niseko Cheese Factory (263-2 Soga, Niseko, Abuta District, Hokkaido 048-1522), which produces more than 15 different types of cheese daily with dairy from local farms and spring water that trickles down from Mt. Yotei. Among the family-run factory’s rotation of award-winning cheeses is a dessert cheese that’s studded with dried papaya and pineapple bits. Verdict? It’s wonderfully sweet and savory, and best paired with toast.
Those who fancy venturing further can enjoy about an hour and a half ride to Makkari Tofu Factory and Spring (〒048-1605 Hokkaido, Abuta District, Makkari) for some of the best tofu you’ll taste in Hokkaido. Like the cheese, the tofu here is made from spring water sourced from Mt. Yotei. Here’s why the spring water is so special—it takes between 50 to 100 years for snowmelt to filter through the mountain before flowing down to the many springs in Niseko. The purity of the water results in food products that have an unparalleled freshness to it.
For lunch, consider stopping at the quaint White Birch Café (106番地3 Hondori, Niseko, Abuta District, Hokkaido 048-1502 ) for their decadent beef burger, which comes sandwiched with a dollop of warm, locally-sourced mozzarella cheese. The espresso, made from house-roasted coffee beans, come highly recommended too. Alternatively, make a pit stop at Houzuki Udon (340-5 Hirafu, Kutchan, Abuta District, Hokkaido 044-0077) for handmade udon noodles served in a rich broth. During summer, cool down with cold udon that’s dipped in a light soy sauce and served with crisp vegetable tempura.
If prime beef is on your agenda, reserve a table at Hilton Niseko Village’s all-day-dining establishment and steak house, Melt Bar and Grill (〒048-1592 Hokkaido, Abuta District, Niseko). Sourced from the Tokachi district of Hokkaido, the grilled fillet of Saibi beef is prepared perfectly medium-rare and served with piquant horseradish sauce.
The great outdoors is just one of the many reasons why Niseko’s summer is so alluring. About a 10-minute ride away from the resort is PURE, a nature activity center great for the young and old. The best way to enjoy the activities is to purchase the Super Passport, which gives one access to all 11 attractions with unlimited playtime.
Thrill-seekers can make a beeline for the longest zip line tour in Japan—an accumulative length of 1.4 kilometers over six separate zip lines of varying heights. The most scenic one cuts through dense forests, offering breathtaking views of Mt. Yotei, while another lets you throw a golf ball mid-air at a ground target.
Alternatively, try tree trekking, an adventure rope course that takes one all around the lush forest via lines, ropes, hanging bridges, and nets. Go for the advanced course if you’re not afraid of heights, as it comes with mini connecting zip lines for a touch of fun.
If time is on your side, take on parts of the Yotei circuit, an 81-kilometer journey that circumnavigates the stratovolcano with beautiful scenery to boot. Along the way, you’ll find the Ostrich Arishima Second Farm (239-2 Toyosato, Niseko, Abuta District, Hokkaido 048-1543), which lets you come up close with the world’s largest flightless birds. More than 60 ostriches roam free in this range, eager for guests to feed them with corn kernels.
After which, stop by Fukidashi (“gushing out” in Japanese) Park (45 Kawanishi, 京極町 Kyogoku, Abuta District, Hokkaido 044-0131), which is home to some of the tastiest spring water in Japan thanks to more than 70 years of underground filtering. A nearby café serves an unusual dessert known as mizu shingen (raindrop cake), a translucent blob of jelly made from fresh spring water and drizzled with brown sugar syrup and kinako (roasted soybean powder).
Be prepared to hold your nose when you arrive at Yukichichibu Onsen (680-2 Yunosato, 蘭越町 Rankoshi, Isoya District, Hokkaido 048-1321), located next to calderic marshland Otama Numa. While pungent steam rises from these sulfur springs, the onsen is said to offer countless health benefits.
Nature lovers ought to visit Shinsen-numa Marsh (Maeda, Kyowa, Iwanai District, Hokkaido 048-2201), which is famed for its fall foliage and crystal-clear lakes. Be prepared to hike for at least one to two hours to see the Shinsen wetlands, which is dotted with birch trees, wildflowers, and lakes of varying sizes.
Kasara Townhouse, one of the four accommodations at Niseko Village, is a good choice for families and groups of friends. These luxurious three-bedroom houses (there’s just eight) pay homage to Japan’s heritage townhouses once inhabited by Edo period craftsmen and wealthy merchants.
Fully furnished with a kitchen, dining room, bar, living area, and washing machines, these houses are designed for both long-term and short-term stays. Curated prints depicting ski slopes, pillows with winter sports motifs, as well as Japanese calligraphy paintings, remind guests that they’re never far from Hokkaido’s beautiful winter season. Guests at Kasara also enjoy access to the onsen at sister property The Green Leaf—a wonderful treat after a long day of cycling.