Most people who think of coming to the Setouchi region will have heard of the Shimanami Kaidō. This road links Onomichi on the mainland with Imabari on Shikoku. Whether your journey starts from Onomichi, or Imabari, finding cyclist-friendly accommodation to receive advice and meet other cyclists is recommended. In Imabari, ‘Cyclo no Ie’ fits the bill – an affordable guesthouse catering for cyclists created by cycling buffs.
The Shimanami Kaidō passes over a series of dramatic bridges and islands in the Seto Inland Sea. The route is part of Japan’s expressway system, but all of the bridges have dedicated cycle paths. Where the road comes to an island, motor vehicles carry straight on while a ramp takes cyclists and pedestrians down to the quiet old roads.
Exploring this system of bridges and islands exposes you to some of the finest scenery in western Japan. In any season, the vistas of sky and sea and rugged islands are spectacular. The unique undersea topography of the Inland Sea creates whirlpools and swirling eddies. In some places around the islands, the water seems to flow like a river. Ships large and small make their way through the channels and under the bridges. The islands were home to pirate clans in the Warring States period, and you can discover traces of their history even today.
Accommodation is dotted along the Shimanami Kaidō for those who want to explore, rather than cycle the whole route in a day as many serious cyclists do. One of the cheapest places is Cyclo no Ie, a guesthouse in Imabari. This pleasant lodging was opened by people who love cycling to cater to the many cyclists, Japanese and foreign, who pass through Imabari on their Shimanami Kaidō trip.
Cyclo no Ie – which means “Cycling House” – is located in a side street very close to JR Imabari Station. It’s a short walk to the castle and port, from whence ferries go to the mainland and most of the islands in between.
In terms of bedding, there’s a mixed dormitory for male and female guests and a lockable female only dormitory. There’s also one double room available, which can also be hired by individuals. All beds are bunks with curtains. There are also ‘capsule’ rooms, which are simply large bunk beds. The prices don’t include meals. The beds are firm but not hard, and the sheets, futon and pillows are very clean and in excellent condition. In fact, the same applies to the whole guesthouse. It seems new and spotless.
The common room is where everybody gets to meet each other and share information about Imabari. There’s a lot of information about other hostels and guesthouses all over Japan, and the friendly staff will also get out thick binders of maps, menus and photos to offer advice. The staff are enthusiastic and although they speak very basic English, they make up for it with effort.
You can cook your own meals using the full kitchen facilities. Free hot drinks are a nice welcoming touch. If you don’t want to cook, there are restaurants nearby for dinner, and cafés for breakfast. Yakitori is Imabari’s favourite dining option, and I particularly enjoyed my dinner at Gomitori.
The three showers in Cyclo no Ie are more than adequate, but if you want a bath, you can visit one of several extraordinarily characterful onsen hidden within the city of Imabari. Ōrai Onsen is a two-minute stroll away. This very small, intimate bathhouse has colourful tiles and the classic scene of Mt. Fuji on the wall to enjoy as you soak.
Imabari is also on the Shikoku Pilgrimage route, and some of the eighty-eight Buddhist pilgrimage temples are located in the city. Cyclo no Ie also welcomes people who are doing the pilgrimage, whether on foot or by bicycle. Ordinary backpackers are equally welcome too.
Since many of the guests are cyclists, the guesthouse provides a lockable shelter for bicycles, equipped with a full set of tools for maintenance. A washing machine and dryer round out the facilities of this perfect little travellers’ rest.
Cyclo No Ie
Address： 1 Chome-1-12 Kitahoraicho, Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, 794-0028,Japan
Words and Photography by Rod Walters
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