The Shimanami Kaidō is a chain of islands across the Seto Inland Sea, joined by a series of bridges which carry an expressway and cycle paths. The route joins Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture on Honshu with Imabari in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku.
Onomichi is a fascinating town, crowded onto a narrow shore and up a steep hill. Houses, temples and shrines are jumbled together, with a maze of alleys running between them. There are many stylish, well-preserved buildings dating back over one hundred years, some of which have been repurposed to serve today’s needs.
One of these refurbished buildings is an old portside shed, reincarnated as Onomichi U2, a remarkable facility comprising a hotel, restaurant and bar, and bicycle shop.
I stayed at Hotel Cycle as it’s called, and rented a road bike at the Giant Store. I had breakfast in The Restaurant. These three establishments are all under one long roof.
Hotel Cycle’s spacious rooms are arranged on two floors around a central hall. The unique feature of the hotel is that you can take your bike into your room, and hang it on the wall if you wish.
The rooms have a stylishly subdued decor in charcoal grey, accentuated with white linen and towels. Diffuse natural light enters through the frosted glass. The beds are comfortable, with fluffy quilts. According to the manager, the low ceilings are modelled on the concept of the traditional Japanese tea room, renowned for their calming effect. After the excitement of day in the expansive open air, the enclosed space encourages rest. And despite their proximity to the other facilities, it’s very quiet in the rooms.
Giant Store Onomichi
After a day exploring Onomichi, I went to pick up my rental bicycle from the Giant Store, where I was welcomed in English. The young lady handled the paperwork efficiently, and explained all I needed to know about the bike, a very well-maintained aluminium road bike. She also answered my questions about sightseeing on the Shimanami Kaidō. Then I wheeled my bike to the hotel where the friendly staff speak some English. They showed me where to hang up my bike, and how to use the free WiFi.
Fully rested the next morning, I prepared for the day’s cycling by eating an excellent healthy breakfast at The Restaurant in U2. The wide selection of bread is all baked onsite, and the fruit juices are produced in the local area. Besides selecting from an extensive buffet, you can order freshly cooked eggs and breakfast meats. With all the delicious things in front of me, and thinking ahead to the day’s ride, it was hard to stop eating as wisdom dictates you should.
The Shimanami Kaidō in winter
I elected to ride the Shimanami Kaidō on a weekday in December. At nine degrees Celsius, it was pretty chilly. But I set off cheerfully at around 9 am. There weren’t many other cyclists out on the road. It rained cold rain on me occasionally. Nevertheless, I was rewarded by dramatic winter skies, with shafts of sunlight illuminating the island mountains through ranks of cloud in all shades of grey. The Setouchi region has many flowers that bloom in winter, and you can see a lot of wild birds. The bright blue and orange rock thrushes who inhabit the coastlines take a cautious interest in passing cyclists.
The cold didn’t dampen the welcome of the local people either. Many people on the route gave me friendly waves and greetings, and whenever I stopped, somebody came up to chat. A bit of Japanese is useful here. I learned some new things and even made some lasting friends.
It’s fun to tear up the Shimanami Kaidō in a day, enjoying the exhilaration of space and speed. Racing over the bridges with their low railings feels a bit like flying. But doing the route in two days or more and exploring the islands is also recommended. There’s much to see and do, and it’s especially rewarding to learn about the Murakami Kaizoku, the maritime clans that controlled the islands in the Middle Ages.
Giant Store Imabari
I stuck to the shortest recommended route and rode at a steady pace, stopping frequently to take photos and enjoy lunch. I arrived at the Giant Store in Imabari at 4:30. Here I was welcomed with a smile, and after a cursory check, I was relieved of my trusty bicycle. The Giant Store in Imabari has several free showers and changing rooms, and in the U2 complex in Onomichi, there’s a single coin operated shower.
There are cheaper options for accommodation and bicycle hire on the Shimanami Kaidō, but if you’re seeking the highest quality and comfort, the combination of Onomichi U2 and Giant Bicycles can’t be beaten.
Address: 5-11 Nishigoshochō, Onomichi, Hiroshima 722-0037
Giant Store Imabari
Address: 1 Chome-729 Kitahōraichō, Imabari, Ehime 794-0028
Originally from England, I came to live in Ehime in 2001. I’m interested in the history of the Suigun, seagoing clans who dominated the Seto Inland Sea for two centuries. I find it very relaxing to photograph the beautiful scenery and the wildlife. I hope people will visit Setouchi and enjoy exploring this unique area. To help visitors make the most of their time here, I offer travel services at ShikokuTours.com. Be sure to try the excellent sake when you visit!
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