Iya's valley winds through forested mountains, broken in places by the Iya river, whose crystal waters emit soothing sounds as they work their way down from Mount Tsurugi. Untouched scenery is a given in this remote area of Shikoku, named one of the three most unexplored regions in Japan.
Minka farmhouse properties cling to the sides of steep mountain slopes. One such place is Tougenkyo-Iya, a collection of traditional thatch-roofed homes in the village of Ochiai, which has been designated a Nationally Important Preservation District. Tougenkyo-Iya has been renovated under the guidance of author Alex Kerr’s non-profit, the Chiiori Trust, meaning that the minka have been sympathetically persevered, yet modernised enough to offer a guests a comfortable place from which to enjoy the rugged beauty of the surroundings.
Iya Valley is famed for its vine bridges, which, legend has it, were crafted to transport people and goods across the river, whilst being impermanent enough to be cut away with the swipe of a sword, should residents be pursued by invading clans in ancient times. Once Iya was home to 13 of these bridges, though today only three remain. The 45m-long Iya Kazurabashi is the most impressive - rebuilt every three years, it has been designated an Important Cultural Property.
Iya valley is a truly stunning part of Shikoku. It’s remoteness has helped save it from overtourism, which makes travel to the area tricky, but worth the extra effort.