Continued from Part 1: Kamifurano
Located approximately 1 hr and 10mins by bus from Asahikawa Airport, Furano is located in the geographical centre of Hokkaido and is famous for its pristine ski slopes in winter and exuberant lavender fields in summer. It was our first port of call after touching down at Asahikawa Airport where we then boarded the bus (570¥ per pax) which brought us to Furano train station.
We stayed at Natulux which is a modern hotel conveniently located right next to the train station and a short walk away from Toyota Car rental so it was a very convenient base to start exploring the region. (Note: You will need to apply for an international license from AA if you plan to rent a car)
I soon found out that the signature food of Furano is omukare (omelette, rice and curry) after picking up a brochure in the hotel lobby which lists a dozen place in Furano which you can try the dish! One of the 12 places listed was Natural Dining which is the in-house restaurant at Natulux. I had the opportunity to learn how to make omurice from the chef there.
Omurice is actually quite easy to make. Essentially it is rice that is topped with an omelette and then drenched in Japanese curry. What makes the omurice at Natural dining special is the addition of a slice of lavender veined cheese which melts under the heat of the omelette. For dinner, they serve fondue which is made with local cheese, sausage and vegetables which is very good. The hotel is very popular among Singaporeans because of its convenient location and clean, modern facilities.
Natulux Hotel: Map and Details
Disclosure: We were hosted by Natulux hotel.
Since I had only limited time (and appetite) to explore omurice, I picked one of the most established eateries in town by the interesting name of Yuiga Doxon. This particular restaurant is reputed to use 29 spices to make their curry and also makes their own smoked sausages. The curry has a very unique smokiness to it and the sausage was also very good. But I think what Yuiga Doxon has going for it is the wooden shack that it is housed in which looks like an old tree house!
Yuiga Doxon: Map and Details
There are many flower gardens in Furano and the surrounding region and each one has its own unique character. If it is lavenders that you are after, then Farm Tomita is the one you have to visit. They specialise in producing a prize winning lavender oil which is on sale at the souvenir shop. There is an interesting gallery which talks about how the lavender fields were disappearing at one stage because of the lack of demand for the oil. It was the farmer at Farm Tomita who persisted out of his love for the flower and with a stroke of good luck the colourful lavender fields were featured on the media which then started the whole tourism boom!
Farm Tomita: Map and Details
All of the pastry shops were visited were excellent, but not all of them are equal. If you have been told by the doctor to cut down on your sugar intake and can only pick one pastry shop to visit in the area, then Furano Delice would be it. And if you had to pick one dessert to indulge your limited sugar allowance for the day, then the Furano Milk Pudding would be it. It was Chef Michio Fujita who first came out with the idea of making a creme brulee in a bottle. It became an instant hit and now he makes a few thousand bottles a day which are distributed across the region! Yes, it is just milk, eggs and sugar in a bottle, but somehow, the texture and flavour is just exquisite.
Furano Delice: Map and Details
Kumagera is one of the most established restaurants in Furano and conveniently located within 3 mins of the train station. They serve shabu shabu and sukiyaki. We had a very nice sukiyaki there with the local Wagyu which was very good. It is not cheap, but still cheaper than what you would pay in Singapore. If this is the first time you are visiting Furano, you will soon find out that the locals really love their fresh vegetables and meats without too much seasoning. So hotpots are very popular here as it showcases their meats and vegetables very well. Another reason the hotpot is so popular in Furano is that it is really cold for 9 months of the year, so it is the type of food that would really warm you up!
Kumagera: Map and Details
If you are on a budget, then this little family restaurant which is a stone’s throw away from the Furano Train station is your best bet. I was told that their prices have not changed for 30 years! You can order a plate of sliced pork and veggies for only 1000¥ and it comes with the hotpot! If you can spare a little more, the beef set is only 1600¥. Of course, at these prices you can’t expect Wagyu beef! They use imported pork and US beef which is only sliced when you order. This is probably the most value for money place I have been to in Japan!
Sennarai: Map and Details
Rokkatei has many outlets across Hokkaido with each restaurant located in a different setting. This particular one in Furano is set in a beautiful vineyard and the place has big glass window where you can get a cup of free coffee, order some dessert and enjoy the view. There is also a wide selection of confectioneries on sale. What it lacks in terms of character, it makes up for the space and variety of omiyage that you can buy home!
Rokkatei: Map and Details
Now, let’s face it. If you are seriously interested in cheese-making, you would probably head to France. But if you happen to be in Furano and want to try your hand had churning butter or turning Hokkaido milk into curds and whey, then a short stop at the Furano Cheese Factory might just be the thing for you. If you are serious about their workshops, then you do have to book in advance because they are quite popular. The soft cream shop next to the cheese factory is a perfect place to stop for some luscious ice cream. The Hilltop photo house lies just a short walk from the ice cream place and it is where you can admire some beautiful photos of iconic Furano landscapes taken by the local photographer who has been taking photos of the region for over 30 years!
Furano Cheese Factory: Map and Details
Unless you are a real wine buff who wants to know the state of wine making in Hokkaido, then I think you could give the Chateau Furano a miss if you are pressed for time. But if you happen to pass by, then you can head inside and help yourself to the free wine tasting from the two barrels of wine there.
Furano Wine Factory: Map and Details
As you drive around downtown Furano, you will probably drive pass Furano Marche. A typical Singaporean would probably, would assume that this is the Marche restaurant by Movenpick. Well, if that is your assumption, then you have missed out on the local farmer’s market where you can pick up the season’s produce and other stuff like jams and sauces produced in the region. The place is not huge, but its worth dropping by for a while just to have a look around.
Furano Marche: Map and Details
Video by James Tay
Our friend Adrienne Neo, an ex-journalist at Lian He Zhao Bao, is now based in Hokkaido and running her free-lance own tour agency. She was our guide/driver for this tour. Planning your own itinerary is pretty easy, but if you want to really behind the scenes and off the beaten track then you need someone like Adrienne who is familiar with all the locals. You can contact her at [email protected] (She’s born a few decades before 1995, I’m sure)
Read Part 1: Kamifurano