Friday, February 12, 2010

Pet Friendly Pension Animale in Nikko

The cats were not too keen on a road trip. But that’s normal. As soon as their travel carriers come out of storage, they run and hide. And frankly, I can’t blame them. If I were my cat, I’d hate to travel, too. Poor guys, they’ve been through a lot, that’s for sure.
So when we had to go to Nikko a couple of weekends ago, we wanted our “kids” to be comfortable.

Enter Pension Animale.

Pension Animale is a pet friendly hotel in Nikko, and after calling and confirming that their definition of pets included cat as well (many hotels when they say “pets welcome” mean “dogs OK, cats no”) we booked a room.

But why would we want to stay at a hotel if we live only about 20 kms away? Being too lazy to drive back and forth both days certainly had something to do with it. Especially since it was going to snow and we didn’t (and still don’t) have snow tires. See? We might be stupid most of the time, that’s for sure, but every once in a while we do have a sensible idea.

Anyway, back to Pension Animale…


There were no rooms with private bathrooms available for that night, so we had no choice but to get a room with a shared bath.
The price seemed a bit steep, but with zero other options (as it very frequently happens when traveling with pets), we booked it.

However, at the very last minute it turned out that Little Cousin was available to cat sit, so when we arrived at Pension Animale, it was just us. The cats stayed at home. And we left the kotatsu on for them, too.

The pension is a bit out of the way, but still in Nikko. It’s a cheerful house in a very quiet, wooded neighborhood.

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Pension Animale during daytime

When we arrived in the evening, the whole area seemed absolutely deserted. And the woods were cold and dark and dreary.

The establishment is run by the Hiratas, a very cute young couple from Tokyo. They took over the business last November and are still full of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed enthusiasm. Even though they did say that Nikko was a lot colder than what they were used to and that there were bugs even in the midst of winter.

The pension itself is very basic. Our room was nicely heated when we got there, but there was no heater in the bathroom and in the toilet. Not even a warmlet (heated toilet seat), which is positively spartan by Japanese standards. To put things in perspective, it was below zero that night and there’s no central heating in Japan.

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Our room. It could sleep four, and yes, a hairdyer was provided.

The dining area was bright and cheery and we were greeted by two barking pups that were enjoying dinner with their humans. That’s what makes Pension Animale different from other pet friendly hotels – here you can take your furkids with you everywhere in the building, including the dining room.

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"When will they finish eating? I'm booooored..."

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"Ohhhh... I'm so stuffed, time for a nap."


Dinner (French style) was prepared by Kenji the manager himself, he’s an excellent chef and cooks every night. My only complaint was that the portions were rather small. After vacuuming everything on my plates I was still starving. I’m not a huge person, quite the opposite, and I don’t think we eat extravagant amounts of food. But apparently what is enough for your average Japanese is just appetizers for us.

Because after dinner we were still hungry, we hopped in the car and drove to a 24-hour Sunkus to get more stuff to eat.
And it seemed that at least half of Nikko had the same idea, the convenience store looked like a refugee camp. People were buying whatever was left on the nearly bare shelves. Dr. Trouble had a cup ramen (curry flavor), I ate a stale tuna sandwich.

Incidentally, my Japanese friends (and even one Nikko restaurant owner) echoed my complaint. Hotel dinner portions in Nikko are not big enough, especially if you are very hungry after a full day of walking outside (which is what you normally do in Nikko).

One woman said flat out that when booking a pension in Chuzenji, she asks very detailed questions about dinners. Because if you’re still hungry after dinner, there’s no place to buy food – you need to drive 16 kms to Nikko proper to the nearest convenience store. Which will be that bare shelfed 24-hour Sunkus we visited.

Ok, back to Pension Animale…

There are two onsens – one indoor western style (with a very cool underwater lightup) and one outdoor Japanese style. And yes, you can take your pets with you when you take a bath.

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Outdoor onsen in January? Thanks, I'll pass.

As my hatred of Japanese style baths is legendary, I did not try them. Dr Trouble did, he said they were nice.
There was also a bathtub in the shared bathroom in the main building. I passed on that too and because it was just too bloody freezing to take a shower, I was seriously considering going stinky that day.

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Shared bathroom

Eventually, I did brave a 30-second shower in the morning, that was all one could safely take without suffering from hypothermia.

The whole experience set us back almost 18 000 yen (total for two people). It included one night’s stay, two dinners, two breakfasts, and two onsen baths (of which only one was taken).
If you’re traveling with pets that might be a good deal, because otherwise you’d have to pay for a pet hotel for your dogs or cats. But if you end up coming without your animals (like us that day), then sorry, but for what Pension Animale offers, this is a ridiculous rate.

There are much better hotels in Nikko with similar prices. And they have heated bathrooms, or at least warmlets.

But a litter box waiting in our room was a very sweet touch. I was ready to bring our own anyway.

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