Stone lions at entrances of buildings or houses, which act as auspicious guardians, always come in pairs.
They are usually placed apart, the male on the left side of the gate or door, and the female on the other.
But the pair at the entrance to the five-star Le Midi Hotel in Sitou of Nantou district in central Taiwan is not, taking all first time visitors by surprise.
Strangely, both the male and female lions are standing close to each other instead, leaning to the left side of the grand entrance.
A check with the hotel revealed that the lions, each weighing several tones, were originally placed apart at the entrance till a devastating earthquake in 1999 and Typhoon Toraji two years later. Both events nearly destroyed the 243-room hotel.
When the hotel’s new owners decided to renovate the hotel a few years later, they were surprised that the female stone lion from the right side had moved close to the male one on the left.
The new owners, believing it was the lions’ wish to be close together in the face of the two natural calamities, left them alone as the hotel went through a major make-over which turned it into the beautiful and elegant hotel it is today.
The hotel’s assistant public relations manager Mimic Chiu said: “It shows the power of love. The female lion, many of us believe, had moved towards the male one with some supernatural forces in the midst of the natural disasters.”
Today, the lions and their “love story” is the hotel’s greatest attraction. Lovers and even wedding couples in their suits and gowns pose for pictures in front of the two lions as a symbol of togetherness in adversity.
Taiwan, in the minds of many, evokes romance due largely to the volumes of romantic novels by Chiung Yao which were later made into movies and the many popular Mandarin love songs sung by Taiwanese singers like Teresa Teng, Tang Lan Hua and Liu Chia Chang since the 1970s.
And this pair of stone lions at the hotel in Sitou just adds to it, making Sitou, mainly a forest recreational area for lovers to holiday in and newly-wed couples to go for their honeymoons.
The natural habitat, the bamboo forests, tea plantations, camp sites, chalets and hotel resorts in the woods make holidays there tranquil, and most of all romantic.
Nantou district in Central Taiwan, is also popular for its mountain valleys and greenery. It is therefore an ideal location for holiday resorts, popular among honeymooners because of the cool weather there throughout the seasons.
Sun Moon Lake
The most famous resort there is the Sun Moon Lake which is Taiwan’s largest in-land lake. It is a beautiful alpine lake divided by the tiny Lalu island in the middle. The eastern portion is round like the sun and the western side is shaped like a crescent moon, hence its name.
The beauty of the place is created by the combination of mountains and water, making it a “honeymoon heaven” for the newly-weds. The lake’s 760m elevation from sea level gives the impression of a Chinese landscape painting, especially with the mist-laden water and clearly-defined levels of mountains.
Several five-star and four-star hotels, inns and chalets surround the lake with their rooms giving a breath-taking view. A visit to the lake cannot go without a stay in one of those hotels. Some of the more popular hotels include Hanbi lou, Fenisia Hotel and Hotel Del Lago.
Another place of attraction for wedding couples and honeymooners in Nantou is Cingjing Farm, which is over 1,000m above sea level with abundant ecological environment. The fruit, flower and vegetable farms and tea plantations there were set up by the late General Chiang Kai-shek for retired soldiers from the Kuomintang army more than 50 years ago.
Today, the farm is turned into a cluster of holiday resorts, many with buildings and houses modeled after those in Europe, some even in Victorian and French architecture styles.
The place is so romantic and appealing to city girls from all over Taiwan that many who visited the farm chose to marry young men there in order to spend the rest of their lives to be among the flowers, greenery, sheep and cows together. It is today a popular place for couples to take their wedding photographs, and honeymooners on their first holidays together.
Hualian district, also in central Taiwan, is well-known for the stretch of Taiwan’s North-south Highway which cut across mountains, giving travelers a breath-taking view of the beautiful scenery in the area. The drive through the mountainous region is a pleasant one with many stops especially set up for visitors to catch the most scenic view.
Taiwan’s most famous national park, Taroko Gorge, is also there. The 12-mile-long area with its side canyons, dating thousands of years in history, is a must-see for all visitors.
One of the latest development in tourism in central Taiwan is the sprouting up of hot spring bath resorts in the area, attracting thousands of loving couples.
The water from the springs at the resorts there, especially in the Lushan area, are all crystal clear, odourless and high in temperature, not found anywhere else in Taiwan.
The hot spring water are pumped into the guest rooms in some hotels for couples who want privacy, while others are in man-made, lake-like natural environment for those who prefer the outdoor. The variety of hot spring baths available in Nantou surprises you.
A new trend in the hospitality industry in Taiwan is the emergence of country home-stay holiday guest houses or minshu in recent years. Many mansions and buildings with an interesting history have been turned into these guest houses which are like hostels or service apartments for tourists. Their numbers are growing rapidly, especially in Nantou. There are at least 100 registered ones there, with another 500 smaller ones not registered, according to one estimate.
These guest houses come in different sizes, from the smallest with no more than 10 guest rooms, to the big ones with close to 200 rooms.
A special feature of these guest houses is the history attached to the mansions or building housing them. Some were owned by Taiwanese who have lived there for ages. Many of them are still run by husband-and-wife teams who are owners of the mansions or buildings themselves. So expect very personal service during your stay there.
One owner, Mr Lin Shao-ming who runs Ming Cing Guest House there with his wife said: “Visitors who come here can feel at home and experience country-side living in Taiwan tending to fruit and vegetable farms here.”
Another special feature is that the guest houses often give visitors a feeling of being highly respected, like they are really the personal guests of the owners. This is especially popular with couples on honeymoon who want to be treated special.
Visitors are sometimes even given the choice of the colours of the pillow cases they prefer and asked if they wanted wet or dry bathrooms. Room décor styles are also available in some cases, just to give visitors variety instead of the standard rooms in hotels.
Wine and Dine
No holiday is complete without good food, and Taiwan has plenty to offer.
In Nantou, the most famous eating house is the Jin Dou Restaurant in Puli. It serves Chinese food with fresh ingredients farmed locally in Nantou. The dishes are either healthy, rustic take gourmet Chinese fare, or an epicurean twist on home cooked favourites, or both. But regardless of the influences, the food are good, hearty and fresh.
What was aptly named “meiren tui” or “beauty’s leg” is a large steak of succulent bak choy-like vegetable that resembles a chicken thigh more than vegetarian fare. This goes well with the pedigree glutinous rice (from one of their best harvests 2 years ago) glistening with oil from the succulent chicken and Taiwan sausage. The hot pot is a flavourful mix of fresh produce including mushrooms, summer vegetables and Chinese herbs.
Special dishes on its menu even includes a list cooked with different variety of flowers. The restaurant owner, Mr Wang Wen Zheng, said: “There is a great variety of flowers in this part of Taiwan, so we come up with the menu to be special, and we found that flowers do not only look pretty, but also taste good on the dining table.”
In another restaurant, Sun Link Sea, also in Nantou, one menu has its 12 dishes named after the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac, all healthy food which provide cures for a variety of illnesses.
Besides the Chinese dishes, guest houses also provide a good variety of Western cuisine too, to go with their building architecture styles perhaps. So don’t be surprised to be served pizzas and steaks in Taiwan!
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