Away from the hustle and bustle of Hiroshima’s main cities, there lies a luxury hideaway overlooking the Seto Inland Sea. I had spent the previous night in Onomichi, a port city in Hiroshima Prefecture known for its temple walk and ramen. In the morning, I grabbed a taxi and headed about 30 minutes east of Onomichi Station to this spa resort whose views I had heard so much about. As the taxi pulled up to Bella Vista’s entrance, I could see straight through the glass doors, down the hallway, all the way to the deck, and even the sea itself. It seemed that Bella Vista was already living up to its reputation, and I could not wait to see more.

Bella Vista Spa & Marina Onomichi: A Shipbuilder’s Guesthouse Turned Spa

When I walked through the automatic glass doors into the hotel lobby, some of the staff greeted me, escorted me to the lounge, and served tea as I waited for the PR officer to come by. From here, I’d get a chance to tour the facility and see behind the scenes of the hotel’s many restaurants, spas, and other amenities. I was eager to know more about their concept and inspiration.

The calm coast of the Seto Inland Sea has long been known for its thriving shipbuilding industry. Bella Vista, meaning “beautiful view” in Italian, was established in 1973 as a guest house for customers of the area’s many shipbuilding companies. Since its establishment, Bella Vista has welcomed many dignitaries from around the world, including Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. In 2007, inspired by their international guests and the natural charm of the Setouchi area, the hotel underwent a large-scale renovation, adding guest rooms with ocean views and a luxury spa.

The view of the Seto Inland Sea from this area, with the landscape of many small islands floating in the horizon, has often been compared to the Aegean Sea in the Mediterranean. It is a landscape that Bella Vista’s founders want to pass down to future generations, along with the local culture nurtured by the warm and mild climate. In accordance with their original concept and purpose, there is even a marina dedicated to the hotel so that yachts and other cruisers can enjoy their stay while anchored.

The hotel sits atop a hill resting along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea between Onomichi City and Tomonoura. Tomonoura is a small port town that established itself in feudal times as a vital station in the trade network for merchants in the region. Ghibli Studio fans may recognize Tomonoura as the seaside town which served as the inspiration for the film “Ponyo.” Both Onomichi and Tomonoura are recognized as Japan Heritage sites.

Setouchi Kilometer Zero: Local Production for Local Consumption

One of Bella Vista’s most driving forces is their concept of “Setouchi Kilometer Zero.” This refers to their dedication to local production for local consumption. Setouchi’s mild climate, with little rainfall and an extraordinary number of sunny days, makes way for delicious produce and fresh seafood that is caught offshore. The hotel’s mission is to showcase these locally-harvested treasures rooted in the area’s history and culture, and to support other local businesses.

A Retreat Free of Time Constraints

The lounge seemed like a really pleasant place to enjoy a beverage and do some reading. From 7:00 am to 10:00 am, they serve all-you-can-drink coffee, tea, and juice here. I noticed many of the chairs and other decorations around the room were quite unique. I later learned that most pieces of furniture and other decorations are actually antiques collected from various countries. I rather enjoyed these details, as I’m sure each piece has its own story, and it also adds a lot of character to the room.

One of the lovely things about Bella Vista is their check-out time, which is 12:00 pm, a bit later than you’d see at most hotels. Instead of rushing to eat breakfast and pack up, they really want their guests to relax and not feel pressured and worried about time. I found this aspect to be especially appealing, as I am someone who doesn’t like to rush in the morning. How is it a proper retreat if you can’t truly relax?

The Deck Overlooking the Skyline

Even before I had entered the hotel, I was intrigued by the deck which was visible through the glass doors leading straight through the lobby, to the lounge, and then outside. It looked like an ethereal infinity pool pouring into the skyline. When I walked through the doors, I was comforted by a cool sea breeze and the salty smell of the sea.

There are so many places to sit outside and embrace the scenic atmosphere. It would be lovely to grab a hot beverage while the morning drink bar is open and take it outside to enjoy. I got lost for several minutes just staring at the ships in the distance. Even just from the small portions of the hotel I had seen thus far, I could already understand why guests are so comforted by this hideaway.

The Rooms: Ocean Views and Local Touches

After spending some time out on the spectacular deck, I could not wait to see what the actual rooms were like. The resort has 45 rooms, all with an ocean view, and all are at least 50 square meters in size, larger than many apartments in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka! Upon entering one of the rooms, I immediately felt a welcoming vibe and wanted to sit on the sofa while gazing out the window.

On the bed, a cute teddy bear was resting, and it took me a moment to realize what material it was made of. It was denim! I learned that the nearby city of Fukuyama is renowned for their world-famous brand “Kaihara Denim.” After seeing the bear, I began to notice all of the places in the room where Kaihara Denim is used. There is denim on the wallpaper, bed skirt, cushion cover, and panel decoration. This was such a lovely display of local culture. I was also pleased to learn that guests are welcome to take the bear home, a wonderful way to keep memories of your stay!

