Most first-time visitors to Japan take the bullet train straight from Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka, skipping the Kii peninsula that bulges into the Pacific in-between. Whilst the big cities are undoubtedly must-sees, it is on the peninsula that some of the most ancient settlements can be found, along with hot springs and beautiful ocean views enjoyed by Shoguns and Emperors of old. Hallowed Hongu Taisha shrine is located toward the southen end, from where the ancient pilgrimage trails of the Kumano Kodo fan out. One leads to the now famous Buddhist mountain enclave of Mt Koya founded in the year 805, whilst another runs eastwards up the coast through Mie prefecture to Ise-Jingu, another revered place for followers of Shinto - Japan's ancient animist belief system.
A thriving coastal community has grown up in the Matsusaka area once known as the Imperial breadbasket and a range of charming traditional 'ryokan' accommodation can be found here. It is an area rich with legend such as the 'wedded rocks' in Ise bay, and there is a thriving pearl fishing industry. The internationally renowned Aman have announced their newest luxury spa retreat venture a little further south along the jagged coastline of Ago Bay, which is testament to the scenic beauty and restorative powers of the hot springs in the area. It may take twice as long to get around on local trains around the coast but it's a charming ride.