Last weekend, my husband took us on a family drive to a cafe. And it was no ordinary cafe. Knowing that I have been begging him to take us somewhere up in the hills to escape the heat, he chose somewhere he knew I would love — 216 Chateau.
Mr Taiwanxifu found this cafe via an interesting Taiwanese website called ‘2 home’, as in ‘second home’. This website is a mecca for Taiwanese searching for an elusive holiday home in a remote location. It even attracts some people looking for a ‘sea change’ (or ‘tree change’) in a pristine location away from the urban grind. 216 Chateau (莊園咖啡) is an idyllic second home location, set high in the hills above Sanxia county, with an uninterrupted view out to the lush green trees.
According to his posts on second home, the owner of 216 Chateau (Lawrence — 勞倫斯) originally planned to set up a simple cafe selling good quality coffee. But once he had a coffee machine in place, his visitors started asking for more substantial fare to go with the coffee. So he began to serve a range of dishes, including an American style all day breakfast (美式早午餐, NT$290). I wish I had known that before I ate breakfast.
Although not far from Taipei as far as the crow flies, it was a bit of an adventure getting to 216 Chateau. First, we headed out towards Xindian before finding the route out to 216 Chateau. The urban landscape quickly began to give way to small farms, with hills dotted with betelnut palms. We went through a small town that specialises in fat Taiwanese sausages, which were draped on long hooks hanging by the roadside. Then we crossed over a small bridget and turned left past the a forest themed adventure park (皇后鎮森林).
Just after we passed the theme park, we had to stop as our toddler started vomiting. Thankfully, as soon as we got him out of the car he started running around happily, so we put it down to about of car sickness. We quickly got him out of his clothes and changed him into a spare t-shirt we had in his nappy bag, cleaned up the car a bit and headed on our way.
Back on the road, we thought we were almost there, but didn’t count on the considerable climb along the one-way track up into the hills. Although it was a stinking hot day, we passed by several brave cyclists on the road. And eventually we made it to 216 Chateau, a cool and inviting oasis from the heat. As soon as we got there, our toddler headed for a small water ditch fed by a cool mountain stream where he splashed contentedly until our food arrived.
The best thing about 216 Chateau is the uninterrupted view of the surrounding hills. On the day we visited, there was a cool breeze coming over the hills that helped to dilute the humidity of summer. Framing the view out to the hills were bright orange lilies that attracted a profusion of butter-plate sized butterflies. Many people sat on the terrace of the main building, but we opted for an outdoor table under some shady trees.
The food is not too bad, either. I ordered grilled lemon chicken thigh (去骨檸檬雞腿飯, NT290), which was prepared with real lemon juice atop the layer of chicken fat (once removed, the layer of fat revealed surprisingly moist chicken flesh). Next to it was a bowl of rice moulded in the shape of a cherry blossom, and a simple variety of Taiwan style salad (incorporating a mixture of fruit such as apple and orange). And on the side was a simple egg and shallot omelette, with some Taiwanese-style chilli pickled turnips that added a bit of fire.
Mr Taiwanxifu’s meal looked spectacular. He ordered a dish of sesame noodles (胡麻醬手工麵線, NT$240). The thin noodles were sculptured into small rounds, drizzled with a Japanese-style sesame sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
The set menus can be upgraded for a small additional cost with beverages. Mr Taiwanxifu choose to order an iced coffee with his noodles. This was a good choice, as the iced coffee was made with freshly brewed coffee. It was probably one of the best coffee drinks I have had since I was in Taiwan. (Although I should caveat this by saying I am generally not much of a coffee drinker.) But I did really enjoy the few sips that Mr Taiwanxifu allowed me to steal.
After lunch I took off with the camera to explore and take a few happy snaps before we headed off. Behind the cafe near the bathrooms was this cute cart containing chopped wood. And then behind the house, adjoining a small creek, was a mini orchard with a few fruit trees. But most of the ground was filled with a sea of flowering orange lillies, with butterflies dancing tamely around. I wandered around this idyllic view, pausing to enjoy the feeling of being lost in time in a secret garden.
There was a small shed, and to the right of it a vegetable garden with some local vegetables like bitter gourd growing. I moved towards it to explore, with the aim of exiting down the steps from the vegie patch back to the cafe. But as I walked past the shed, a black dog that was tied up inside jumped up and started barking. As he moved up, the lead with which he was tied to the window frame came away and he raced out and bit me above the knee.
It gave me such a fright. This clearly was not a friendly dog that was trying to lick me to death. Instead, it stood before me snarling and dangerous. Aware that dogs will react if they sense fear, I tried my best authoritative posture and yelled and pointed at it to get back. I also screamed for someone to help me, too. The dog did not bite again, but it didn’t back off, either. At one point I tried to retreat, but that just set it off into attack mode again. Thankfully, after several minutes the owner came and tied it back up.
The owner acknowledged that the dog was known to be violent (which is why it was tied up), and said it was a customer’s dog that he was looking after. He found a first aid kit, and his cousin helped dress the wound (which thankfully wasn’t very deep) with antiseptic. The owner was apologetic, and refused to accept money for our meal. He rang me later in the day to see that I was alright. (Thankfully Taiwan does not have any cases of rabies, so all I needed was a tetanus shot.)
But on the way home, I couldn’t stop thinking: what if my son had been with me? Would I have been able to hold the dog off? What if the dog tries to attack someone who gets scared and tries to run? Or goes for a young child? Or did it just react like that because it had managed to break its lead?
216 Chateau is a bit difficult to find. But if you read Chinese, this map will help. If not, try the GPS coordinates and be prepared for a steep drive up in the hills. The view is worth it … just stay away from the dog.