A friend with a private plane rang me recently to pose the sort of question only a private-plane owner asks: “I have business in Japan and wonder where you might recommend stopping nearby for a weekend break on the way home to LA?”
As he started to reel off tropical isles in the wrong direction, I interjected with a conversation stopper of my own. “Taipei,” I said. Unsure whether I had grabbed or entirely lost his attention with this audacious suggestion of Taiwan’s notoriously traffic-clogged sprawl of a capital, not normally anyone’s idea of a relaxing unwind, I began to recall for him my last visit to the generally underrated Republic of China.
Upon landing at Taipei’s international airport, I was met by a bespoke-suited English-speaking butler and then driven in a sleek black Mercedes for about 45 minutes to the camphor- and maple-leaf slopes of Beitou – just outside of Taiwan’s vast metropolis. Here, a local tai pan has turned his personal playground into an ultra-plush hot-springs retreat. As we climbed Yangming Mountain, a long-dormant volcano shrouded in scene-enhancing mist, landscape worthy of a Chinese scroll painting unfurled around me.
A small army of attendants welcomed me at the super-modern five-suite hill-side villa. I was escorted to the Sakura Suite, one of two decorated in Japanese tatami style, with indoor and outdoor hot-spring tubs of Chinese cypress.
I am told that Hong Kong and mainland Chinese celebrities seek sanctuary – and even sunbathe in their birthday suits – on the private balcony of the duplex, western-style Azure Suite, with its stunning views over this geothermal valley. Myself, I developed my own rituals here, starting with a 30-minute plunge in the property’s never-crowded baths, where mineral-rich curative waters, infused with jade green and white sulphur, really did moisturise my skin and ease the perennially achy pain of my lower back. I sipped the complimentary chilled Evian, soaked up the poetic panorama, then moved on to the spa, where therapists have been trained in qi gong to develop precise hand movements and knowing strokes. As the treatment neared completion, the therapist covered my eyes with a warm, lavender-scented pillow then opened the window to let in fresh, crisp mountain air. After a cup of herbal tea and a quick nip into the steam room, I headed back to the baths for another plunge.
For all my talk of taking cures and Song Dynasty landscape, what persuaded my Francophile friend to speed-dial his pilot to begin making flight plans? I think it was when I casually mentioned Villa 32’s bordeaux- and burgundy-filled wine cellar, home to exceedingly rare sips such as a Château Mouton Rothschild 1945.