Sleeping on bales of hay and enduring pre-dawn waking hours used to be my preconceived notion of farmstays. I might even have to go tech-free.
But I could not be more wrong about the leisure farms in Taiwan when I visited four of them last year.
Authentic and close to nature, they offer all the creature comforts of a modern resort.
Some are high in the mountains amid tranquil surrounds, while others boast vast open spaces that are ideal for picnics and camping.
Each leisure farm has its own unique charm, with no lack of activities to keep visitors of all ages occupied — and coming back for more.
I had such a good time chillaxing at the farms that I couldn’t help but wonder: What have I been missing out all this while?
Nice to meet ‘moo’
At Flying Cow Ranch (www.flyingcow.com.tw/en/) in Miaoli County, you can get up close to farm animals.
I tried my hand at milking a cow, but my lack of skill only yielded mere drops of milk. I was also apprehensive when I reached for the bovine’s warm belly with my icy fingers, chilly from the morning air (and yes, the cow flinched a little when I touched it).
My attempt at bottle-feeding a calf was more successful. All I had to do was to hold the bottle securely while the calf suckled it.
I could also try my hand at feeding ducks, which were summoned from a nearby pen by a farmhand’s tinkling of a bell. The flock of adorable ducks emerged, flapping enthusiastically as we scattered feed for them.
The farm also offers many milk- and cowthemed do-it-yourself (DIY) activities such as painting bovine figurines, churning ice-cream and baking milky treats. My fellow travellers and I made milk cookies, shaping them into cow heads, stars and even a diamond ring.
By the way, they tasted great — crispy yet melt-in-the-mouth. I enjoyed them so much that I saved some to bring back my lodge for snacking at night.
Its in-house restaurant serves a delectable milk hotpot, brimming with fresh prawns, crabmeat and mussels (halal option available) that warmed me up nicely on that cold evening.
The soup was, of course, made with fresh milk from the local cattle residents. You can buy milk-based products such as toiletries and snacks at the gift shop too.
Colour me impressed
Zhuo Ye Cottage (www.joye.com.tw), which is also in Miaoli County, is a mountain abode reminiscent of a rustic Chinese village with cobblestoned paths and red lanterns.
One of the must-do experiences here is indigo dyeing, using natural dye extracted from the leaves of assam indigo plants grown on the farm. For the uninitiated, the extraction of the dye is a nine-step process that involves fermentation and oxidisation using limewater, rice wine and maltose. Thankfully, the actual dyeing process was not as complicated.
First, choose a textile product for your indigo dyeing project. There was a variety to choose from, such as tote bags, T-shirts and tissue holders.
I chose a tissue holder as I thought its small size would be easy to manage and the dyeing process could be done more quickly than the rest.
Next, I tied a cloth with rubber bands to create the pattern that I wanted. Then I put on a blue apron and rubber gloves before soaking and rinsing the cloth multiple times till the colour reached my desired shade. After that, I hung it up to dry.
Unlike Flying Cow Ranch, the food here is vegetarian. Although I’m a meat lover, I was impressed by the wonderfully delicious food One of the highlights was a light herbal hotpot with creative side dishes such as the Hakka “mini burger” (a combination of flaky pastry and kueh with a savoury filling), beetroot noodles and a vegetarian crepe. And for dessert — juicy stone cactus leaves dipped in osmanthus honey.
Tranquillity to a “tea”
By the time we moved on to Alishan, I was really enjoying the rustic charm of this tour of leisure farmstays.
This time, we stayed on a tea plantation amid cool mountain air and idyllic surrounds that offer a relaxing pace of life.
At Long Yun Leisure Farm (www.long-yun.com.tw), you can admire cherry blossoms in spring, go on a night expedition in summer, and be amazed by the sea of clouds shrouding the mountaintops in autumn and winter.
If you love hiking, Long Yun is just the place for you. It is located along Alishan’s popular Cloud Trail hiking path that connects to the Tea Trail and Mist Trail.
One night, we went on a guided night walk through the forest in pitch darkness — with no torches — in search of bioluminescent bacteria, and hopefully, fi refl ies. Everyone in the group walked hand-in-hand in a single file, with only dapples of moonlight leading the way. I felt quite unsettled walking in the dark, but seeing the glow-the-dark organisms and witnessing the forest’s magic at night was a one-of-a-kind experience.
We also participated in other activities such as mochi pounding (which I found stress relieving) and aiyu jelly making. Along the way, we learnt about various types of medicinal and edible plants from our self-sufficient host family who grows all the food they consume. One of the interesting things I tasted was a delicious pudding made with “tree tomatoes”. They are sweeter than cherry tomatoes, but have much bigger seeds and tougher skin.
Stop and smell the roses
My amazing journey continued to Chiayi County where close to 200 types of roses are grown at
mySeed Organic Rose Farm (myseeders.myorganic.org.tw). Don’t expect to see a huge expanse of gorgeous flower fields there though, as not all of them bloom at the same time.
Also, the 5ha farm devotes 4ha of its land to grow trees and other shrubs to protect the colourful beauties. I went on a guided tour of the grounds, literally stopping to smell the roses whenever I could. As no pesticides are used, every flower is lightly perfumed and even edible. I got to taste a fresh Roselle flower (pleasantly tart and juicy, like Ribena) and pick a Monet rose to tuck behind my ear.
The farm also sells a collection of organic products, of which some are made with the distilled essence of its flowers. The products include rose tea, rose facial mists and a rose Roselle enzyme drink.
Adding to the fun is a host of DIY activities, such as weaving your own floral tiara and making your own white chocolate with rose petals. It was pure delight making my sweet creation — pretty and yummy.
• I took a 4.5-hour flight via China Airlines from Changi Airport to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, before transferring to a coach to my first stop on my itinerary.
• CTC Travel offers Taiwan leisure farm tour packages and Taiwan leisure farm vouchers, which include return transfers from major transportation hubs. Visit ctc.com.sg for more information.
• Wear sturdy walking shoes when doing farm visits and bring along a jacket to keep warm as it can get colder on higher ground.
• Prepare some altitude medication when you head to farms that are located on the mountain.
• Pack light so it is easier to manage as you move from farm to farm.
• Brush up on your Mandarin if you can, as having a basic command of the language would be helpful as the locals interact mainly in Chinese and its various dialects.
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