City of delights
Explore the island with a homestay vacation
Much of what has been said and written about travelling in Taiwan is about its vibrant night markets, delicious street cuisine and picturesque landscapes.
Less explored are the numerous homestays and leisure farms spread over its diverse terrain. They are one of the best ways to experience first-hand Taiwanese hospitality and the local pastoral culture.
For someone who is used to the idea of exotic resorts and stately country houses, I was initially a little baffled when I ran through a guidebook on leisure farms in Taiwan.
How did some of those plain and unadorned dwellings find a place on Taiwan's leisure map?
After visiting a couple of Taiwan's most popular homestays and leisure farms, I realised that it is really not about the architecture (which in some instances, remind you of the nondescript bungalows down the lane), but the people that make these places come alive.
Leisure farms and homestays in Taiwan are mostly family-run businesses, having evolved from traditional farming models. Hence, every homestay or farm I stayed in had a very distinctive and memorable personal touch, and the owners were probably the most sincere and accommodating hosts I had ever met.
Do not be surprised if you are interrupted twice during your meal, for the hosts just want to be doubly sure that you like the food prepared.
One of the more distinctive homestays I visited last August was the Spring Villa in Ilan County. Affectionately known as the Qiongyao place after the popular Taiwanese author of the same name, the Tudor-style cottage has a very unique poetic atmosphere, thanks to the literary and cultural forays of its owners.
Scenic backdrop aside, every corner of the villa has been meticulously decorated with the owner's personal collections of memorabilia worldwide.
The caf� menu, on the other hand, comes in the form of an intricately crafted verse. How can one not be mesmerised?
Part of what made my visit pleasurable and unique was definitely the local delicacies. Many farms grow their own produce and rear their own livestock, so the food is usually freshly prepared. The Taiwanese are also known for creating an amazing variety of innovative dishes.
As treasured guests, indulge in anything from indigenous herbal chicken, tea-infused tofu to glorious flora banquets, which I had during my visit to the Tai-I Ecological Education Leisure Farm in Puli.
Each dish was specially crafted using a blend of indigenous produce and edible flower parts. Unquestionably, it was the most unique and visually appealing meal I ever had.
Also unique to one of Taiwan's leisure farms is the signature purple coffee (above) from Sanfu Garden Resort in Yilan, which is made with yam paste instead of the usual whipped cream. The coffee does not come cheap though, at NT$180 (S$8.40) a cup.
The other highlight of Taiwan's leisure farms and homestays has to be the charming countryside scenery and rustic, laid-back atmosphere. Lest you imagine that there is hardly anything to do at these idyllic getaways but to sit back and relax, chances are, your host would have a lot of activities planned for you.
At the Shangri-La Leisure Farm in Ilan, my group and I were urged to join in the traditional games as soon as we finished our dinner.
We ended up kneading traditional Taiwanese dumplings, playing with wooden tops and making wishes on hot-air lanterns, which we then released into the night sky as we signed off an enjoyable evening.
Visitors to Taiwan's leisure farms can also choose from a wide variety of outdoor activities like campfire parties and nature trails, or sign up for short trips to nearby museums and other attractions.
The writer went to Taiwan on the invitation of Taiwan Visitors Association and China Airlines. For more information on travel packages to Taiwan, visit the CTC Holidays website at www.ctc.com.sg or call 6536-3995.
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