A few months back I happened to have a day off on the same day as my partner – what luck, it’s as if we planned it – so we headed out on the bike to do a beach-side run down to the Akao herb and rose garden, and then back up through the mountains of Hakone to a relatively new café, before heading back home.
The beach road run out was as nice as ever though we were planning to stop off at the Seisho Bypass west bound service area and take in the ocean view, but since there’s a typhoon incoming and the swell was already kicking up with waves almost reaching the road, it seemed they’d decided to close the service area (I found out later the whole place is being refitted anyway), so off we went straight to the Akao Rose Gardens.
First off, I should say it wasn’t what I expected. I expected some small, over-priced little garden exploiting drivers and riders on the coastal road desperate for a stop and some distraction.
Actually what we got for our 1,000en each, was a shuttle bus up the mountain side to the top of the gardens, and from which you can amble back down through probably a couple of kilometres of gardens back to the entrance.
At the top then, perceptions changed – it is a modern, beautifully set garden, starting with a large and beautiful manicured Japanese style trees set amongst the raked stones of a traditional garden (karesansui). There’s also a glass and natural wood cafe, co-designed by Kuma-san, well known for his work on the new Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
One thing this place completely understands is the Instagram visitor, with several areas explicitly pointing out that would work great on the Insta, especially the great ocean views.
From that top area, the gardens become more European, with some spaces distinctly English and then into further terraces with more French influence for example. I was surprised just how big it was and even though we were somewhat out of season, also how many people were working there, and how much there still to see.
The initial bus to the top makes sense, and the walk down through what is a kind of natural valley is actually quite relaxing, and we arrived back at the bottom ready for a flask of tea back at the bike. There’s also an Italian restaurant and cafe there too if that’s what you’re in the mood for.
From the Gardens we took a few nice mountain roads including the Yugawara Parkway, up to the Hakone area and a café which had opened a few months earlier, around May 2019, called Biker‘s Paradise South Hakone [Google map link]. They took an old and closed down restaurant, and revamped it into a very stylish bikers café, rental and event space, with plenty of bike focussed parking.
Inside it’s gotten a very nice atmosphere – sofas, benches, natural wood tables, brass bar fittings, it all looks and feels really good. There’s a vinyl music system at the back (not fired up when we were there), a small gear shop, magazines and a selection of Suzuki Katana bikes around. Even the toilets are very stylish.
Two things to note: the drinks and food prices are not cheap. Also, whilst parking is sort of free, you pay 500yen for a coupon which gets you 500yen off next time (?). They have English speaking staff, and we tried it in both English and Japanese and the reasoning behind it isn’t very clear, but you end up paying 500yen to be there, which you sort of get back next visit. If something needs explaining each time someone arrives, chances are it’s not a good idea.
As the café is owned by rental819, a large bike rental company, they have a very decent selection of bikes available for renting, for from a few hours to a few days, which could add some spice to a day out if you ride up, rent a bike for a few hours and go and do the Izu Skyline, or one of the numerous other great roads up there.
Overall I liked the café; it’s a great place to meet up with people and hang out in a stylish environment, with more scope to meet people than other local cafes in the area. I would think its local competition would be the Anest Skylounge, just a few minutes down the road, which is potentially better known and has a good view of Mt. Fuji, but has had multiple owners who have done little to update it, and yet it remains highly frequented by car and bike enthusiast groups.
As an addendum on this post, we went before some of the heavy typhoons which swept the region in 2019, and at one point the main road which the cafe is on was closed on one side, and we rode through road-wide water on one occasion to get there. Fun, but you should be aware!