Snowcapped peaks surround the old castle town of Matsumoto, where the air is cool and dry on the alpine plateau. More interesting and picturesque than Nagano, this gateway to the northern Alps is one of the best bases for exploring the area. Full of good cafés and restaurants, Matsumoto is also a center for traditional crafts—including tensan, or fabric woven from silk taken from wild silkworms; Matsumoto shiki, or lacquerware; and Azumino glass. Old merchant houses stand along Nakamachi Street, south of the castle. Several influential educators, lawyers, and writers from this city have impacted Japan's sociopolitical system in the past.
Though it only takes a day to visit the main sights in town, Matsumoto's restaurants, cafés, and relaxed atmosphere make it a hard place to leave. It is worth staying a night or two to visit the outlying museums and hot springs. Matsumoto is also a good base to visit Kamikochi to the west, or the post towns of Magome and Tsumago to the south.