A sea of spring cherry blossom; a cluster of ancient temples; a geisha gliding along a lantern-lit path... Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, has long been associated with traditional Japanese culture. Until recently, accommodation here has been confined to either ryokan (traditional inns) or anonymous business hotels. Now Kyoto has taken a leap into the 21st-century with the arrival of Hotel Screen, the city's first boutique hotel.
The grey cubist building is unabashedly modern: the lobby is white and uncomplicated, with splashes of colour, while each of the 13 guestrooms has been created by a different designer or artist.
But the cultural weight of its location is impossible to ignore. Guests are greeted in the white lobby by a chilled-out musical soundtrack and smiling kimono-clad staff who serve traditional tea ceremony matcha (green tea).
Suspended from the double-height ceiling at different levels is a colourful clutch of 13 traditional paper umbrellas known as wagasa, transformed into modern lampshades. Further nods to Kyoto's heritage hang on the wall: a serene trio of pink-and-gold painted panels depicting sakura cherry blossoms, which are now just coming into bloom in the city.
A stay in Kyoto is incomplete unless you sample the region's renowned gastronomy. At the sleek restaurant, Kyotan nouvelle cuisine – a fusion of local and French style cooking using seasonal ingredients – is presented on sparkling crystal plates and consumed using wooden chopsticks. Dishes range from 13 Kyotan vegetables in a champagne marinade, to griddled pigeon. The restaurant's ceiling consists of gold and floral panels created by artist Tetsuie Nakamura.
The extravaganza continues at breakfast, with a traditional selection of around a dozen beautifully presented bite-sized dishes of tofu, miso, pickles, vegetables, rice and seaweed, all served as prettily as paintings.
Hotel Screen, 640-1 Shimogoryomaecho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan (00 81 75 252 1113; the-screen.jp). The hotel is just around the corner from Imperial Palace, opposite the red gates of an ancient Shinto shrine and a stone's throw from the temples of Teramachi-dori.
Distance from international airport: Kyoto is a precise 77 minutes from Kansai international airport by the very clean and punctual train; Y3,490 (£25) one way. A taxi from Kyoto station to the hotel costs around Y1,200 (£8.70).
Two lifts – one glowing blue and the other pink – transport guests from the serene lobby to moody black corridors where the guestrooms are located. While each of the 13 rooms is created by a different designer, they share a common denominator: modern, clean design. Floating white fabrics create a dreamy effect in Softroom by Sam Liu, while a more stark monochrome aesthetic prevails in Petit Prince Room by Hikaru Katai. Kyotan roots are echoed once more in design pieces such as the traditional wooden fusuma sliding screen partitions painted with blue morning glory flowers in the room created by Tetsuie Nakamura.
Freebies: As well as the arrival tea ceremony, there are delectable Ren products in the bathrooms. Larger bottles, as well as a creative selection of modern Kyotan crafts made by local artisans, are also sold in the hotel's bijou shop.
Keeping in touch: There are two computers for general use while broadband access is provided free in the rooms.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Doubles start at Y25,000 (£182); breakfast costs an additional Y3,000 (£22).
I'm not paying that: Get back to basics in traditional temple lodgings known as "shukubo". Shunkoin Temple (00 81 75 462 5488; shunkoin.com) in the heart of Kyoto's largest temple complex offers simple rooms for Y5,000 (£36), with free bicycle rental.