Cross Hotel, Sapporo

Carol West

What is it? A hip oasis for cosmopolitan cognoscenti travelling from Tokyo to Sapporo on one of the world's busiest air routes, with a touch of the surreal about it. In the artfully lit black, white and red reception area, the keys on a lacquer red upright piano play effortlessly all by themselves. Avant-garde metal sculptures flank the reception desk while visiting black-clad groove-meisters sit in white leather Le Corbusier LC2 armchairs or swivel seductively on a deep red Eames Egg chair. Cross Hotel is uber-chic in a quiet, minimalist way and could be an Academy Award nominee in the best set design category.

What are the rooms like? Moodily lit hallways, outfitted in the colour of grey flannel, lead to three types of accommodation: 'urban', 'natural' and 'hip'. The crisp modernity and smooth functionality described as urban is contained within compact (read small) spaces. Natural rooms are inspired by Hokkaido's forests and in them are used warm woods, amber tones and natural fabrics with a modern edge. Fashionably monochromatic, rooms in the hip category are sharply accessorised with sleek designer pieces and punctuated with colourful furniture. Free high-speed internet access is available throughout the hotel.

How about dining? The Agora restaurant combines contemporary Italian food and a heightened Japanese design aesthetic with locally sourced, often organic, produce. The interior is decorated in restful neutrals and fresh blooms, complementing the colourful pastas and risottos artfully arranged on white China. Small plates to share can be taken in the meeting lounge, a popular, well-stocked bar with private corners for intimate moments. Expect an added frisson of excitement during the annual Sapporo City Jazz Festival (July 16 to August 5), when international musicians make it the place to wind down after a gig.

Any other surprises? It's not often you'll be able to watch your car mechanically disappear into the bowels of the earth - but at this hotel, you can. Presumably, when it's needed again, someone pushes a button and it rises to street level much like a can from a vending machine.

Once in your room, slip into the loose, sage-green linen pyjamas that will have been carefully folded on the bed and then head for the segregated world of the Daiyokujou hot baths (above left), on the 18th floor. Demurely clutch a towel in front of you, if you are so inclined, and slide into the hot swimming pool, tiled with cool green mosaics, or soak in the outdoor bath as the lights of Sapporo pulsate below.

What's the bottom line? A 'premiere' room starts at about 16,170 yen (HK$1,300) and a double room at 27,720 yen.

Cross Hotel is at 2-23 Kita 2 jo Nishi, Chuo-Ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, tel: 81 11 272 0010;