Visit Taiwan’s Leisurely-Paced Small Towns Four Destinations Recognized with “Cittaslow” Status

Information and photos provided by Taiwan Tourism Bureau

If you live in, or near, New York City, you’re probably used to living a fast-paced life. You often feel like you’re constantly in motion, never finding time to take a break or slow down because there’s always something that needs to get done. And you find yourself going as fast as you can to get it all done. So, together, let’s get to know Cittaslow.
Cittaslow is an organization founded in Italy and inspired by the slow food movement. Its goals include improving the quality of life in towns by slowing down its overall pace, especially in a city’s use of spaces and the flow of life through them.
Cittaslow was founded in Italy in 1999, following a meeting organized by the mayor of Greve in Chianti, Tuscany. By 2006, national Cittaslow networks existed in Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom, and soon thereafter began appearing throughout parts of Asia.
An introduction to Taiwan’s four small “Cittaslow” towns
Taiwan’s first recognized Slow Town, Fenglin, is located in Hualin County on the East coast in the farm-carpeted East Rift Valley. This farm-market town is both quiet and peaceful, known for a cycling experience that is especially pleasant.
Once known for being a center of logging and coal-mining, Nanzhuang sits in the foothills of the majestic Snow Mountain Range. Harking back to its Japanese colonial heritage, Nanzhuang is known for its many buildings clad in clapboard.
Located in Miaoli’s rolling hills, Sanyi is Taiwan’s woodcarving capital with an artist’s population known for its talented Indigo dyeing techniques. There are hundreds of shops, some of which are artist studios, featuring superb works of art to shop and browse through.
Surrounded by flat farmland, Dalin is a small rural town in Chiayi County where rice, pineapples, and orchids, among other things are cultivated. Dalin is noted for its old-time architecture and well worth the time spent on a walking tour to experience its unique beauty.
Fenglin, Sanyi , and Dalin are easily accessible by train. Traveling to Nanzhuang is best arrived at by first a train to Zhunan train station, and hopping the Miaoli bus to Nanzhuang.

Fenglin

The town of Fenglin, located in Hualin county’s farm-filled East Rift Valley along the East Coast was Taiwan’s first recognized Slow Town. Bordered by the Central Mountain Range on its west, and the Coastal Mountain Range on the east, Fenglin’s natural setting is simply stunning. Fenglin is a farm-market town, quiet and peaceful, providing a cycling experience that is especially pleasant.

Located not far from the town’s railway station, the Hakka Cultural Museum is the perfect place to explore Fenglin’s local history. During the time Taiwan was controlled by the Japanese (1895 – 1945), immigrant villages were set up in the East River Valley. The finest examples of these villages can be found on Fenglin town’s north/northeastern side.

Once in the old Japanese immigrant area, you will find some of the best-preserved historical buildings, including old residence buildings, quaint cottage-style drying sheds, a school and a police station.

Nanzhuang

Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Snow Mountain Range, is Nanzhuang, located in hilly Miaoli County in Taiwan’s key cluster of Hakka settlements. Approximately 15 per cent of Taiwan’s Han Chinese population is of Hakka descent.

Nanzhuang Old Street is considered the town’s main tourist attraction, filled with old shops and eateries. Many of these businesses have been open for 50 years, or more, and are run by descendants of the founders. Braised pork with plum leaves, and dried radish omlettes are just two of the local foods that are must-try staples for any visitor.

Osmanthus Alley is another tourist-focused old street bustling with commercial activity. An open stone-lined channel once used by the locals to wash clothes amazingly still has flowing spring water. Other points of interest include the wood-built Nanzhuang Old Post Office erected during the Japanese colonial era, the Nanzhuang Theater and the Yongchang Temple, both of which date back to the post-colonial era.

Sanyi

The town of Sanyi, located southwest of Nanzhuang in the rolling hills of Miaoli, is also a designated Cittaslow town. Recognized as the woodcarving capital of Taiwan, Sanyi is renowned for its old-time Hakka culture. The local hills were once filled with camphor and other trees that were valued for their timber. The Japanese colonial period saw extensive logging take place, creating fertile land for tea farms to begin appearing. Using the dug-up trunks and roots as decorative pieces, a commercial sculpture industry began to form. As years passed, the area began to attract many full-time artists who have since made Sanyi their home.

The town’s most notable tourist attractions are the nearly 200 wood sculpture studio shops, along with its very popular modern-architecture Sanyi Wood Sculpture Museum. The shops showcase a variety of works, including artworks, furnishings and utensils. Their intricate Chinese pantheon religious statuary is most intriguing to international travelers.

Other must-see Sanyi attractions include the Shengxing Railway Station and the remains of Longteng Bridge. Formerly part of a now defunct railway that used to carry mountain-region resources, the cottage-style station and bridge were built by the Japanese in the early 20th century. Shattered in a devastating 1935 earthquake, the impressive red-brick viaduct bridge was reduced to it’s current 60m-long remains.

Sanyi is also known for its artisans who specialize in Indigo dyeing, and their products can be found in the small shops throughout Sanyi. The Indigo Dyeing House is Sanyi’s premier destination for products created using Indigo dyeing.

Dye from the indigo plant has been used for centuries all over the world. We’re all familiar with it – it’s what makes blue jeans, blue! The process of indigo dyeing is simple, yet complicated at the same time.

Using scraps of fabric, first wrap the fabric around marbles with rubber bands. The vat of dye will have a strong smell, with the surface covered with froth. A big bubble should form in the middle of the vat; known as the “flower of indigo”.

Before dipping in the vat, the fabric is soaked in plain water so as to take up the dye better. Dunk the fabric in the vat and knead it for a few moments. After kneading, lift the item out of the dye, holding it in the air for a few moments as the color changes from a sort of dull brown to blue. Dunk, and knead it again – and possibly again. The length of time and number of dips is how you get so many shades of blue.

Adding a trip to Sanyi while visiting Taiwan will surely add a burst of indigo blue to your travel memories.

Dalin

The fourth, and final designated Cittaslow town in Taiwan is Dalin. Located in Chiayi County, and surrounded by flat farmland, Dalin is a small rural town on Taiwan’s southwest plains. Rich in old-time architecture, including a restored movie theater and old sugar factory ruins, Dalin is also steeped in heritage shops that offer traditional Chinese items including stinky tofu and medicines.

Opening in 2003, the small Dalin Railway Station was Taiwan’s first “green architecture” train station. Many of the town’s attractions are within walking distance of the station. We highly recommend a guided walkabout tour, as it is the best way to take in all of Dalin’s main attractions.

Located immediately north of the station, you will find a well-restored wooden Japanese-style station master dormitory. Beginning directly in front of the station, the main commercial street features heritage buildings, home to longtime family-run eateries selling traditional savory snack foods, including stinky tofu and a Chiaya County specialty, turkey rice.

The town’s glory days can be briefly relived with a visit to the Dalin Sugar Factory, off the town’s edge. Featuring a still-operational Taisugar retail outlet, the complex also has a pleasant 7km bike route around the complex and along the farmland backroads.