The birthplace of Japan's industrialisation; setting for the opera Madame Butterfly; and inspiration for Martin Scorsese's 2017 movie 'Silence' - Nagasaki, the international gateway to Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's main islands.
Garden Terrace Hotel & Resort, Nagasaki
The night view of the Nagasaki bay and city skyline is said to be among the most striking panoramas in Japan - and one that can be enjoyed at this Kengo Kuma-designed hotel (the architect now chosen to build the stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games). It's a unique contemporary base from which to explore Nagasaki and the island of Kyushu. Before heading out for dinner, enjoy the hotel's club lounge for complimentary aperitifs and canapés. Then in the morning, order the traditional Japanese breakfast; exceptional presentation and flavours.
Taisho-ya Ryokan, Ureshino
Holiday like a local in a traditional 'ryokan' Japanese inn. Kyushu is renowned for its natural onsen hot springs, making its 'onsen ryokan' among the best in the country. Ryokan celebrate and share traditional hospitality, cuisine and accommodation. So, get naked and enjoy the time-honoured Japanese ritual of bathing and then soaking in a hot tub. Afterwards, dress in your complimentary 'yukata' cotton gown, tied with a thick obi belt, and on your feet, try the 'geta' wooden slippers. Dinner will be 'kaiseki ryori' gourmet cuisine. Start your meal toasting with plum wine and then expect multiple courses of exquisitely-presented local and seasonal Kyushu dishes, such as noodles, sashimi, cooked salmon, Nagasaki wagyu beef, and miso soup with tofu. Everything is served in individual porcelain dishes, shiny laminated boxes, or on bamboo plates and decorated with twigs and leaves from the Japanese garden.
Meanwhile, your room will be prepared for the night, with a futon bed laid out onto the tatami mat floor, and your paper screen blinds closed. Breakfast the next morning is a feast, including the signature dish or tofu freshly prepared at your table in bubbling, mineral-rich spring water!
Shinsen Ryokan, Takachino
If you're planning on seeing more of Kyushu's natural wonders, then Takachiho Gorge, the remarkable river canyon, must make the short list. Nearby is this stylish traditional ryokan, with a beautiful Japanese garden, and a myriad outdoor traditional hot tubs in which to relax.
Unzen Kanko Hotel, Unzen
The Unzen hot springs area has been a popular wellness destination for over a century. The Unzen Kanko Hotel, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, was opened in 1935 and still retains a wonderful nostalgic ambiance, a fusion of Japanese service with European vintage style.
Seven Stars Cruising Train, Fukuoka
The Seven Stars is a 'one-of-a-kind'. Japan's first luxury cruising sleeper train has a timeless elegance akin to the word's classic luxury trains. However, this is Kyushu, so expect quintessential Japanese style, from exquisite 'kumiko' wooden latticework in the carriages, delicate paper shoji window screens, to elaborate meals prepared with typical Japanese attention to detail.
The one- or three-night itineraries, starting in Fukuoka, showcase the culture, scenery and cuisine of Kyushu in elite luxury. It's an exceptional way to cover some of the island's more than 3000 kilometres of track, and enjoy private excursions - including next month's Hanami (to enjoy the famous Sakura cherry blossoms)- and a unique behind-the-scenes look at the world-famous historic Kakiemon porcelain kiln in Arita (which recently celebrated its 400th anniversary).
Dejima Island, Nagasaki
A visit to Dejima is a compelling way to learn just how significant Nagasaki is within Japan's history. For centuries, the country was isolated from the world due to its 'Sakoku' policy, where Shoguns forbid citizens to leave Japan or foreigners to visit. From the 17th century, Nagasaki was the only city with international cultural and commercial exchange, thanks to permitted commerce with Dutch traders housed on the Dejima artificial island, built away from the city's citizens.
