Hokkaido

The northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido sometimes seems a world away from Honshu and Kyushu. Gone are the castles (well, there’s just one, on the very southernmost coast) and ancient temples, as the Japanese settlement here is relatively recent – Sapporo, for example, was founded in the 1870s.

In their place you’ll find a stunning, sparsely-developed landscape – including several huge national parks – and mountains, with skiing in the winter, Sapporo’s Snow Festival and flower viewing in the summer providing the main tourist draws. Even between those seasons, though, it’s a beautiful place to travel – there are no completed shinkansen lines (yet), but express trains will get you to the major cities and car rental gives you access to the back of beyond.

I last visited in May 2014, and checked out the following places: