The Heart of Hualien
Captured in the character of the places you’ll stay, the foods you’ll eat and the places you’ll eat them, and the gifts and souvenirs you’ll take home
Text: Rick Charette
As you explore coastal Hualien, you’ll discover that the two most powerful themes in terms of “Hualien-best” stay/eat/buy selections showcase the local indigenous spirit and the purity of the landscape – green mountains, blue ocean, and narrow strip of fertile land between.
When approaching the Go to Sea Café Homestay, wedged between the coastal highway (Route 11) and crashing sea in quiet, pristine, decidedly bucolic Fengbin Township, you will not see the minsu (meaning homestay/B&B) section of this place. What greets you on the highwayside-level of this two-story steel-girder-framed structure, which reaches out over the steep bluffs here, is a welcoming café with art gallery. The homestay rooms are on the lower level. Both levels have a wide deck on the sea side, perfect for contented wave and sunrise watching. Your night(s) will be wonderfully secluded, serenaded by the soothing steady pounding of the breakers 20m below. (Rooms start at NT$1,800; breakfast included.)
Amidst the visual hubbub of fast-growing coastal Dahan Village, Qixingtan’s main tourist-service area, the owner-couple of Qixingtan Star Sea B&B pour their hearts into making their minsu a little piece of the Greek Mediterranean, their narrow 3-story building painted bright-white with ocean-color pastel and earth-tone embellishments. Rooms on the second and third floors have small, comfy patios with umbrella tables; those on the third have ocean views. The Katsuo Museum and a Qixingtan bike-rental station are just short walks away. (Rooms start at NT$3,080; breakfast included.)
If it’s 5-star comfort you crave, the one and only place you can sate this need in coastal Hualien is the Farglory Hotel Hualien. The striking 400-room complex, perched atop the north-end ridge of the Coastal Mountain Range, dominates rather than blends into the surrounding landscape. A self-contained resort, it has five luxurious restaurants and bars, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, fountains, sculptures, etc., etc. You get the picture. Hualien Farglory Ocean Park is just a short drive down the road. (Rooms start at NT$8,800; breakfast included.)
EAT (AND DRINK)
Run by an Amis-tribe sisters-and-mom team, Sawalian is a lyrical little restaurant/crafts gallery gem hidden down at the end of a long, sleepy lane off the coastal highway at the village of Gangkou south of Shitiping. The building is fronted by cheerful flowers and thick bushes, and you walk into the cozy dining area through creaky barn-style doors, sea breezes following. From inside, the view outside, framed by the extra-large windows, is of bright rice-paddy greens, then exposed-coral greys and breaker whites, then the blues of ocean and sky. I thought the best of our meal’s best (in order) to be the sugarcane shoots with red pepper, shallot, and cane juice, BBQ pork, yogurt with creamed pumpkin and grains, flying fish (just in season), and “bombshell” fish sashimi (a type of bonito). There’s no menu; the day’s market and the family gardens determine ingredients. Meals are NT$350 per person; DIY Amis-crafts sessions are also offered in the gallery (NT$300; book ahead).
Two other popular – and appealingly eclectic – eat/drink spots perched right at oceanside are the Kavalan Cuisine Restaurant at Xinshe Village and Hailang (Sea Wave) Café, between Shitiping and Fengbin village. The restaurant, decorated with driftwood art and items from Taiwan farm life, has a fresh chalkboard menu written out daily. If you don’t order crab or lobster, the cost per person will be about NT$400. The pick of our meal was the beef stew, sea bream with tofu, and fried noodles with pork slices.
As for the café, you’ll be hard-pressed to ever find one more rustic – nothing more than thatch-roof pavilions and outdoor furniture largely constructed of driftwood, your coffee served from an open-front hut. The signature beverages are the “mad dog coffee,” served with sweet/savory Amis millet wine, and “yin/yang (two-color) sea,” an ice coffee “sea”-bottomed with millet-wine fermentation dregs.
