In Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture, south of Osaka, sits the Kumano Kodo, a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that wind through the misty, cedar-filled Kii Mountain Range. Though popular with the Japanese, the 1,000-plus-year-old trail system doesn’t see many outsiders, which is a shame given the brain-meltingly beautiful sites along the way—ornate Shinto shrines, waterfalls, and centuries-old stone staircases, chief among them.
Start your spiritual quest (or really pretty hike, depending on how you view it) on the Nakahechi, a 25-mile UNESCO World Heritage–certified stretch of the Kumano that kicks off at the trailhead near the Takijiri-oji Buddhist shrine.
From here, you’ll hike two hours to Kiri-no-Sato Takahara Lodge, a peaceful spot to spend a day or two before really digging into the trek. Built atop a wildflower-covered ridge in the village of Takahara, the lodge boasts Japanese- and American-style guest rooms, indoor and outdoor onsens (hot-spring baths), and Wakayama dinners made with ingredients from the on-site organic garden.
Take your meals—think vegetable hot pots and tuna sashimi—on the outdoor patio overlooking mountains and terraced farm fields. Or sit inside in the handsome dining room, built with local hardwoods. After dinner, walk the grounds while trying to wrap your head around this primeval corner of the world.
The details: Rooms range from 11,000 yen (approximately $108) to 12,800 yen ($125) per night, depending on whether you want meals included (pro tip: you do).