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July 22, 2017

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Lavender and tea on the outskirts of Hsinchu

While there are many large tourist destinations that everyone wants to go to, some smaller ones are well worth seeing if one has access to a car and some time for a daytrip. These spots may not make it into many guide books, but they still have their charms. On the outskirts of Hsinchu (新竹), another interesting but less popular city, are several small towns and scenic parks close enough together to see in a day.

Just outside of Hsinchu, a scenic mountain road winds up to the Lavender Cottage, as it is called in English on its advertisements. The literal translation of its Chinese name, Lavender Forest, seems more accurate, however. The so-called cottage is more of a park/garden, filled with acres of herb gardens and flowering plants.

A short walk from the parking lot leads to a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains and the valley below. The entrance fee to the park is NT$100, but that includes a discount on a meal in the restaurant and NT$50 off any purchase in the gift shop (even if the total of the purchase is only NT$50).

The "cottage" itself, the main building in the park, is a three story restaurant that serves a wide variety of lavender-related and non-lavender-related dishes. Most of the seats are on the upper floors and boast magnificent views of the scenery. In the middle of each floor is a quaint woodstove, which must be quite useful in the cooler mountain climate, especially as Hsinchu is particularly known for its chilly breezes.

Immediately behind the restaurant is a large patio area where guests can enjoy unusual flavors of ice cream, the specialty, of course, being lavender. Guests can either sit in the sunchairs on the patio and take in the view from a distance or walk straight down to the garden area past several birdhouses. The garden includes not only lavender, but also many other herbs, tomatoes, and even blueberry bushes.

The Lavender Cottage also has several gift shops in other places in Taiwan, but these are not nearly as remarkable since they are just stores and don't have the same atmosphere as the park. While the soaps and sachets may be nice, they aren't what makes the trip to the Lavender Cottage worthwhile.

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