If you are visiting Niseko but interested in seeing a little more of Hokkaido during the summer or the winter the Asahikawa region / city is well worth a place on your itinerary. There are plenty of things to see, do and of course eat from skiing on active volcanoe Asahi Dake and enjoying a hot bowl of ramen to summertime visits to the zoo and ice cream with the kids. This time around it was the summer option with the zoo as the goal in mind, starting with breakfast to north east of the city.
Although the area is better known for its rice production and ramen noodles a lesser known but still very popular culinary attraction is the Boulangerie Mawarimichi a quaint little french bakery that has found fame accross the country. The bakery is located just outside of Asahikawa in Toma front of the Toma Railway Station and serves up a fantastic selection of French breads. The journey to the bakery is as usual is a great part of the pleasure and takes you through lush green rice paddies surrounded by distant mountain peaks.
The bakery fits nicely with its rural surroundings but its crisp yet rustic style could be equally at home on the hippest of urban street corners.
The bakery has a fantastic array of breads just perfect for lunch with takeaway cheese sandwhich options made to order. If a sweet breakfast is what you are after look no further than the croissants chocolate or plain these are melt in your mouth morsels of goodness. If you are looking for souvenirs there is also a great range of jams and longer lasting baked goods for you to take home to the family.
With breakfast taken care of it is on to the main event, the Asahikawa Zoo. The zoo has a wide range of animals in mostly large and spacious enclosures with many of the usual suspects you'd expect to find, highlights being the primates, seals and giraffes. The zoo also has a great number of native Hokkaido animals featured such as Blakiston's Fish Owl a bird revered by Hokkaido's native Ainu people and one the largest owls in the world. Also worthy of mention is the variety of penguins which along with the polar bears are said to be best visited during the colder months. Pehaps good to fit in with that trip to ski Asahidake.
Getting up close and personal with one of the tallest animals in the world was definitely a hit with the kids and as one of the last animals too see on the way out it was a great finish to the day.
What day at the zoo would be complete without ice cream !? Just 15 minutes from the zoo back into the city outskirts is patisserie-fou. This cakes and sweets shop has a mouth watering selection of delicious gateaus, cakes, sweets and of course ice cream!
The ice cream choices are also as good as the cake department, with soft serve ice cream, gelato and puddings to choose from or to combine for a truly decadent desert.
Asahikawa is approximately 3.5 hours drive from Hirafu, Niseko lying right in the middle of Hokkaido. The city has plenty of accommodation options from hotels to campgrounds. Although a day trip from Hirafu would be a push if you can schedule an overnight in Asahikawa or surrounds it is well worth the journey winter or summer.