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Monday, July 24, 2006

Take a load off in Taiwan

Spa resorts have become a big hit in Asia, though most tend to be “artificial” retreats.

What if spa resorts were surrounded by mountains, fields of wild flowers, fruit orchards, farm animals, and village-styled cuisines?

Say hello to Taiwan’s leisure farms.

Leisure farms are a new concept in holidays, where conventional farms are adapted to the demands of holidaymakers who want to get away from the stress and noise of the city.



Shangrila is one of the most popular leisure farms in Yilan, with activities like fruit-picking (below) and trekking.

Taiwan currently has 48 leisure-farming districts especially identified by the Taiwan Leisure Farming Development Association. These leisure farms may not be especially impressive in terms of size or hotel star rating, but they offer great scenery and experience.

Imagine being able to participate in fruit-picking, tea-planting, flying special wish lanterns, playing with bamboo whistles and dragonflies, and enjoying local cuisines under the trees. Or how about just lying back and listening to the sound of nature?
The following are three of Taiwan’s more popular leisure farms:

Yilan County

The first impression of Shangrila is the breathtaking view and fresh air. Shangrila is one of the most popular leisure farms in Yilan, which is credited with being the first county to develop a leisure farm. It is located at the foothills of the legendary Dayuan Mountain and enjoys a comfortable temperature of 25°C all year round.

The farm resort is in a European cottage style and is reminiscent of a village in the English countryside. You can pamper yourself by taking a bath in the forest while enjoying a cup of tea produced by the local farmers. One highlight here is fruit-picking, where you get to exercise while enjoying fresh air and fresh fruits.



Yun Shan Shui House is set in the midst of clouds. It boasts a traditional Taiwanese dining area, a tea-tasting area, a photo and antique display area, and a lovely balcony overlooking the lush mountains.

If you are the adventurous type, you will enjoy activities like mountain trekking, flying wish lanterns (Kong Ming Tian Deng), campfires, evening outings, star-gazing and admiring fireflies. The Nearby Ji Yuan Nong Chan (Orange Orchard Farm Production) offers mandarin orange jam, preserved jujube and other farm products.

The Pearl Pumpkin Orchard is worth a look because they produce the weirdest pumpkins imaginable – pinball, lantern, pear etc, and in colours ranging from red to orange to yellow and white. Every year, from March to May, the orchard organises the Pearl Pumpkin Festival, where they serve up a sumptuous pumpkin spread.

Nantou County

Chirping birds, the scent of tea leaves and sandalwood, nature in its simplicity – that’s what this leisure farm offers. The Old Five Homestay is named after the owner, who is the fifth child in the family.

Years ago, Old Five used to be a tea farmer, but one who never sold his tea leaves to the commercial distributors. Instead, he only sold to his friends, many of whom travel a long way just to buy from him. Some stayed overnight at his farm because of the long journey, and that was how the place evolved into a pastoral home-stay.

Situated by a river, the Old Five Homestay is a blend of Japanese and Chinese architectural styles. It radiates peace and calm.

This being Nantou County, guests make it a point to visit Sun Moon Lake, once described as the most scenic natural lake in Asia. Part of the lake looks like a sun and the other, a new moon, hence its name.

Taipei County

Yun Shan Shui House is an out-of-this-world hostel set in the midst of clouds, mountains and pristine water. This dreamy leisure farm used to be an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere, until Wu Ganzheng and his family decided to turn it into a dream retreat for outsiders.
The Wu family put their heart and soul into it, with grandpa growing vegetables and raising pigs, grandma picking vegetables and keeping chickens, second sister doubling up as the butler, and their friendly neighbours chipping in by helping to cook taro balls. The place is now a popular tourist attraction that offers village lifestyle and traditional food.

Yun Shan Shui is a four-storey building boasting a traditional Taiwanese dining area, a tea-tasting area, a photo and antique display area, and a lovely balcony overlooking the lush mountains.

If you like sunflowers, take a couple of hour’s drive down south to Guanyin Town in Taoyuan County to visit the Sun & Green Farm. It is the biggest sunflower farm in northern Taiwan and has over 10 breeds of sunflowers. Some of the flowers grow to be as wide as 20cm!

Taiwan has long been known as a shopping and dining destination, and the capital city Taipei is where you will find the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101. What tends to be overlooked in all this are its more bucolic attractions. W

For more details, visit the Taiwan Tourism Bureau website at
http://www.taiwan.net.tw/

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