Stand before artist Lily’s nondescript roadside shop in Fengbin village and you would never guess this is the workplace – Lily Studio – of one of Taiwan’s premier leather-work artists. But indeed it is. Her purses, bags, pouches, wallets, and other functional items feature wonderfully vibrant colors. The artist is a member of the Kavalan tribe (“Lily” means “tiny” in Kavalan, a name bestowed by her grandmom on her birthday) and the highly stylized tradition-based art on her works is based on designs created by her “unbridled” budding-artist teenage son, whose graffiti art adorns the village – most commissioned, some of which in the past drew police interest. She offers DIY sessions: NT$150 for a keychain (1hr), NT$350 for a name-card pouch (2~3hrs); advance booking required.
The Paterongan (Xinshe) Banana Fiber Workshop is beside the coastal highway on a headland prettily carpeted with neat rice paddies – the aesthetics heightened by a row of wonderfully photogenic “scarecrows with Chinese characteristics.” “Paterongan” is the name of the Kavalan community here; the Kavalan homeland is Yilan County, but many moved to Hualien/Taitung in the early 1800s to escape Chinese-settler pressure. The workshop is dedicated to the revival of a dying craft; in the past banana-fiber weaving was used to make everything from mats on which to dry produce in farm fields to rain/sun-protection apparel “and even underwear.” An attractive range of for-sale items is on display, including carrying bags, sun hats, belts, and mobile-phone pouches. DIY sessions are also offered (NT$200 per person; book ahead).
Even if not overnighting there, drop in at Go to Sea Café Homestay (see Stay section above) for a relaxing seaside-patio coffee and a lengthy browse of the exquisite for-sale jade works on display. Co-owner Wu Yi-sheng is among Taiwan’s foremost jade-art sculptors. His work is wide-ranging, with Buddhist and Chinese-antiquity themes most prominent. The stone pieces he uses are works of art in themselves; all from Hualien, the range of colors and patterns is stunning.
Right outside Hualien Railway Station are numerous mingchan, or “famous products” outlets, selling Hualien-area processed snacks. Specially recommended are delicious Amis mochi, a delicacy once prepared only for special ceremonies. Japanese mochi features glutinous rice, but the Amis tribe uses millet. Flavors range from sesame and green tea to strawberry and pineapple. The fluffy, chewy sweet potato cake is a bite-sized treat made by mashing steamed sweet potato, adding egg, and baking.
English and Chinese
|Aboriginal Ten Best Culinary Offerings||原住民嚴選十大獻禮|
|“mad dog” coffee||瘋狗咖啡|
|sweet potato cake||蕃薯餅|
Go to Sea Café Homestay (來去海邊咖啡民宿)
Add:1-2 Yongfeng Rd., Fengbin Village, Fengbin Township, Hualien County (花蓮縣豐濱鄉豐濱村永豐路1-2號); near the 48km marker on Prov. Hwy 11
Tel: (03) 879-1898
Qixingtan Star Sea Bed & Breakfast (七星潭星海民宿)
Add:12, Lane 79, Qixing St., Dahan Village, Xincheng Township, Hualien County (花蓮縣新城鄉大漢村七星街79巷12號)
Hualien Farglory Ocean Park (花蓮遠雄悅來大飯店)
Add:18 Shanling, Yanliao Village, Shoufeng Township, Hualien County (花蓮縣壽豐鄉鹽寮村山嶺18號)
Add:2-1, Ward 4, Gangkou Village, Fengbin Township, Hualien County (花蓮縣豐濱鄉港口村4鄰2-1號)
Tel: (03) 842-1224 / 0920-330-842
Kavalan Cuisine Restaurant (噶瑪蘭風味餐廳)
Add:42 Xinshe Village, Fengbin Township, Hualien County (花蓮縣豐濱鄉新社村42號)
Tel: (03) 871-1339
Hailang Café (海浪 Café)
Add:73-1 Lide, Fengbin Township, Hualien County (花蓮縣豐濱鄉立德73-1號); near the 58km marker on Prov. Hwy 11
Lily Studio (百合工作室)
Add: 15 Guangfeng Rd., Fengbin Village, Fengbin Township, Hualien County (花蓮縣豐濱鄉豐濱村光豐路15號)
Paterongan (Xinshe) Banana Fiber Workshop (新社香蕉絲工坊)
Add:42, Ward 2, Xiaohu, Xinshe Village, Fengbin Township, Hualien County (花蓮縣豐濱鄉新社村小湖2鄰42); near 43km marker of Prov. Hwy 11
Tel: (03) 871-1361