Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost island, and in terms of climate, landscape and overall atmosphere, quite distinct from the rest of the country. Straddling the Kuril tectonic chain, it is one of Asia’s geothermal hotspots, with more than a dozen active volcanoes and countless hot springs, rivers and streams that make for sensational al fresco onsen bathing. Vast tracts of the coast and interior remain pristine, their mountains, glittering caldera lakes and old-growth forests protected by six national parks – a true wonderland for wilderness lovers. Aficionados of fine seafood will also find plenty of inspiration here – the cold waters of the Sea of Okhotsk are some of the richest in the world, and particularly well stocked with salmon and squid, which local restaurants transform into sublime sashimi.
Nearly half of the island’s 5.5 million inhabitants live in the capital, Sapporo, which is well connected to the rest of the country by air. A 33-mile (54-km) railway tunnel (one of the longest and deepest in the world) also runs from under the seabed of the Tsugaru Strait, dividing Honshu from Hokkaido, providing a year-round rail link.