The bathroom was equally, if not more gorgeous than the rest of the room. The shiny and spacious bathtub was incredibly inviting. I can only imagine how filling the tub while wearing their fluffy bathrobe would feel. All the stresses of daily life would surely melt away.

Comfortable pajamas, loungewear, and slippers are also provided. The rooms also feature a minibar, espresso machine, LCD TV, and Bluetooth speakers. These are offered along with regular hotel amenities like various lotions and soaps, tooth and hairbrushes, and other personal hygiene products. What gives these items an extra touch though is knowing that many are locally made.

Bella Vista’s Dining Options: From Wood-fire Dishes to Sunset Sushi

Bella Vista boasts not only one, but three on-site restaurants with different atmospheres and cuisines. There are Western food, Japanese food, and sushi restaurants, and all of them place importance on “delivering the original taste of the ingredients as they are without adding too much.” The main dining room “Erretegia,” which means “carvery” in the Basque language, serves wood-fired dishes. Many of their chefs have been trained in the Basque region of Spain.

I was able to take a look around Erretegia while the chefs were prepping for lunch and dinner. The fire made the entire room warm and cozy, and the smell of grilled vegetables filled the air. Erretegia has both kitchen seating and a separate dining hall. In both areas, the pool, which is open in the summer, and the sea are visible.

The hotel’s other dining facilities include “Setouchi Sobo,” a traditional Japanese restaurant which serves seasonal local dishes. Their breakfast includes a variety of 20 carefully-selected seasonal foods. For seating, there is the main area with tables, but also a sitting room and even a private dining room which can accommodate up to 6 guests.

I also made a brief visit to “Sushi Sobo”, which is only open for dinner. There were, of course, no guests at the time I saw the dining room since my visit was early in the day, but the PR manager showed me photos of the restaurant at sunset. I hope one day I can enjoy their carefully crafted sushi with the orange sunset melting in the background.

The Infinity Pool and Other Seasonal Activities

During the summer season, there are various ways to relax and enjoy the natural surroundings such as spending time on the Bella Vista Island Beach. The incredible infinity pool, which melts into the Seto Inland Sea, is also available only during summertime. Here you can fully enjoy the sea and the sky and forget your troubles. Cruising around the nearby islands is an option as well! Hiroshima Prefecture has a number of small, charming islands, each with their own personality.

From Baths to Spas to Salons, the Relaxation Options are Endless

The last place I went to view were the communal baths. There were, of course, no guests present as I walked around observing the different atmospheres of each bathing area. First was the indoor cypress wood bath. When the room gets hot, the wood releases an incredible aroma. I’ve come to associate the smell of cypress wood with stress relief and relaxing baths – some of my best memories of hot springs have been in these types of baths.

The open-air bath was also delectable, with the infinity waters appearing to spill out into the sea. The blue sky, mountains, sea, and bath water all blended together perfectly, which enraptured me for quite some time as I stared at the landscape, immersing myself in the sound of the running water.

Bella Vista’s other luxury facilities include a stone sauna, a private beauty salon, a massage parlor where staff are trained in Chinese osteopathy and foot massage, a studio for relaxation yoga, a gym, and even a bridal salon. There seemed to be a never-ending list of ways guests can enjoy a stress-free environment. Personally I’d go to the salon to relax with a facial treatment and head and neck massage.

The Gift Shop: A Luscious Display of Local Goods

In the hotel’s gift shop, I was pleased to see so many locally-produced foods and goods, from hats, bags, and clothing, to makeup brushes and cosmetics, and even down to snacks and cooking ingredients like soy sauce. Many of the products available in the rooms are sold here, like the bathrobes and towels, in case you want to bring the spa atmosphere back home with you.

Many of the cooking ingredients in the shop are also what is used at the hotel’s restaurants, so you can even bring the taste of Setouchi back home when you leave. It always warms my heart to see local businesses teaming together to build each other up. I truly felt their concept of “Setouchi Kilometer Zero.”

It’s Not Goodbye, But See You Later

In a chat with Bella Vista’s PR officer, he wanted to convey the following point: “Not only do we want to promote ‘local production for local consumption,” we also place importance on conveying the passion, soul, and appeal of the producers through our filter.” It’s clear that Bella Vista takes the utmost pride in creating a luxurious, stress-free environment for guests, and also in utilizing and showcasing all the wonders of the Setouchi region. It can be seen clearly through the local ingredients they use in their dining facilities, and even down to the details in each guest room like the locally-made denim touches all around the suite. I know where I’ll be going the next time I need a getaway to clear my mind of the trivial stresses of everyday life.