And on the other I felt compelled to use the transport included with my Hakone Free Pass, when actually I would have enjoyed myself more had I just used it to get to a gallery or the Museum at Owakudani volcano. I'm going to share some of my highlights from my time in Hakone.
First Hakone Guest HouseThis was perfect. The owners all spoke English and were very friendly. They had loads of information about local restaurants, hikes and provided a circuit beginning and ending at the Guest House.
Included was the use of private hot springs. You booked in half an hour slots and relaxed in the water from Ooo....
There was a Jukara - to me it looked like a kimono - that you could wear around the guest house and the neighbourhood.
In your room you had a traditional futon, table and cushion. It was very authentic but not in the least bit daunting.
VolcanoMy geeky geography-loving alter ego loved this. There are some good detailed signs with some English translations to explain a bit about it. It is worth getting out of the cable car and walking up to it (cute puppy not included)...
Cocoro Curry RestaurantThere isn't an English menu for this place yet, but I opted for a Spicy Chicken Curry, it wasn't too spicy at all and came with purple rice, chunks of chicken and vegetables.
It's a small little restaurant, so pop it in google maps before you set out and keep an eye out for a yellow robot.
The food was brilliant, my waitress spoke English and it's 5 minutes walk from Hakone Yumato so makes a good option on your way out of Hakone. I then got the bus to Odwara for my train to Kyoto.
The walk from Hakone Hakone Machi to Moto HakoneI looked at the Checkpoint and felt slightly underwhelmed but went exploring as I didn't feel like another bus ride. If you walk through the checkpoint and keep following the path you will get to a car park. If you were to walk straight across the car park you would get to the path with the original Cedar Trees. Turn left BEFORE you cross the car park and follow the signs that run along the banks of the lake and take you to several observation points on the way.
I had the path practically to myself and it gives you some beautiful undisturbed views of the lake (and if it were a clear day, Mt. Fiji).
Tengoku Hot SpringsAlthough I had enjoyed the hot springs at my guest house, with an abundance of options I wanted to try some public ones. I choose Tengoku Hot Springs because they were located right behind Hakone Yumoto station.
Wash yourself at the sinks on the right before you get in the water. Then submerge right up to your neck for as long as you can handle. I had the baths completely to myself and it cost a little over 700 yen.
Go out of the station at the North exit then almost immediately go under the bridge to tour right. Follow the road, as there is no footpath and you should see a yellow sign in front of you similar to the below. Turn right up the hill and then the hot springs are on your left signposted like the below. Go all the way up the steps.
The lady running it was very grumpy, but if you can deal with the unfriendly reception it's location is ideal. Don't bother paying for a shoe locker - just get a locker in the main changing room for your bag.
...So is Hakone Free Pass/the area worth a visit?Yes! It's beautiful here and the pass offers great value HOWEVER don't be pressured into following a set route. Try going for two full days if not three, so you can use the most popular transport at off peak times (the funicular railway, the cable car and the pirate ship). The boat was very busy when I went and I think this and the cable car may be better enjoyed early in the morning or last thing.
Furthermore, don't feel pressured to LOVE being outside or on transport all the time - there are many museums and the Pola Art Museum & The Open Air Art Museum both come highly recommend.
I only did a small walk, but definitely pack your trainers and consider spending a day hiking - the beauty of your surroundings is Hakone's biggest selling point.
And last but not least, eat early and enjoy a restful time.
Don't be swept up... Relax!!