This is the second part of a three-part series about traveling along Japan's New Golden Route.

We continue our journey with a bike ride along Niigata's stunning coastline and a local sushi lunch before heading into Toyama Prefecture and staying the night in one of Japan's most beautiful gorges. The next morning we explore more of the gorge and then make our way to Takayama in Gifu Prefecture, where we check out its old town and indulge in local delicacies.

Day 3

After waking up in Shibu Onsen where we ended things last time, we made our way to Itoigawa in Niigata Prefecture and to the coast near Nō Station where we hired bicycles to start off the day's proceedings. Our activity for the morning was to ride approximately 40 minutes along the area's stunning coastline and then end our time in Niigata with a sushi lunch.

The bike ride was wonderful and proved a great way to get the blood flowing while taking in the breathtaking scenery of this idyllic coastline; the course weaving close to the shoreline, along quaint residential streets and through a tunnel that formerly covered part of an old railway. A relatively safe and flat route, the bike ride doesn't require too much physical exertion and is suitable for families looking for views and a breath of fresh seaside air.

The stunning coastline that some of the bike path follows
Riding through the old railway tunnel
Benten Iwa, one of the many interesting features of the area's coastline

My appetite had been nicely worked up from the bike ride, which was all the better as now we'd arrived at Sushi Katsu, where we'd be eating lunch. This sushi restaurant is located just minutes from the coast, near Itoigawa Station, and is renowned for its high-quality, fresh fish. True to reputation, the sushi here was delicious, and I contently slipped down quite a few pieces including some particularly hearty tuna.

Sitting down to eat at Sushi Katsu
The perfect lunch after a morning bike ride
Fish in the kitchen, ready for preparation

It was now time to say goodbye to Niigata and move on to Toyama Prefecture, where we made our way, via the Hokuriku Shinkansen, Toyama Chiho Railway and Kurobe Gorge Railway, to Kuronagi Onsen. It was here that we'd be spending the third night of our adventure.

The onsen, which consists of a lone ryokan and a riverside bath, is tucked away in a side valley of the Kurobe Gorge and stands as perhaps the most remote location I've ever had the pleasure of lodging at. The onsen is accessed by taking the train to Kuronagi Station, after which an approximately 20-minute hike along a hillside trail is required. Upon arrival at the onsen I enjoyed a soak in the bath, taking in breathtaking views of the gorge and the virile river that flows through it, and then headed back to the ryokan ahead of the evening meal.

Perhaps the most remote place I've ever stayed

Before making my way to the dining area, I walked around the ryokan and took in its ambience. The building, with its wooden walls and labyrinth of narrow corridors that lead down to another bathing area in the lower levels, give the place a decidedly rustic feel and allowed me to feel increasingly connected with nature.

When I finally headed to dinner, the meal came in the form of a delectable kaiseki set with a host of local ingredients including vegetables foraged from the surrounding mountains, fish caught in the river, and seafood from the nearby Sea of Japan. Eating such a special meal in an equally special location made for a wonderful experience; one that I highly recommend for those travelling in or around the Kurobe Gorge.

The onsen's stunning riverside bath
Sitting down for dinner after an exhilarating day

Day 4

The next morning I awoke to the therapeutic sound of the river's cascading currents, and after a delicious traditional Japanese breakfast headed back along the trail that connects Kuronagi Onsen with the train station. We were headed this morning for the final stop on the Kurobe Gorge Railway, Keyakidaira. This place is famous for its awe-inspiring views, including those of the gushing river as it winds between the steep walls of the gorge.

I took in such views from the iconic Okukane Bridge and then headed down to the riverside where I enjoyed a footbath in quite the majestic natural setting. A must for anyone visiting the area, coming here allows a glimpse of nature at her most ruggedly beautiful.

The Kurobe Gorge Railway
Scenes from the journey deeper into the gorge
Looking down from the Okukane Bridge at Keyakidaira
An idyllic setting
Stunning views at every turn

After exploring Keyakidaira, we reboarded the Kurobe Gorge Railway and made our way back out of the gorge and towards Takayama in Gifu Prefecture. At this point it is worth mentioning that a journey on this railway is an experience in itself. With its open cars, riders are afforded almost uninterrupted views of the gorge, and it stands as among the most scenic railway journeys I've ever taken.

Trains and rice fields on the way to Takayama
The JR Takayama Line crosses the Jinzu River in southern Toyama Prefecture

Late afternoon was turning to evening when we finally arrived in Takayama, where we'd be spending the fourth night of our journey from Tokyo to Kyoto. This town that is nestled in the mountains rose to prominence during the feudal ages as an important source of timber and highly skilled carpenters. Today Takayama retains a traditional feel unlike most other places in Japan, especially in its excellently preserved and charming old town.

After dropping our bags off at our lodgings, we set about exploring the old town's narrow streets and, after working up an appetite, entered a restaurant to indulge in some local specialties. When it comes to dining, the two things for which Takayama is most famous are its celebrated sake and succulent Hida Beef.

Accordingly, I ordered a Hida Beef set accompanied by vegetables, and washed it down with some of the exquisite local tipple. The perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable second leg of exploration of this delightful part of the country, it was then time to get a good night's sleep and recharge ahead of yet more adventure to come.

Meandering through Takayama's old town
A perfect end to the second leg of our journey

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