Located in Japan’s Setouchi Inland Sea on Naoshima – a fishing island increasingly renowned for its innovative art projects – Benesse House feels more like a gallery than hotel, with its minimal design, natural light and scattered contemporary artworks.
Remote and idyllic, it lies on the shores of tiny Naoshima island in the Setouchi Inland Sea, an area dubbed the Mediterranean of Japan for its blue waters and temperate climate. Naoshima is a famous rural art hub – countless contemporary artworks are scattered across shrines, rice fields and old wooden houses in a bid to revitalise its shrinking population. The art project has expanded to include around half a dozen surrounding islands. Benesse House stands out as unique, creative and luxurious among the region’s more conventional local inns. Around 400 miles south of Tokyo, it’s a mission to get there but well worth it for art lovers (about four hours from Tokyo by train followed by a 20-minute ferry).
Address: Benesse House, Gotanji, Naoshima, Kagawa 7613110, Japan.
Style & character
The concept is simple: a museum where visitors can sleep. The minimal architecture, with expanses of concrete, glass and wood – created by the deeply respected architect Tadao Ando – is the perfect complement to the surrounding nature and artworks. The original museum opened with guestrooms in 1992, with Ando adding several buildings over two decades – none of which appear in the slightest bit dated. High quality artworks that would not look out of place in a Tate are scattered throughout, from guestrooms and corridors to the beach (where a polka dot Yayoi Kusama pumpkin sits on a pier).
Service & facilities
The staff are discreetly friendly and very well-informed in terms of advising the best way to explore Naoshima and surrounding islands (a free shuttle bus also operates). In addition to its museum filled with creations by artists ranging from Hiroshi Sugimoto to Basquiat, Benesse House also has a small light-filled spa and a gift shop.
There are 65 guestrooms across four buildings – called Museum, Park, Oval (sitting on a hilltop and accessed by a monorail) and Beach – each with different views and varying design but all in striking natural settings with sea views. The rooms are generally light and modern (expect lots of white, light woods, clean-lines and neutral tones), at times bringing to mind a minimal Muji store. What makes them extra special, however, is the single original artwork in each room.
Food & drink
The restaurant space is more minimal than its name – Terrace Restaurant Umi no hoshi Etole de Mer. Here, surrounded by a wood beam ceiling, bold blue and orange walls and windows overlooking the Inland Sea, chefs serve up high quality French-inspired cuisine with seasonal local produce. The set dinner menus are not cheap (from ¥9,504/ £70) but are delicious – perfect for a special meal (recent dishes included beef stew and marinated local fish). The buffet breakfast here is also recommended. There is a café with serene sea views on the upper floor of Benesse House Museum, as well as intimate guest lounges in the Oval and Park buildings.
Access for guests with disabilities?
Yes, although Oval and Beach buildings have no elevators so are tricky access-wise. Guests in wheelchairs are recommended to stay in one of two Park Suites.
Great fun for children, although expect to say “don’t touch” a lot, thanks to the artworks. Children five and under cannot stay in Oval or Museum rooms but the staff are very helpful to guests with babies (and will even rustle up gourmet baby dishes in the restaurant).
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