As soon as you arrive in Taipei, full of surprises, you discover that the capital is a fairly green city with tea plantations in the suburbs, only a few kilometres from the business district. Wherever you are, you will always see green peaks surrounding the city. You might as well get used to it, because you're not out of surprises! Despite its small size, Taiwan is a land of contrasts. To the north, the coastline looks like Brittany with its steep cliffs and capricious rocks; to the east, still as steep, white sandy beaches and gigantic marble gorges; to the south, a new landscape with sparse vegetation and heavenly beaches is being planted, while heading northward, titanic mountains (over 3,000 m high) rise to lakes, rivers and other hot springs. Finally, the west-central part is a vast plain which, on cloudy days, would almost remind us of Belgium or northern France. Taiwan is a mosaic of landscapes! Moreover, American filmmaker Martin Scorsese did not hesitate to shoot his latest film, Silence, in the magnificent landscapes of Taiwan.
A memorable welcome :
Although this is a little less true in large cities, Taiwanese are warm and open-minded people, always on the lookout for what might please visitors. Cascading smiles, kind attentions and above all, questions: Where are you from?, What are you doing?, What can I do for you? They are simply interested in each other, and the foreigner is systematically considered a guest. This curiosity, combined with the island's tradition of generosity, makes the Taiwanese one of the most welcoming people in the world, and fills the visitor with attention.
An authentic destination
Despite its extreme modernity - high-tech industry, design architecture, cutting-edge fashion - Taiwan remains deeply attached to Chinese culture, defending its heritage. This rootedness draws its strength from historical events: Taiwan was invaded by the Japanese, which awakened a sense of identity, and Taiwan, under the yoke of nationalists, escaped the cultural revolution. The religious tradition has therefore been perpetuated without interruption, as evidenced by the presence of some 5,000 temples and monasteries, as well as the practice of martial arts in which the Taiwanese indulge in a relaxed atmosphere. Add to this the aboriginal traditions in the east of the island, and the trip to Taiwan is an introduction to the cultures that coexist there. The Japanese heritage is also, especially in the north, very present, and Kyushu's pets will find many similarities with the Japanese island in Taiwan. Taiwan is an island in the plural, and that's what makes it so charming. A word of advice, go out for a few days outside the big cities, and discover the charms of Taiwan in the countryside: you will not be disappointed.
A variety of sports activities
Taiwan does not only offer its landscapes and cultural heritage. For hikers, mountaineers and marine enthusiasts, the island has treasures easily accessible to sports enthusiasts of all levels, hundreds of kilometres of trails in superb mountain landscapes or along the coast, snorkelling in the south, rafting in the steep gorges. However, beware of mosquitoes and snakes, as some species are particularly poisonous!
An exceptional gastronomy
After the civil war in 1949, two million Chinese from the continent took refuge in Taiwan; among this human flow were Chinese from all provinces (Sichuan, Guangdong, Fujian, Manchuria...) who brought their diverse and renowned recipes in their suitcases, a testimony to five thousand years of culinary tradition. Chinese cuisine has therefore been added to the local cuisine, already influenced by Japanese cuisine. Today, all culinary trends are represented in Taiwan: Korean, Thai, French, Italian, German, Mongolian... There is only one common denominator at all its tables: quality, because in Taiwan, eating is part of the joys of life. Tea lovers know that Alishan tea is one of the best in the world.
A year of festivities
Between traditional Chinese celebrations such as the New Year's Day or the Lantern Festival, Aboriginal festivals such as the Flying Fish Festival among the Yami or the Seiziat tribute to the spirits of the dwarves, national holidays such as the day the Republic of China was founded or sports events such as the Taroko Marathon, you can take your pencil and mark it with a cross on your calendar - Gregorian or lunar -, days when nothing happens in Taiwan... The company should be fast! All the festivities are accompanied by celebrations that will allow you to capture the soul of the country and its inhabitants, and to taste their hospitality.
Plural shopping in Taipei
To shop all year round or satisfy a compulsive desire, Taipei is the ideal city, especially since the quality of its transport takes you to any neighbourhood in record time. You will find all the items that can calm your buying fever. The Sogo department store on Zhongxiao East Road and the many galleries near Taipei 101 contain luxury brands, while the Shilin night market is a gold mine for those who dream of dressing in manga fashion. Fans of photographic and computer equipment will not be disappointed either, with, among many others, the gigantic Nova store. Finally, local craftsmanship, varied and of high quality, enjoys a good reputation, and sees its importance growing. Made in Taiwan is back, and this time it is synonymous with quality and style.
The treasures of the National Palace Museum
He alone could justify the 14 hours of flight time between Paris and Taipei. For art lovers or the curious, this museum is a must: it would contain 75% of the world's collections of Chinese art, including all the imperial collections, preserved in the Forbidden City. Rare books, calligraphy, bronze, jade... the collection on display rotates every three months. For lovers of anecdotes, the Palais Museum houses a collection of more than 750,000 pieces, more than twice that of the Louvre, but most of the works are stored in huge underground shelters in the mountains, just behind the museum, in order to safeguard this unique heritage in the event of conflict with mainland China.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette