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Quality time on two wheels

Wednesday, November 25, 2009
By Tricia Chen, The China Post


Since the surge of the cycling trend, several old roads and tunnels have been recycled into biking trails in the past five years, leaving nothing to waste.

Ho-li Township, once dominated by a garbage dump (hard to believe these days), is now famous for a number of the best cycling routes in the country.

The town presents visitors with three main biking courses: the Tungshi and Shigang sections of Dongfong biking route, and the Houfong cycling trail.

The two sections of the Dongfong biking trail are longer routes suited for full-day treks by frequent cyclists.

So for a more laid back trip, visitors can settle on pedaling the shorter Houfong biking route, popular and perfect for the entire family.

Bike Away!

The Houfong Bikeway is about 4.5 kilometers long – biking it without stopping would only take about 45 minutes from one end to the other. Most cyclists begin their journey from the southwestern end's welcome sign, so we'll start from there, too.

Without steep hills to climb, intersections to cross and vehicles to avoid, the bikeway is laid-back and safe. Bikers have freedom to control their speed and can take in scenery along the route, which often conveys the local culture to visitors.

Visitors will cycle past rice fields, a few small factories and traditional single-story houses as well, before they stumble upon the delightful First Winery.

So Wine-derful

The Railway Valley Winery, the First Winery's official English name, has been offering visitors free wine-tasting sessions since five years ago.

According to Jennifer Chen, the third generation to manage the family business, the winery was founded by “Grandpa Chen,” who has a passion for vineyards.

The grapes that Grandpa Chen raises are sweet and juicy thanks to his thorough care and Taichung County's great weather, his granddaughter says.

The winery produces fruit wine, onion red and dry wines, and even sake.

The backyard where greeneries like vanilla can be found welcome visitors in an open, friendly manner.

Chen highlighted that visitors can take winemaking classes here, too. With reservations, people can even tour the wine cellar with pebbles spread across the floor; I was intrigued to discover that the pebbles prevent bottles from breaking during earthquakes.

The winery has organized a regular and a deluxe tour for visitors who are interested in a comprehensive experience there. The regular tour around the place takes about half an hour, while the longer version takes up to two hours; it goes into more detail of the vineyard's history, the differences in the wines they produce, as well as wine-drinking etiquette – I learnt some professional wine-tasting manners during my tour.

Along the Way

Just outside the winery is a steel truss bridge that just celebrated its 100th birthday last year. Originally built for the old single-track steam trains, the bridge stopped operating in the 1980s, made obsolete by new double tracks, situated to the left of the bridge.

Even though it has aged, the silver-grey bridge maintains its elegance and grace. Initially, I was unsure of riding upon it, but I then fell in love with crossing the relic – cyclists nowadays bring life back to the abandoned bridge.

Running under the bridge is the 124-kilometers long Dajia Creek, one of Taiwan's longest rivers that contains a large amount of marine species because of its upper stream's water quality.

The view is impressive, a backdrop of grand mountains, flowing water, and nothing else. As the wind sweeps pass you, a liberated sensation embraces you – you'd enjoy cycling if you hadn't yet.

…5, 6, 7, 8, No. 9 Tunnel

Past the bridge comes the No. 9 Tunnel. The 1.3-kilometer long tunnel is surprisingly well lit inside. It's just a year older than the bridge, but it's more weathered due to decades' worth of black soot coating the ceiling, heaped by passing trains.

The tunnel echoes of people chattering and giggling bring to mind the old loud train whistling as it runs through the tunnel – something that those from my generation only saw in movies.

Once out the tunnel, cycle for another five minutes along the bikeway and visitors are greeted by yet another bygone mode of transportation: horses!

Four-legged Friends

Founded in 1937, the amiable horse range was originally the property of the Office of Taiwan's Governor-General during the Japanese colonial era. Back then, the stable's mission was to improve horse breeds that were serving the country's military, as well as fulfilling civilian equestrian.

Since its transformation into a tourism-oriented park, the horses are able to take it easy. Primarily an equestrian training center with modern facilities, tourists can ride a horse under instructors' guidance in across more than 10-hectares. Other available activities include archery and roller-skating; there are open areas for barbequing as well

Note: Booking in advance is required for the barbeque areas.

As the best-equipped horse stable in the country, the farm has bred many well-known celebrity horses that have apparently appeared in TV commercials before.

Horseback riding is considerably foreign to Taiwanese culture, but for many years, the range has introduced it through accessible, entertaining activities to locals.

The many trees and bushes growing in the horse farm, including some that are over 100-years-old, powerfully enhance the vitality of the adorable place.

Of all the stops bikers can make on the Houfong bikeway, the horse range was undoubtedly my favorite spot – the horses were so beautiful and surprisingly approachable.

Open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, admission is NT$100 for adults and NT$80 for children.

Homeward Bound

Time flies incredibly fast when you're enjoying yourself. The pleasant pathway is a great, environmentally friendly way to spend an afternoon. Cycling on the way back, as I see the sky painting itself with an orange hue, I wonder if this experience would be possible anywhere else in the world.

How to get there:

By HSR

Get off at Taichung Station and take the free connecting bus to Taichung Railway Station, then take the railway to Holi Stop. Prices are approximately NT$780/single trip. Often bike rental companies have pick-up services from the railway stations, such as Mujiang Bike (04) 2529 – 7706.

By bus

Ubus, or Tong-lien (統聯) buses, take travelers from Taipei Main Station to Taichung City in 3 hours for approximately NT$250 round trip.

Railway Valley Winery (First Winery) 第一酒廠 No. 263, Dajhou Rd., Shengang Township, Taichung County 台中縣神岡鄉大洲路263號 (04) 2525 – 1816

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