Planted on the mountainside of Mount Rokko in Kobe, Nunobiki Herb Gardens (神戸布引ハーブ園) is Japan’s largest herb garden and home to 75,000 herbs and flowers. It is a gorgeous place to visit in almost any season, maybe except for winter. There are so many species of flowers, seasonal blooms, plants, and herbs in Nunobiki Herb Gardens that the “herb” in its name could easily hoodwink travellers. It is easily accessible especially if you are in the Kitano neighbourhood. We went right after brunch at Café Freundlieb.
If anyone were to think that it’s just a huge park with nothing much to see and do or say “it’s just another garden”, we would differ. So, let’s plunge into some of the things to see and do at Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens.
1. Ride the Nunobiki Ropeway and capture Kobe’s panoramic skyline
Yes, you don’t have to hike your way up Mount Rokko to get to Nunobiki Herb Gardens. Thank you very much.
At ¥1,500, the return ropeway ticket got us to the top of Nunobiki Herb Gardens where the View Plaza is. We suggest that you work your way down from the top so that it’s less strenuous and easier on your thighs unless you are pressed for time and have to select a few choice areas to visit. The price of the ropeway ticket also covers a full-day admission. Woo-hoo!
On a clear day, you get a panoramic view of Kobe’s cityscape in the 10-minute ride. You can see the port and the sea sprawled out before you. As we went higher, we saw a great many bridges in Kobe. But don’t forget to turn the other way instead of just facing the city below. Jump to point 2, please!
2. Glimpse Nunobiki Waterfall and the first concrete gravity dam in Japan
During the ropeway ride, we took occasional glances to our left, not wanting to miss the two sights that are situated along the mountain. First up, the Nunobiki Waterfall which — to us from our angle in the cable car — looks like a piece of thin, long cloth draped across a heart made of stones.
In less than a minute, we saw the Nunobiki Dam, Japan’s first concrete gravity dam. Designated as an important heritage site for the modernization of water resources, Nunobiki Dam is built along the same mountain stream as the Nunobiki Waterfall and was completed in 1900.
3. Grab a snack or the honey soft serve at the View Plaza
European feels are all over this place — German Wartburg Castle-inspired cottage, soft classical music, English-inspired rose garden, numerous flower plots and herb carts, and a small wooden concert hall.
A green bronze girl statue caught our eyes as we walked out of the ropeway station. Titled “Arigato”, a Salvadoran sculptor presented it as a token of gratitude for Kobe’s support during the El Salvador earthquake in January 2001.
The main cottage houses a few stalls selling burgers, tarts, soft serve ice cream, and drinks including the gift shop, Herbal Market, and a restaurant called The Herb Dining.
As we’re still digesting that brunch from Café Freundlieb, we skipped lunch. At The Herb Dining, The Garden Plate Collection goes at ¥2,380 with a choice of main dish (meat, fish or pasta), appetizer buffet (15 varieties), and original herb blend tea. The restaurant says that the dishes use herbs and flowers from the gardens themselves and they sure are pretty as a picture!
Instead, we had dessert. We tried the honey soft serve which was not overly sweet. It had a very subtle taste of honey. We wished there was a dollop of honey drizzle over this!
While we were lapping up our ice-cream, we studied the various herbs in each themed cart lined before the patio dining area — cookery, craft, tea, and fragrance.
4. Daydream in the Rose Symphony Garden
We felt like we walked into a Jane Austen novel! In late October, we’re a little offseason for a garden of full blooms but we still managed to see a few beautiful roses in this garden encircling a mini fountain centrepiece.
It could have looked like this in summer from May to June. How pretty!
There are 4 plots of different color groups of mainly English roses. With over 60 varieties of roses, we found some that we seldom see in the flower shops and wholesale centres in Singapore. Some are even heritage roses of which the varieties are more than 75 years old. We saw Pemberton (1925), Igoult (1924), and Barbier (1906) to name a few. And of course, we put our noses close to catch a whiff of their fragrance.
With soft classical music playing in the background combined with the relaxing bubbling of the mini fountain and rosy scent lingering in the air, it was easy to daydream here seated in one of the wooden benches along the perimeter of this compound.
5. Discover the essential oil for you at the Fragrance Museum
Beyond the clock tower and just behind the Rose Symphony Garden lies the Mori no Hall (Forest Hall) where you will find the Fragrance Museum and a wooden concert hall (coming up in the next point).
Seek out the essential oils that appeal most to you, calm your mind, relax your body, and promote your emotional well-being at the Fragrance Museum that houses more than 80 types of essential oils, perfume bottles, and equipment used to extract the essences of flowers & herbs.
Thirty of these 80 are sold as ready blends. Uncap them to slide quickly across your nose, note the ones that enchant your olfactory senses, and take the corresponding number tag (colorful ones on the right of the picture below) to make your purchase in the Herb Market and Ropeway Store.
There’s even an aroma studio where classes are conducted to make soaps and room sprays.
6. Peek into the octagon concert hall constructed of wood
Within this same hall, head up to the 2nd floor for the wooden octagon concert hall where the balconies provide magnificent views of Kobe. A pathway also links this floor to the clock tower opposite.
It is a charming concert hall for recitals and concerts. We wonder how this unique octagon shape and the wood panelling would help with the acoustics. Loving the geometry, the lines and the warmth of wood here!
