Nobody likes Japan's cities in the summertime — at least not those south of Hokkaido. With heat rising off the tarmac and radiating from the concrete, and humidity that clings like a wet towel, thoughts of escape come readily to mind — and there's no better tonic than getting up into the hills and mountains where fresh air and cooler temperatures await.

And so it was that I found myself on an abbreviated road trip with my husband, a last-minute escape to explore the surprisingly uncrowded delights of the Izu Peninsula a mere two hours south of Tokyo.

On a previous venture there, we'd circled the perimeter of that beautiful spit of land, scouting the traces of history in tiny Shimoda and panning for gold on the western coast. This time, our outing took us down National Route 414, a well-kept road that traces the spine of the peninsula from landlocked head to coastal toe.