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- 13 Dec 2019, 3 nights
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Hakuba is a hive of adventure in the Japanese Alps, west of the regional capital Nagano. In winter, powder-soft snow and ski trails lace the mountains; but every summer the slopes burst into a riot of brightly coloured lilies, and visitors still flock to the valley for an adrenaline fix. As well as year-round sports, travellers looking for culture can visit ancient castles, join in classic Japanese tea ceremonies or explore the museums of nearby Ōmachi city.
If you're coming to ski, look out for a Hakuba hostel with equipment rental, handy drying rooms and shuttle buses to the slopes. You could stay in a traditional Japanese room on tatami mat beds, or in a cosy, wood-panelled chalet with a balcony and mountain views. Some Hakuba hostels in town have on-site restaurants, and others have guest kitchens – every budget is catered for. Most hostels in Hakuba have free Wi-Fi in common areas so you can keep in touch and upload your action shots.
Downtown Hakuba follows the main road through town, with additional shops and restaurants as you climb the western slopes. Happō-One, and Echoland further uphill, are the main dining and nightlife hubs but Lake Aoki (15 minutes' drive south) is the place for water sports and swimming in some of Japan's purest water. Otari Village is to the north of Hakuba. It's home to the 1400-year-old Taiko drumming tradition, rustic scenery and hot springs.
In winter, Hakuba vibrates with the chatter of groups heading to the ski areas along the valley; while summer sees it become a popular base for mountain biking and paragliding. Take Happō-One's Adam Gondola and chairlifts to reach the peak of Karamatsu-dake mountain, or challenge yourself to the two-day hike up Shirouma-dake. A more relaxed afternoon can be spent in Hakuba's onsens – there are plenty of the traditional hot springs dotted across the valley. Or you can take the 80-minute train ride to Matsumoto Castle. Known as the 'Crow Castle', this vast black palace is one of the oldest and most prized in the country.
To get to Hakuba you can fly to Tokyo's Narita International Airport and take the direct bus from there to Happō Bus Terminal. However, many visitors catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Nagano instead, and then take the 70-minute bus ride to reach Hakuba. A train line runs through the valley, connecting Hakuba with Otari (in 20 minutes) and Omachi (in 45 minutes). In winter, a free shuttle bus runs between the ski areas and the town centre.