Admittedly, Taiwan isn’t the first place that would pop into your head when dreaming of an alpine getaway: fresh, crisp air, towering trees, a hike through the quiet forest, hot coffee, cozy cabins. Who writes about the wilderness better + more passionately than John Muir?
Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.
No, Taiwan is palm trees, tropical weather, motorbike rides along ocean-side roads. We often forget that our tiny isle is actually host to a shockingly varied amount of ecosystems and climates, and that a fair amount of the island is mountainous.
This is why the Xitou area’s mere existence is so surprising to those not in the know. It’s a large forest region located in the central region of Taiwan (Nantou County) and surrounded by mountains on three sides. As in most scenic spots in Taiwan, it’s quite developed, and has become a popular resort town for the family-and-honeymooners set. My parents, pair of lovebirds that they are, went there for their wedding anniversary + came back with pictures that fueled my dreams of an alpine getaway. (Who says things like “alpine getaway”?! Sorry about that).
So after my exhausting two-week journey along the backpacking trail in Vietnam, I decided that Xitou would be the perfect place to refocus after days upon days of stressful planning + travel before moving on to another two weeks in the Philippines. I wanted a place to think + breathe (so, not the beach; because who can ever get any thinking done at the beach?)
We made the trip up through the mountains by car. Since I live with my family here + therefore am an awful representation of the typical person that might be visiting or touring Taiwan, I have no idea how you might go about getting here if you are not in possession of a motor vehicle. I am guessing from this post that there might be some kind of bus.
Since we had looped up through Keelung earlier in the afternoon to have Chinese New Year lunch with relatives, we didn’t end up arriving to our hotel until well after nightfall. Although there is a fair amount of lodging in the forest, only one hotel actually lies within the forest limits: The Leader Hotel Xitou / 立德溪頭飯店. It’s not a budget hotel by any means: you’re looking at 3,450 NT for a standard double room (checked as of March 2014), and the facilities are nothing to write home about. However, breakfast + dinner is included in the price, and you’ll have the luxury of being able to roll out of bed + start your hike right away.
You’ll want to start as early as possible, as Xitou is absolutely gorgeous. Oh, and the earlier you get up, the longer you avoid the crowds that will inevitably swarm the park around mid-morning. There are several options for hikes, from a mild loop around Xitou’s famed University Lake (the tradition is that if anyone can cross the half-moon bridge spanning the lake in less than 7 steps, admission to Taiwan’s best university will be guaranteed to them) to a 6-hour doozy with a stunning end view of the entire region.
National Taiwan University (國立台灣大學) is deeply connected to the history + development of Xitou. Large swathes of land in Xitou belong to school (in fact, the Leader Hotel is set on university land and operates only as a leasee), which also operates several farms + tree nurseries in the region.
We opted for a sort of hybrid, passing through the tourist-hotspot Sky Walk (a winding elevated bridge that lets you stroll amidst the tree-tops) and moving on to complete a few longer hikes in a large loop that ended up taking around 5-6 hours. Here are a couple of snapshots from our hike:
After our hike, we looped back to our hotel + rewarded ourselves to a leisurely lunch at a newly opened cafe that we discovered on the Leader Hotel grounds If you’re passing by the area, be sure to visit. Since I’m a terrible blogger, I forgot the name of the cafe, so you can go straight to the hotel entrance + ask them where it is. I fell in love with the border of plants growing around the perimeter of this unnamed cafe (which I evidently loved so much that I can’t even remember the name of it) + the cute little details, like the napkins served in a wicker picnic basket.
People, as much as I’d like to pretend I’m some sort of nomadic forest guru, I must admit that it was comforting to come back from hours + hours of biking and then sitting down to iced coffee + a risotto in the sun. I do like hiking- the type of hiking where you end up at a cafe. (And look; I’m not the only one who thinks so). And as I mentioned this truth to my mom as I lounged on the patio with my latte, she laughed: But what about John Muir + everything he said about nature and being alone in the forest? Well, I ain’t no John Muir, but even this city girl needs a respite from the chaos of Taipei sometimes, and Xitou is the perfect place for it.
Yes, it is touristy. Yes, it is riddled with all the commercial markers that have infringed on many a scenic place in Taiwan. But if you catch Xitou at the right time (early morning), season (this should be obvious: not a weekend, not a holiday), and location (hike far, far up): you’ll feel like Taipei is a million miles away; and that John Muir’s description of nature-based ecstasy never seemed more attainable.
LINKS TO KNOW
BASIC INFO / English introduction to Xitou Nature Education Area
STAY / The Leader Hotel Xitou: No.10, Forest Alley, Lugu Town, Nantou County, +886-49-2612588