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The Kumano Kodo

While the ancient pilgrimage route ‘The Kumano Kodo’ hovers relatively under the radar on an international scale, it is well-renowned in Japan. Recently, this network of spiritual walks has begun to catch on with the rest of the world after being officially ‘twinned’ with the popular ‘Camino de Santiago’ in Spain and awarded world heritage site status by UNESCO in 2004; both of which have understandably won it wider recognition.

The atmospheric trail twists, turns and criss-crosses its way through the unspoiled mountainous region of the Kii Peninsula - not too far from Mount Koya or Osaka – and has been well-trodden by pilgrims, samurai and even emperors for well over a thousand years.

Follow in their footsteps and explore this mythical area for yourself, visiting the sacred triangle of Shinto shrines (Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha), en route. As you walk along the natural pathways, you are bound to feel the calming quality of the remote Japanese countryside: we guarantee that immersing yourself in the verdant woodland valleys and passing crashing waterfalls will make you realise exactly why the natural world is so deeply respected in Japan. Here, the landscape is especially revered as many believe that the mountains themselves are ‘kamis’ (gods), with some even referring to this area as the “holy ground where gods dwell”.

In our opinion, the trek from Hosshinmon-oji, the "gate of awakening of the aspiration to enlightenment" to the Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine is the most relaxed option (taking approximately 2 – 3 hours). Overall, we would say that it's suitable for most capabilities but it's worth noting that some parts are relatively steep and the rugged pathways are latticed with roots every now and again, so care should be taken.

Since luxury accommodation is not easy to come by here, we recommend staying in one of the few charming guesthouses in Hongu. Despite this sleepy hamlet’s particularly tranquil feel, its imposing yet welcoming ‘torii’ gate (that marks the spot where the original Hongu Taisha shrine once stood) holds the crown as the tallest of these structures in the world.

If you need a break from hiking in the spectacular outdoors here, make sure to visit the nearby ‘onsen’ (hot spring) town of Yunomine. Lying just a 5 minute drive away from Hongu, this quaint UNESCO-listed town was discovered about 1,800 years ago and is heralded as one of the oldest hot springs in Japan. Soaking in the soothing, bubbling volcanic water surrounded by little else but billowing steam is just bliss, and is truly the perfect cure to aching muscles.

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