In this era of shared-to-death destinations, I especially treasure opportunities to raise a little consciousness about places you may never have considered but should. Take for example Taiwan. The Republic of China and its capital, Taipei, had barely merited mention in our pages to date. But the Asian island is ready for its close-up.
I have been closely following the progress of a new international art fair called Taipei Dangdai. Spearheaded by Magnus Renfrew, who previously groomed Art HK into Art Basel Hong Kong, this inaugural gathering of 90 international galleries—including around 20 locally grown names to know, such as Eslite, Liang, Tina Keng, and Lin & Lin—launched today at the Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center. (See Renfrew’s guide to Taipei’s artful treasures here.) Though that 10 year-old civic structure is unremarkable, the Asian metropolis is generating much buzz over two soon-to-open urban developments: The shiny metal planetary sphere conjoined to the corrugated glass cubed Taipei Performing Arts Center was designed by OMA and Taipei Pop Music Center, and the futuristic pleated clamshell punctuated by fractal shards of anodized aluminum skin is from New York–based firm Reiser+Umemoto RUR Architecture. Taiwanese pop music may interest you even less than national carrier EVA Air’s collaboration with pop cutie Hello Kitty, but it’s hard not to gape at the dynamic interplay within this cultural campus, with its 5,000-seat theater, outdoor markets, luxury boutiques, and restaurants, many set to stay open around the clock.
To appreciate the 20th-century environment that nurtured groundbreaking Taiwanese artists like Sanyu and Lin Fengmian as well as current talents on display at Taipei Dangdai like pop artist Michael Lin, contemplate the imperial Chinese treasures that the Nationalists absconded with from Beijing in the waning days of China’s civil war in 1949. These 650,000-plus masterpieces found safe haven at the National Palace Museum, before Mao could set his Red Guards on them. Also worth seeking out are Fubon Art Foundation’s “wall-less” Very Fun Park and the Taiwan Design Museum within the 1930s tobacco factory turned Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, established to foster native artistic talent.
Though I expect that the new art fair and these other cultural developments will draw more curious modern-day explorers to the island formerly known as Formosa, until recently most foreigners came to please their palates among the cacophonous night markets like Shilin, a glutton’s paradise best known for fried pork buns and sizzling oyster omelets, and Snake Alley, which only recently shuttered its last eatery serving serpent soup and snake wine.
No fan of slithering dishes, I look forward to returning to Taipei for a more of the moment address named for Taiwan’s national flower. Mume challenges notions of the celebrity chef as a solo rock star, with its three promising young chefs who combine their training at Noma and Per Se with this island’s diverse produce to deliver truly East-meets-West fare, like their singular beef tartare, made with clam mayo, egg yolk confit, and preserved daikon. I also hope to get out of town by 90-minute high-speed train ride to the 19-seat Akame outside Kaohsiung, where chef Alex Peng decamped after helping fellow countryman André Chang to earn two Michelin stars for Singapore’s now defunct André restaurant. Stretching the definition of destination dining to its extreme, Peng is elevating aboriginal Taiwanese cuisine in a hamlet called Kucapungane at the southernmost tip of Taiwan. The name means “grill” in Peng’s native Rukai aboriginal dialect, referencing his cooking technique in dishes like his charred Taitung squid drizzled with local lemon.
Another gem drawing me back is Villa 32, which makes my list of the world’s most divine places to stay thanks to its tables set with Hermes flatware, qi-gong–trained massage therapists, and tatami beds made with the Japanese Chrysanthemum Emperor’s favorite duvet. All inside a five-bedroom modernist sanctuary of Iowa wood and Australian sandstone within a camphor and maple leaf forest on the outskirts of Taipei.
So what am I waiting for? That would be a forthcoming hot springs resort outside Taichung, Taiwan’s second largest city. The first Taiwan property from the brand sometimes called “Japan’s Aman,” Hoshinoya Guguan will open in April, with an infinity bath fed by hot springs in each polished concrete guest room, angled to optimize views upon mountainous surroundings that recall a traditional Chinese landscape painting. It’s not a landscape you’ll recognize from Instagram—the best part about it.