Considered one of the world’s greatest hotel experiences, guntû is a floating luxury ryokan that cruises in the Seto Inland Sea of Western Japan. guntû has just 19 luxurious cabin suites available in three different grades, all designed by famous Japanese architect Yasushi Horibe with warm, wood-paneled interiors. Each of the suites has large windows that present wonderful views straight onto the ocean outside. Some cabin suites offer private outdoor cypress baths overlooking the ocean, while others include private decks with daybeds. A cruise on guntû offers easy access to the Inland Sea’s over 700 islands, with more than 10 sailing routes available, ranging from one to three nights. Onshore activities range from a visit to Naoshima, an art­-filled island that’s home to Yayoi Kusama’s famous dotted pumpkins, to sampling soy sauce at a local brewery to excursions with local fishermen.

There is a range of dining options available to guests, including both Japanese and Western cuisine, as well as a sushi counter. Guests on guntû can choose their own favourite ingredients from a daily selection of the freshest fish and meat from the Setouchi region, and it will be cooked as they wish, while the head chef also offers a daily special. There is also a cafe and bar where guests can enjoy original cocktails as well as a lounge serving Japanese green tea and wagashi sweets.

Guests’ wellness is taken care of with a spa offering original treatment and massage menus, as well as original chiropractic treatments. guntû has large cypress baths with windows onto the sea and saunas as well as a fitness centre. Yoga and tai-chi sessions are held for early morning physical exercise and there are decks purely for relaxation while enjoying drinks and snacks in front of the shifting scenery of the Seto Inland Sea.

guntû is an entirely singular experience. The first thing you notice on guntû is the quiet. There is no music played here, even during dinner, so there is nothing beyond the sounds of conversation and the sea. At first, I found it quite alarming, I am used to, as I am sure we all are in today’s world, the constant stream of electronic interruptions – the hum of computers, the clamour of traffic and the never-ending pings of notifications from our phones. Take this away and it is jarring. After a day of peaceful sailing on the inland sea, the silence was comforting and calming. I’m not sure I knew how to truly relax before guntû. The boat itself is well-equipped for a peaceful journey, with luxurious cabins and a wonderful bathing area. The cabins come with small terraces, perfect for relaxing and watching the waves go by. My favourite part of the boat is the engawa, a small area on the edge of the boat where guests can sit and watch the scenery pass by. Food is a huge part of the guntû experience. There are menus onboard, but they aren’t really that important. The chef will present you with a selection of beautiful fresh produce, ask what you would like and how you would like it prepared. Without the constant distractions of normal life, it is easier to focus on the food and enjoy it to the fullest. The backdrop of the inland sea is wonderful. Gazing out of the window whilst enjoying an elegant meal, many of the ingredients fresh from the sea around you, is a huge part of the guntû experience. Even the way the dinner tables are arranged forces guests to do something that is increasingly rare - simply converse with the person across from you. The food is so exquisite, it’s easy to use as a conversation starter. As there are so few passengers at a time, the staff make every effort to ensure guests have the best experience possible. A shining example of this extraordinary effort took place in the dining room. The chef had noticed how much I had enjoyed the sweet potato side dish from the previous night and tonight he had decided to prepare something special. A sweet potato, roasted in charcoals and then flesh scooped out and mashed with honey and cream, and then all roasted again. It tasted even more wonderful knowing that the chef had prepared this specially for me. Excursions from the ship are special too. I had the chance to participate in a ritual at a shrine, nestled in an all but abandoned town, and presented an offering to the gods, something that the average tourist would never be able to experience. Exploring these hidden places adds to the ethereal quality of the guntû journey. Small touches make guntû what it is. Before my stint on guntû, I had been travelling for over five weeks, so my originally neatly stored cables had become a jumbled, Lovecraftian mess of chargers and connectors. I had unceremoniously dumped them on the bedside table – a problem for another time, I thought. When we returned to the cabin, I was delighted to see each cable had been separated and tied neatly with a guntû Velcro cable tidy. This small action demonstrates how much thought goes into every aspect of guntû. Guests are here to relax and enjoy, and the staff will do anything in their power to facilitate that.

Reviewed by Rebecca