Furano full of summer fun beyond wintry appeal
The city of Furano is the pulse of Japan's Hokkaido prefecture
When friends and family heard that I was heading for Hokkaido last month, the first thing on their to-do list for me was to eat the succulent melons this northern island in Japan is known for.
That, and visit the famous lavender fields.
Personally, I could only visualise snow-capped mountains that often pop up on my social media news feed. It being summer in Japan, so my expectations were a blur at this point.
I was ready to explore this new destination on the invitation of the Furano Tourism Association (www.furanotourism.com/en/).
On arrival, our hosts Riena and Yuriko politely ushered us into a waiting van for the next part of our journey to a town called Biei, two hours from the New Chitose Airport.
We arrived at Hotel ParkHills after dark, so I could not see much of the surrounds that night, but what greeted me the next morning was a pleasant surprise.
This understated three-star hotel was located right next to a waterfall and you could hear the gentle roar of water pounding on the rocks from your room.
Shirahige (White Beard) Waterfall is a popular sight that many drive for hours to see and I simply strolled over for it. Its name is a reference to the way water cascades in between the rock wall from more than 30m high.
The source of this waterfall is a natural hot spring, which in turn forms the Blue River that flows into the man-made Aoiike Blue Pond. The bright blue colour is the result of natural minerals that dissolve in the water.
The contrast between the withered brown tree stumps emerging from the water against the bright blue hue conjures an almost ethereal feel, captivating thousands of visitors each day.
Any trip to Hokkaido is not complete without visiting its flower gardens.
Meander along the various flower plantations at Shikisai no Oka, where you not only see the vivid purple colours from the lavender but also various other vibrant hues that are neatly arranged in plots, making the whole horizon kaleidoscopic.
RELUCTANT TO LEAVE
When you have had enough of the blooms, head to the Alpaca Farm located within the plantation, where super adorable, almost-smiling alpacas greet you. I found myself reluctant to leave after interacting with the irresistible, docile South American camelids.
If Biei is the tranquil heartbeat of Hokkaido, then the city of Furano is the magical pulse of the largest prefecture in Japan.
While the heavy winter snowfall makes it the ideal spot for skiers and snowboarders seeking some winter thrills, it is so much more than the powdery snow on ski slopes that it is known for.
In recent years, Furano - affectionately referred to as the Belly Button Town due to it being in the centre of Hokkaido - sees more visitors in the summer than in the winter.
Besides the expanse of blooming purple lavender, the place that captured my heart most was Ningle Terrace, a collection of boutique cottages crafted out of timber and selling a plethora of handcrafted goods.
Take a slow walk along the wooden planks that are laid strategically between the trees and waterfalls.
And when the fairy lights come on in the early evening, the whole place is transformed into a fairytale forest. With the scent of pine trees in the air and the gentle sound of flowing water as you stroll along, the atmosphere is simply enchanting.
Head to the quaint little Forest Clock café at the end of the walkway and you will be transported to a scene from a romantic movie. In fact, it served as the filming location of the popular 2005 Japanese drama series Yasashii Jikan (Affectionate Time).
Behind the rustic wooden door lies a stunningly beautiful seating area with huge windows overlooking the greenery outside. You can even opt to grind your own coffee beans with their special hand-grinder.
We were then taken to a mystical cloud forest at Hoshino Resort Tomamu, which seems to have something for every holiday-maker.
From skiing in the winter, hot-air balloon rides in the summer and swimming in the man-made Mina-Mina Beach, it has thoughtfully incorporated the outdoors into the indoors for its all-year-round resort concept.
To seal its top place in the hearts of guests, Hoshino features a special morning tour to witness the Unkai Terrace (Sea of Clouds), where after a short ride up Tomamu Mountain in a gondola at 5am, you can witness the clouds rolling off the mountain tops.
This experience is made possible because of the geographical location of the resort, and its high elevation point.
It is breathtaking and it was a surreal ending to our brief five-day exploration during one of the best sightseeing seasons in Hokkaido.