Remains of Longteng Bridge in Taiwan

Photo features the remains of Longteng Bridge in Sanyi

It’s undeniable that the heart and soul of a destination stems from its small towns. There, the cultural fabric of a country or region is bound together by traditions maintained and the reasons that people gather to celebrate. In Taiwan, a country that’s marked by its impressive mix of history and modernity, four towns have received prestigious “Slow Town” recognition.

According to the Cittaslow International association, Slow Towns share the goal of improving daily life by adapting a slower pace for people and vehicles moving through public spaces, environmental conservation, and sustainable development.

The first of Taiwan’s Slow Towns to achieve the slow status was Fenglin in Hualien County. To its west stands the imposing Central Mountain Range, and to its east is the Coastal Mountain Range. In this valley between the mountains, Fenglin is an oasis of peace and quiet. Under Japanese control from 1985 to 1945, Fenglin was home to 10 Japanese immigrant villages and became a centre of cash-crop tobacco industry. Workers from the Hakka tobacco industry were brought over to help in the workforce and in turn helped shape the local cuisine. Today, many of the cottage-style tobacco drying sheds, old residence building, and even a school still stand from that era. Local farmers use natural farming techniques to produce rice, bananas, watermelons, and corn. 

Hakka stylecuisineinFenglin2

Photo features traditional Hakka-style dishes served in Fenglin

Sanyi is another Slow Town where traditional Hakka culture remains. Known as a hill people, the Hakka moved into this region among the rolling hills of Miaoli and took advantage of its logging industry. Today, Sanyi is most famous for its incredible woodwork. Visitors will find artworks, furnishing, architecture, and decorations made from timber in shops and studios all around Sanyi, giving this slow town the reputation of Taiwan’s woodcarving capital.

Wood carving in Sanyi

Photo features wood carving from Sanyi

Nanzhuang is a true Hakka settlement that saw a renaissance during the Japanese Colonial Era. Today, Nanzhuang offers a complex combination of cultural influence in its delicious local gastronomy. Hakka staples are decadent braised pork with plum leaves and dried radish omelets. But on Nanzhuang Old Street, locally known as Osmanthus Alley, a simple old street has become a bit of a bohemian hub for food and shops. Here, visitors will find Taiwanese favourite shaved-ice desserts, teas, and even guihua niang, a honey flavoured with osmanthus flowers.

Osmanthus Alley in Nanzhuang

Photo features the famous Osmanthus Alley in Nanzhuang

What began as a centre of the farm region became famous for having Taiwan’s first train station made from “green architecture” and many salvaged heritage buildings. Dalin’s heyday was during an era when the Dalin Sugar Factory produced sugar from local sugarcane. Today, the factory still stands thanks to the restoration work completed by local workers. Heritage storefronts still sell traditional wears, Chinese medicine, and food. Dalin perfectly encapsulates Taiwan’s appreciation of Slow Towns that celebrate their roots and prepare for their future with sustainable practices.

Bicycling in Dalin

Photo features a bike - a sustainable mode of transport - and rider in Dalin