Whenever I arrive back in Taiwan, I always transfixed by northern Taiwan’s greenery during the drive on the way home from Taoyuan Airport. The hills plunging down to the highway seem so lush and dangerous, as if the jungle wants to swallow the road. I like the sense of something wild and exciting being so close to modern Taipei, and want to rush out and start exploring. But up until now, not being an adventurous hiker and having young children, I never really knew where to start. If only I knew how accessible it could be.
The Great Roots Forestry Spa Resort, clinging to the hills behind Sanxia, is close to Taipei but even closer to the Taoyuan International Airport. You can get there within an easy hour’s drive from the capital, or be there by 30 to 40 minutes from clearing immigration. Yet you feel like you are in the middle of the wilderness, which you pretty much are. To quote one of the famous lines from the Australian 1990s classic movie The Castle, I just love the serenity.
The site of The Great Roots Forestry Spa Resort operated as a tea plantation at the turn of the 20th century. In fact, it was once the largest tea processing plant in Taiwan — at a time when tea was a major export. If you look carefully at the roof in the coffee shop near the check-in counter, you can still see the original steel that was used to make the beams. Most of the posts are now covered in wood to protect the heritage building, but the feel of a bygone era remains. Around the corner is a gift shop that retains some of the antique tea factory machinery and some photos, although unfortunately it does not explain its significance in English.
Recently renovated in modern Asian style, with an even newer conference and accommodation venue due to open in a few months’ time, you could be forgiven for thinking that the resort was only recently rediscovered. But even in the Japanese colonial period this area was popular as a get-away destination, with the Japanese Imperial family maintaining a holiday villa here.
We visited at the invitation of The Spa Lady, Windy Yang, who is featuring The Great Roots Forestry Spa Resort in her forthcoming book. It was interesting observing her at her work, and I learnt a lot about travel writing and food photography. But the highlight was relaxing in the carbonated hot springs, which unlike sulphur springs are colourless and odourless. Taiwanxifu Toddler loved splashing about in the springs; he liked the warm ones better than the hotter baths but still we had trouble coaxing him out for lunch. The water was so soothing we even dangled baby in to allow him to enjoy the warm hot springs — albeit briefly.
In addition to the outdoors hot springs, the resort has individual rooms (tangwu) available for soaking plus segregated male/female areas for bathing (without bathers). There is also an outdoor rooftop spa, which unfortunately was not open when I visited. These were in a new complex built high on the hill with a panoramic view out to the hills. One of the highlights of the trip was watching Windy oversee spa photos of some innocently beautiful girls enjoying the tangwu at sunset. It looked so romantic!
We visited just after the mid-Autumn moon festival. I could still smell the lingering aroma of the big barbecue they had held the night before. The resort features a large outdoor barbecue area where people can come and grill to their heart’s content. Mental note to return again armed with some Aussie beef steak and perhaps some beer for Mr Taiwnxifu for a Sunday afternoon picnic.
The resort is famous for its ecology, notably a century-old buttress tree with impossibly large roots (from which the resort’s name, ‘Great Roots’ is derived). While the walk to the big tree is not far from our accommodation, it was a bit too steep for Taiwnxifu Toddler so we abandoned it. We did, however, have fun tramping up some steps in the rainforest and spotting butterflies. And there were LOTS of butterflies.
The Great Roots Forestry Spa Resort is at No.80, Chajiao Village, Sanxia District, New Taipei City (237新北市三峽區插角里80號), telephone 02-2674-9228. Its GPS coordinates are Longitude/Latitude (24.872006,121.40782). The resort does not operate a shuttle service, but its location is within manageable taxi distance from the Taoyuan International Airport.