Nestled deep in the forest, in surroundings reminiscing Highlands of Scotland, rests ‘British Hills’, a magnificently constructed Victorian-esque village.
1000 meters above sea level in the heart of Fukushima, on the hills of Okawa Hatori Prefectural Park, British Hills is a sprawling 60-acre resort and educational institution. Founded by the ‘Sano Education Foundation’ as a destination to experience British culture without leaving Japan. For the best and most comprehensive emersion, the flowing mountains of Fukushima was strategically chosen for its awe-inspiring beauty, and because it closely mirrors The Scottish Highlands.
It was established in 1994 in order to inspire Japanese students to learn English and the culture. However, recently, the institute has opens its doors to anyone who wants to experience British craft, customs, language and cuisines; for anyone looking for a peak to a comprehensive indulgence, British Hills caters to all.
Fun fact: British Hill is 7 times the size of Tokyo Dome!
As soon as the opportunity arose, I was excited to experience the unique creation. My excitement and restlessness exponentially grew as the date neared As someone who’s never been to the U.K., this was the perfect weekend getaway to stay within 2 hours of Tokyo, yet embark on a culture vastly contrasting to Japan.
The trip began by taking the world-renowned Shinkansen (bullet-train) from Tokyo station. After alighting at Shin-Shirakawa station 1 hour and 20 minutes later, we jumped on a shuttle bus arranged by British Hills. All through the 40-minute bus ride, we drove through the stunning snowcapped landscapes of Fukushima. The rolling meadows and snow manifested a whole new aura of nature.
Forty minutes later, we entered the elaborate gates of British Hills. The President and Director of British Hills, along with the entire team greeted us with warmth and kindness. We instantly felt warm and welcomed.
I was overwhelmed by what I saw around me, though I tried my best to keep my composure. I was then subsequently greeted by “Rabu” chan, the British Hills dog. He welcomed me with a warm snuggle right before we entered the ‘Manor House’. We headed to the ‘Executive Lounge’ and had a cup of perfectly steeped and delicious English breakfast tea. Instantly, we put ourselves in a British mindset, by looking at our surroundings through the lens of British culture. The indulgence had just begun. Once we were initiated by tea, we checked into our traditional yet classy British style room.
Within the British village, guests stay at one of many guesthouses sprawled over the vast area. All the buildings are modeled after 12th to the 18th century periods. They are appropriately named after notable people from those eras. We stayed at the ‘Turner House’ located at a walking distance from the Manor House.
The interiors of our deluxe room were adorned with antique furniture and luxurious amenities, creating an atmosphere of blissful tranquility. The greatest details were put in to making every aspect of British Hills a true replication of a British period village. With the guesthouses, they were all built in the U.K., taken apart and then shipped here for reassembling. In fact, so much oak was shipped from the U.K. that the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe in London was put back three years.
After settling in our room, we headed out to explore a bit before going to the ‘Falstaff Pub’ for lunch. British Hills was tremendously generous and accommodating to our dietary requirements and came up with their first-ever vegetarian menu for us. They pride themselves on their palettes, but still ensure they create bespoke meals and cater to all dietary requirements, ensuring the best flair but prioritizing the guests experience. We had a three-coarse meal for lunch, which started with a perfectly balanced salad, followed by a Welsh Rarebit grilled cheese and fries, topped off with a Welsh cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Both the Welsh dishes were scrumptious. I’d love to have more of that Welsh cake as I sit here writing about it. Just as the name suggests, the soft, tender cake is a cross between a pancake and a baking powder biscuit, with elements of cookies and muffin thrown in for good measure!
After lunch, we headed back to Manor House for a tour of this larger than life architectural home. During the middle Ages, British nobility would live in a Manor House overseeing their surrounding estate. The house served not only as a residence but also as everything from a venue for social events, to a site for Government.The grand entrance hall and foyer was extravagant and opulent. Many of the relics scattered around the monumental Manor House are treasured artifacts from the ancient times, and really do enhance the experience and authenticity.
During the hour-long tour, we saw all the various rooms at Manor House. From the library, King and Queen’s room, snooker room, chapel, ambassador’s hall, armory and trophy room, and refectory. The Manor House exteriors are modeled on 12th-17th century castles, however the interiors are modeled on 19th century Victorian aesthetics; high ceilings, grandeur of ornaments and eclectic revival of historical styles mixed with Middle Eastern and Asian influences.
My personal favorite of the Manor House was the library. Featuring over 1600 books; many of which are first editions, vintage collection of books all handmade, it took me to a time where written prose and poetry dictated much of the societal movements. From day-to-day, to paradigm shifts in life, books were the literal backbone of people. In an era where intellectuals were viewed as both drivers of society and rebels of people, there was an air of nobility, sophistication, yet adventure. British history is steeped in rich text, and the environment British Hills re-created served as a perfect homage to British history.
After the tour, we went to the executive lounge for some downtime and to enjoy a few drinks, before going for dinner at the Refectory. With time in hand, I reflected over what I just saw. I remained astounded by this enormous estate and felt like I was in some wonderland, almost like a movie set. I don’t know what it was. But the day wasn’t over just yet.
We were kindly escorted to the Refectory and as soon as we entered, I felt as thought I entered a Hogwarts; dining hall. The three lengthy rows of seating were picturesque and overwhelming. We were seated at the Royal Balcony, above the dining halls, getting a stunning view of the whole building, whilst eagerly waiting for what the chef had in store for us.
The chef prepared an extensive five-course vegetarian meal that left me speechless. We started with a beans and vegetable salad spring roll, followed by an elaborate portion of cream of potato soup with rosemary, handpicked vegetable pasta, soy meat hamburger steak complemented with Teriyaki sauce. We then topped of the meal with dessert, matcha tiramisu, matcha macaron and matcha chocolate. . We just experienced one of the finest dining experiences I’ve had in Japan, with all my senses invigorated. From the ambience to the culinary aspect, the experience was a comprehensive journey through British cuisine.
We ended the day at British Hills, overwhelmed by the opulence and tired. Our hearts and brains wanted more, but our bodies told us it was rest time. So, we headed back to our room and unwound, and taking in our extraordinary day. I was excited for what was in store the next day before we had to head back to Tokyo.
The next morning, we headed back to the Refectory after freshening up, to a much-anticipated English breakfast. I don’t think our taste buds were ready for what was coming. Our extensive spread included baby salad leaves, yogurt, fresh fruits, cereal, fresh juice, corn potage soup, sautéed veggies, hash brown, toast and an English muffin with homemade salsa, salad leaves, cream cheese and English tea. Phew, that was a mouthful, literally. Scrumptous.
With a very heavy heart…and stomach, we headed back to our suite and sadly got ready to checkout. We walked around to explore even more parts of British Hills before going for lunch at the Falstaff Pub (I promise we did more than just eating at British Hills). I loved seeing so much snow, a literal white carpet, as we took a stroll.
After doing the bare-minimum cardio exercise, we went for lunch. We started with a green leaves and potato salad, to a Japanese curry with mixed vegetable rice and ice cream jelly and strawberry sauce and jelly dessert. I sipped on to my English breakfast tea thinking I wasn’t ready to bid adieu to this amazing place. I was reminiscing about British Hills, whilst still being there.
This getaway was different and rejuvenating; I left the gates of British Hills with many memories and a new cultural experience. The whole atmosphere felt quite surreal. The opulent surroundings at British Hills along with the exquisite dining experience, made this place very special. It is an incredibly charming experience, that I feel more people should visit and truly explore this for themselves. Whether it be a staycation, to an impromptu getaway, British Hills is a perfect escape without leaving Japan. You’re out of Japan, in Japan.