TAIPEI MAY BE THE best-kept secret in Asia. The capital city of Taiwan, Taipei is nestled among mountains at the northern tip of an island replete with dramatic landscapes. The Portuguese called it Ilha Formosa —Beautiful Island. Visitors will find here a taste of the rich traditions of ancient China, uninterrupted by cultural revolutions or Western colonialism. The city is a fast-paced blend of contemporary upscale life, with colorful ancient temples and monuments, dramatic scenery, and romantic teahouses perched on the sides of mountains. It is one of the few cities in the world where you can go from a modern metropolis of millions of people to lush green mountains in just minutes. In Taipei, you can find not only the best of the regional cuisines of China, but also first-class food from every part of the world.
Author Joanne Grady Huskey Photography James Whitlow Delano
DAY TWO / Dress comfortably because today you are going up the mountain to beautiful Yangmingshan National Park. You have arranged for your English-speaking driver to pick you up early for the drive up Yangde Dadao (Yangde Boulevard), the main road into the mountains, for about seven kilometers. You will reach the small village of Shanzi Hou. On the right, about 20 yards before Jingshan Road, at Yung Hede Jiang (Red Sign), try a quick, traditional Chinese breakfast of doujiang (hot soy milk) and youtiao (long, doughnutlike bread), and xiaobing (small bread) with jidan (egg).
After breakfast, take Jingshan Road all the way up to Cingtiankeng (Buffalo Meadow) for an early stroll in this magnificent mountaintop meadow along stone trails (laid during Japanese colonial days) overlooking the Pacific and the volcanic Seven Star and Datun mountains. After an hour’s hike, drive the winding road to Shaoyoukeng, with its field of steaming fumaroles curling skyward, where you can boil an egg if you happen to have one. Then, follow Yangjin Highway down the northern face of Yangmingshan toward the ocean and the beach town of Jinshan. About halfway, at the 23.1 kilometer mark, take a hairpin left down the driveway to the Ba Yan Hot Spring Resort. One of the Japanese gifts to Taiwan is the elegant tradition of the hot mineral bath. Begin by enjoying a lunch on the terrace overlooking a rushing mountain stream. Then, soak in one of the mineral spring baths in the resort.
You can choose a private spa room, separate men’s and women’s hot baths (sans clothing), or outdoor public baths (with bathing suits)—all with wonderful views of surrounding mountains. The pools range from ice cold to steaming hot.
Refreshed and relaxed, continue down the mountain to Juming Museum, where world-renowned sculptor Juming has created a sprawling open-air art gallery. After viewing his unique stone sculptures of people doing tai chi, working, serving in the military, and performing in the circus, drive to the beach and stop at Jinshan Beach Coffee House (Zhong Jiao Wan), just west of Jinshan Town. Watch the hoards of surfers catching the waves as you sip an iced latte in the sea air on the deck overlooking the East China Sea.
It’s late afternoon, so take the North Coast Highway, with its spectacular views, around the northern tip of Taiwan, and go south along the Taiwan Strait to the bustling fishing village of Danshui. Stop at the Consulate Café (Lingshir Café), opposite the old Red Fort (Fort Santo Domingo), established by the Dutch East India Company in 1644. Enjoy Western cuisine on the café’s balcony above the Danshui River. After dinner, stroll along the Danshui River Boardwalk and pick up a few trinkets and mementos before heading back to the hotel. Before bed, make a reservation for The Top (Wuding Shan), where you will have dinner tomorrow. Request a front view.