Within 15 to 30 minutes' drive of Enryakuji and Ruriko-in temples
Rooms and lobby offer distinctive combination of traditional French and Japanese decor
Large bathrooms with shower/tub combos and free French toiletries
Restaurant serves French cuisine with Biwa lake views
Hotel offers free shuttle to and from downtown Kyoto
Free Wi-Fi and parking
Elegant gift shop
A 30-minute drive from downtown Kyoto
Some furniture showing its age
No gym or spa
Located in the mountains to the northeast of Kyoto, the 29-room L'Hotel de Hiei caters to guests looking for an upscale getaway far from the city bustle. Close to Mount Hiei and the Garden Museum Hiei, the hotel makes it easy for travelers to commune with nature, but it's a 30-minute drive or more to many parts of downtown Kyoto. The common areas and rooms interpret traditional French and Western decor through a Japanese appreciation for clean lines and minimalist ornamentation. The result is upscale and homey, and the free Wi-Fi and minibars are both nice. Guests may also want to consider Kyoto Brighton Hotel, a more modern property in a quiet, residential setting, though within walking distance of Kyoto Imperial Palace.
A post-modern mix of French and Japanese architecture and interior design
French-Japanese relations started in the 1600s and flourished in the later half of the 19th century thanks to a shipbuilding and military alliance. That cultural connection can be found throughout the design of L'Hotel de Hiei. Classic French architectural themes can be seen in the long staircases and doorways of the lobby, yet these templates have been altered to suit a streamlined Japanese aesthetic that removes the traditional flowery details and ornamentation. The result is a subtle take on luxury. This subdued decor enables the landscape surrounding the hotel to be the main attraction. Chairs are positioned to look through the tall glass walls and the garden has been sculpted with the larger mountain view in mind. It's worth noting that on close inspection, some parts of the hotel appear past their prime, namely the water-stained lobby curtains, and some areas of the grounds lacking maintenance. Guests are a mix of couples and families seeking a quiet, refined setting from which to explore Kyoto, and for the most part, that's what they'll find here.
In the woods high above Kyoto, removed from city life
Many travelers who stay at L'Hotel de Hiei remark that it's located on a toll road high up in the mountains. Getting there can be notably more expensive than most hotels in Kyoto. Thankfully, L'Hotel de Hiei offers a free shuttle to and from downtown Kyoto, which takes about a 30-minute drive to reach. However, guests who aren't aligned with the shuttle's timetable may wind up paying a lot in taxi fare to see the sights and attractions. On the other hand, nature lovers will appreciate the peaceful surroundings among the cherry blossom trees and just a 15-minute drive to the temples of Enryaku-ji, a tendai monastery that practices Buddhism. The ride from Osaka International Airport to the hotel will take at least an hour.
Refined and homey with streamlined furnishings in a neutral backdrop
While room doors are a flamboyant crimson with molding and gold lettering that would suggest a French perspective, the guest rooms inside are a decidedly Japanese interpretation of a Paris apartment. Soft beige carpets or hardwood floors, white walls, and simple wood furnishings give a neutral, streamlined look. Huge wooden headboards have a grid of playfully sketched artwork reminiscent of Jean Cocteau. Some Suites have faux fireplaces, overstuffed couches, and spiral staircases. All of the beds are twin-size (which is to be expected), plus each room has a minibar, safe, flat-screen TV, and free Wi-Fi. Bathrooms are nicely sized and come with shower/tub combos and Japanese-toilets with bidet functions as well as plenty of free French toiletries. Much of this pales, however, when outside the window is a view of a lush, green mountain.
A restaurant and gift shop, but no fitness facilities or spa
While the hotel has unparalleled views of Kyoto, there are many typical amenities it doesn't have. There's no spa or traditional onsen (baths), as travelers might expect from an upscale hotel in this area. And there's no gym, so guests looking for a fitness fix will have to find it outside, perhaps with a hike up Mount Hiei. The hotel restaurant serves cuisine that combines French and Japanese influences. But those that miss breakfast, lunch, or dinner service will have to make due with the limited selection of food at an on-site shop or the vending machine. Business travelers may take advantage of the one meeting room, but the services are limited. The hotel offers a free shuttle to downtown Kyoto, Wi-Fi, and parking.