THE BEST PLACES YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
Scouting Report 2008: Tanabe
Our third-annual rundown of the best new places—as determined by people lucky enough to have exploration be part of their job description.
Alisa Grifo: Owner of Kiosk, a New York City–based store stocked with souvenirs from her travels (kioskkiosk.com).
For about a decade, any time Alisa Grifo wasn't working as a set designer on film and photo shoots, she went traveling—or, more specifically, collecting mementos while abroad. So many friends began begging Grifo to bring back her finds for them that she decided to open Kiosk, a New York City store stocked with souvenirs; she focuses on one location at a time, though at any given moment shoppers can find black licorice from Finland, vegetable peelers from Germany, and air mail envelopes from Hong Kong. Grifo now hunts for products nearly half the year.
A tip from a Japanese coworker led Grifo to board a train in Kyoto and head south into the mountainous, densely forested Wakayama prefecture. "My husband and I had to transfer buses near the top of a mountain range," says Grifo. "The views of the surrounding trees and peaks were just extraordinary." Her destination was Kamigoten Ryokan, a traditional guesthouse that has been run by the same family for four centuries. Near the Ryujin Onsen hot springs (within the city of Tanabe), the 11-room inn has a two-story wooden façade and indoor and outdoor hot-spring baths, many of which overlook forests and a nearby creek. "We took baths, ate an amazing dinner, had a long sleep, and felt utterly relaxed. No one spoke English, but it was never a problem."
One day, Grifo and her husband stumbled upon a hiking path that sliced through Japanese cedars and up a mountain slope. "At the end there was a really beautiful waterfall," she says. "The trail felt like it was used only by the local community. It was very simple and totally secluded."
Information: Tanabe tourism website, tb-kumano.jp/en. Trains from Kyoto to JR Kii-Tanabe take 150 minutes, japanrail.com, $52 each way. Buses to Ryujin Onsen take 80 minutes, 011-81/739-22-2100, $16 each way. Kamigoten Ryokan, 42 Ryujin, 011-81/739-79-0005, aikis.or.jp/~kamigoten, from $150 per person, with breakfast and dinner.