After a short and sweet visit to Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, we jumped in a rental car and hit the road, travelling south for an hour or so into Gifu prefecture. I love driving on expressways in Japan – the road surface is so smooth, there are loads of tunnels which means less winding roads, and no one pays attention to the speed limit. The autumn colours in the mountains we drove through were sublime, especially when the sun was peeking through the clouds and lighting up the foliage.
Stop number 2 on our weekend trip was Shirakawago.
Shirawakago is made up of a few different villages that date back to the 11th century. The farmhouses in the area are famous for their triangular-shaped, thatched roofs designed to withstand heavy snowfall. In the winter, the accumulated snow gets so high that the second floor often becomes the main entrance! But before the white stuff comes, the valley has a few weeks of spectacular autumn colours.
It was my second time to this secluded World Heritage site – the previous was in the middle of a stinking hot summer a couple of years ago. Just like last time, I was in awe of the massive gassho-zukuri farmhouses. It’s not until you go inside one of them that you realise just how large and spacious they are. Today, some houses are used as museums, while others are occupied by families or run as ryokans for visitors to stay in. The main street is filled with souvenir stores, but as soon as you leave that area, it feels like you’ve travelled back in time.
The village wasn’t as packed with tourists as it is sometimes, so it was very peaceful and relaxing to wander around the farmhouses. The colours around the lookout on the hilltop were beautiful and I could have stayed there forever taking photos! We ended up staying until the carpark closed at 5:30pm, then continued onto Takayama city where we spent the night. We went to sleep dreaming of yellows and oranges and reds. Little did we realise the stunning sights we would stumble upon the next day – more on that in the next post!