Where is it? Just outside the scenic spa town of Yufuin on Japan's southerly Kyushu island, a short drive (or train ride) from Fukuoka city. Set amid pine-clad mountains, crystal-clear springs and the cleanest, freshest air imaginable, the Sansou Murata ryokan is a hidden gem. What's so different about it? Murata blends traditional atmosphere with modern design in an ultra-luxurious hideaway. Guests can choose from 12 private villas: a mixture of classic Japanese lodges (all low wooden beams, shoji screens and tatami mats) and funky minimalist houses (all concrete, wood and stone). Service is superlative and each house comes with its own butler. Tell us more about the decor. Tokyo designer Shinichiro Ogata designed the villas and blended pared-down Japanese style with modern conveniences. In the Kyu villa, floor-to-ceiling windows, chunky wooden lattice doors, a tatami dining area and a cocoon-like shoji-screened bedroom are accentuated with modern classic furniture that has a hint of retro flair. What's the ambience like? Refined simplicity. The emphasis is on total relaxation and, once ensconced in your villa, the rest of the world seems far away. Guests are supplied with a yukata (cotton robe) and geta (wooden clogs) and it's de rigueur to wear these everywhere on the property, from breakfast in your private room at Japanese restaurant Saihido to coffee and shopping at the Zo-Setsu boutique. What about the cuisine? Superb. An eight-course set dinner, kaiseki, is served by your butler in your villa. Murata prides itself on its fresh mountain cuisine, which includes assorted sashimi, char-broiled river trout in miso sauce and marinated local roast beef. Other dining choices on the property include Artegio, an Italian restaurant with adjoining art museum. There is also Theo Murata, a Parisian-style chocolatier. Tan's Bar (right) offers a place to relax with after-dinner drinks, sitting in Le Corbusier chairs around the fireplace while listening to music from a wall-mounted 1930s stereo. What is there to do? Aside from relaxing and eating, bathing is the No 1 activity here. A soak in a mineral-rich outdoor pool is the ultimate way to relax. Each villa comes with its own private onsen (hot tub) fed by a local hot spring. Prepare Japanese style: scrub and soap with herbal cleanser then sluice down using a cypress wood bucket filled with hot water. Hop into the pool, breathe in the crisp mountain air and all is right with the world. If you can tear yourself away, the nearby village of Yufuin, with its rustic architecture and picture-postcard Lake Kinrin-ko, is worth a visit. What's the bottom line? Such indulgence doesn't come cheap, but it's worth every penny. Prices start at 48,450 yen (HK$3,180) a person per night, including two meals. Sansou Murata is at 1264-2 Kawakami-Torigoe, Yufuin, Oita, Japan, tel: 81 977 84 5000; www.sansou-murata.com . For non-Japanese speakers the best way to book is through www.ryokancollection.com .