Where else in the world would you find modern art museums, installations and sculptures dotted about all over three islands? Benesse House stands proud as the centrepiece of this uniquely Japanese ‘Art Island’ experience in the Seto Inland Sea and is the only luxury accommodation on Naoshima island. Exuding cutting-edge style, the contemporary property is the brainchild of the renowned architect Tadao Ando. Since Ando’s designs inspired the entire concept behind the island’s ‘art-itecture’, up to the point that Naoshima was often referred to as ‘Ando Island’ during its formative years, Benesse House is a fitting hotel with a strong sense of place.
The minimal architectural feat houses four distinct hotel wings, Oval, Beach, Park & Museum. Each room and suite features artworks by the very same leading artists whose creations are displayed in the adjoining museum. Not only are the hotel’s sleek walls lined with paintings and drawings, but sculptures can also be seen directly out of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Benesse House provides many impressive views – our favourite being the sweeping panorama over the pastel blue sea visible from the highest vantage point, the elevated Oval wing, reached by a funicular. The hotel’s bar is located up here inside the otherworldly elliptical building so guests enjoy this prime position during the weekends with a drink in hand, even if their rooms are in another wing. Back on ground level, the Beach suites offer exceptional views too – one can cast their eye along the shore to Yayoi Kusama’s iconic ‘Yellow Pumpkin’ from the comfort of their own room or balcony.
While staying at Benesse House, one can enjoy exclusive access to the museum after-hours, once the day-trippers have disappeared - a truly special experience. Even if you’ve already explored the museum during the day, we recommend re-visiting under the cover of darkness as the art installations appear to take on another life. This also applies to the bare concrete building in itself, as Ando’s architectural minimalistic vision relies on the strong contrast between light and dark, which is perfectly displayed and magnified in the half-light.
Benesse House offers complementary wi-fi as well as a couple of dining options to choose between. Their French restaurant on the terrace, ‘Etoile De La Mer’, has a tempting menu or if you’d prefer to take advantage of local food, modern Japanese cuisine is served at ‘Issan’ within the museum. Several works by Tadao Ando, among installations by other world-class artists, are within walking distance from Benesse House, our favourite being four of Monet’s masterpieces displayed in a magical setting within the Chichu Museum – we won’t give anything else away as we don’t want to spoil it for you!
With two other ‘Art Islands’, Tejima and Inushima, a short ferry ride away, a stay here really is an unmissable experience for contemporary art lovers and makes for an ideal addition to a cultural tour of Japan.