7. Calm yourself in the Lavender Garden
If you’re visiting from May to July, make your way down to the Lavender Garden from the View Plaza. Dubbed the Queen of Herbs, lavender flowers are used for culinary, fragrance, herbal teas, and traditional medicine. In June, there is also a lavender-picking event. Check out the Kobe City Facebook Page for updates.
8. Get drunk on flowers, flowers, and more flowers
The key highlight for us is the profusion and variety of flowers we can see in one single venue. Walking down from the View Plaza past the Herb Museum, we stopped so very often at many gardens to admire the flowers blooming during that season which was early autumn. The stretch from the Lavender Garden all the way to the Glasshouse saw cosmos, roses, rosemary, and many more. Along the way, the Four Seasons Garden, beautifully landscaped and arranged according to seasons, is a must-go in Nunobiki Herb Gardens.
Brace yourself as you are about to be bombarded with pictures of some of our favorites! And yes, we have a thing for cosmos — cosmos in a field, the back of cosmos against sunlight, cosmos swinging their thin stalks in the winds, cosmos at dusk, you name it.
In early summers, these trellises would have formed a sweet-smelling rose path to walk through. Still, we managed to spot a few fully bloomed autumn roses.
Instead of showy blooms, we tend to favor the smaller flowers and beauties with interesting textures.
9. Make believe in Herbal House like a theatre actor
Before entering the Glasshouse, we stepped into a house set up like a living room and kitchen. Having produced stages during school and college, it was almost like stepping onto a theatre set with all the props in place, just waiting for actors to take the stage. Dried flowers and spices dressed up the set.
We saw some kids having a swell time here pretending to cook behind the kitchen setup. How cute! Sunlight was just beautiful that day.
10. Take a nap in one of the hammocks
Scattered in a couple of locations (near the Four Seasons Gardens and the Kaze no Oka Flower Garden 風之丘花園) are hammocks which visitors can lie down, rest, swing gleefully, or take a snooze. Please don’t forget your sunscreen!
11. Wander in the Glasshouse
The Glasshouse is a distinct feature of Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens, easily identifiable when riding on the ropeway and when you are higher up at the View Plaza.
Sectioned, the Glasshouse showcases a tropical forest — we get a lot of that in this part of the world — and thematic displays of flowers, plants, spices, and herbs. We saw a Halloween display then.
It seems that the centrepiece of the Glasshouse is this sculpture titled “Mother and Child” (愛の像) which was presented to Kobe city by the Italian city of Terni, the birthplace of Saint Valentine. It embodies the desire for eternal friendship and for love to be born and nurtured throughout the world.
12. Relieve your tired feet in the Herbal Footbath for free
With compliments from Nunobiki Herb Gardens, we soaked our tired feet in the Herbal Footbath located just outside the Veranda to its left. It was free of charge and opened from 10am to 4.30pm. We just had to limit the usage to 10 minutes. A few of organza pouches filled with seasonal herbs were floating in the warm water appeasing our angry muscles while we took in the view. It was a relaxing way to end off our tour of Nunobiki Herb Gardens.
To dry off, bring your own towel or pre-loan one near the Herbal Football at ¥100 (self-serve).
13. Have tea at The Veranda
Situated just beside the exit of the Glasshouse, The Veranda at Kobe is decked out in a color palette that’s soothing, romantic and yet classical. The café would be a gorgeous place to have a spot of tea and a sandwich or cake. From now till February 2020, there will be a 20-min live music performance at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm at 2F.
The 1F terrace and the 2F café lounge have different menus. Go for the cosy 2F café lounge if you want some tête-à-tête and the 1F outdoor terrace if you want to enjoy more of that view and breeze. Prices range from ¥500 to ¥1,200.
Left: 1F Terrace; Right: 2F Cafe Lounge. Photo Credit: Nunobiki Herb Gardens
14. Shop for souvenirs at the Herbal Market and Ropeway Shop
We hope that we could have carted back some of those pots of herbs and plants but you know, there are airline and AVA regulations we have to adhere to. However, there are plenty of options like bath salts, rose and lavender pillow and wardrobe sachets room sprays, essential oils, herbal teas, and Nunobiki honey which make for good gifts. We recommend that you shop at the Herbal Market within the View Plaza (top of ropeway) which has occasional sampling and a wider range than the bottom ropeway shop.
15. Behold Kobe’s nighttime scenery
From the top and during the ride up the ropeway, you can also get a view of Kobe’s famous nighttime scenery. There are also nighttime illuminations at the View Plaza and drinks at The Veranda at Kobe.
pling thinks…there are numerous things to do at Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens so much so that this post is sooooo looooong. During spring to autumn, kids can run around, people who love hiking can trek up, people who love flowers and herbs can definitely feast their eyes on the flora, people can admire the nighttime scenery and have a drink, and people who just want to chill can have a relaxing time strolling through the gardens.
If you’re pressed for time to tour the whole garden, here’s a guide map to help you plan ahead.
¥1,500 (inclusive of Nunobiki Ropeway Round Trip, 9am to 5pm)
¥950 (inclusive of Nunobiki Ropeway One-Way Trip, 9am to 5pm)
¥900 (inclusive of Nunobiki Ropeway Round Trip, 5pm to 9pm)
9am to 5pm
5pm to 9pm
By Train & Ropeway:
- The nearest station is Shin-Kobe Station. From there, walk about 10mins to the bottom Nunobiki Ropeway Station.
- You will pass by ANA Crowne Plaza Kobe. Take a short escalator up.
- Walk through the gate indicating the Nunobiki Herb Gardens.
- Take a lift up or climb the stairs to reach the bottom Ropeway Station.