Atomic Bomb Museum, Nagasaki
One could dedicate an entire guide to this peace museum and still not do it justice. For many, Nagasaki is synonymous with the atomic bomb; the US exploded 'Fatman' above the city on 9 August 1945. Since then, Nagasaki has become a focal point of the peace movement. The museum's mantra is that Nagasaki must be the last place on earth where a nuclear bomb was used in conflict. In addition to the compelling and moving exhibits, the museum is also a place for remaining survivors to share their testimonies. Nearby is the peace park, as well as the actual hypocentre of the blast. (Nagasaki is no longer radioactive as the bomb exploded in the air and the radiation was dispersed and now, 70 years later background radiation is normal).
Unzen-Amakusa National Park, Unzen
The island of Kyushu is home to the protected Unzen-Amakusa hot springs reserves. The Unzen part of the park was opened in the early 1930s, making it Japan's first National Park. Here, in the shadow of the immense Mt Unzen, you can discover the hot springs known as 'Unzen Jigoku' or hell springs, as they spit, scream and boil. There are plenty of self-guided walks to take you through the steamy landscapes.
In nearby Chijiwa and Unzen City towards the end of March, the spectacular 'Kanoukaen' is celebrated. It is the biggest fire festival in Nagasaki which sees over 200 participants dressed as samurai warriors parading through streets lined with blossoming cherry trees.
Zen Meditation, Shugakuin Temple, Yoshinogari
Zen mediation came to Japan, via China, through Nagasaki. Try it here in an authentic temple, guided by a priest. But be warned, like most things in Japan, it is taken very seriously and while you sit, expect to bow as the priest passes, so he can strike your back (compassionately he says) with a wooden stick to prevent lapses in concentration! But no hard feelings - afterwards, the priest, Taijun Noguchi, and his wife welcome you into their home next door for green tea and sweet cakes!
Fukuchiyo Sake Brewery, Kashima
Sake, Japan's national drink, and an integral part the country's cuisine, remains a novelty to most westerners. Fukuchiyo brewery, with its striking contemporary architect-designed interiors, contrasting beautifully with the historic architecture, is a memorable place to not only find out how sake is made (from fermented rice using a special mould, called 'koji-kin') but one where you can try their premium sake including Nabeshima. This historic Hizen Hamashuku area of Kashima holds an annual sake festival at the end of March.
Hiking - Kyushu Olle
Kyushu has an established network of hiking trails, many incorporating historic pilgrimage routes to shrines and temples, that take in wonderful scenery from graceful bamboo forests to active springs.
Sakamotoya Japanese Restaurant, Nagasaki
The food scene in Japan is superior, with exceptional attention to not only the quality of the produce but also to the creativity of presentation. This charming Japanese restaurant, where you are greeted and served by the traditional 'Okattsama' owner and hostess, offers gourmet 'Shippoku' cuisine. Through centuries of trade with China, Europe and beyond, the local cuisine reflects Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish influences. The meal is made up of lots of sharing plates, with familiar tastes like sweet tender pork belly and lobster, as well as Japanese staples including sea snails, miso, and sashimi. Remember, you must leave your shoes at the door, and wear the slippers provided by the restaurant!
Nagasaki has one of the largest Chinatowns in Japan. It may sound odd to come all the way to Japan to eat Chinese food, but here it's truly unique - a style of fusion cuisine that dates to the Japanese Edo period. Try the Saraudon with small, crispy noodles; or the Champon with vegetables.
Mohikan Ramen, Kurume
If you want to eat noodles with finesse in Japan, then you need to learn to slurp! Deftly using chop sticks to fold the noodles into your mouth while making a loud slurping noise is the only way to enjoy ramen noodles, a speciality in Kyushu. Head to this noodle diner, run by charismatic chef owner Kawazu Yuta (yes you guessed right, he does have a mohican!). Order your meal from the vending machine (just press the button with the picture you like, pay, and then take your ticket to the bar). Within moments you'll have piping hot noodles in tasty broth with vegetables, pork or even crispy chicken.