I really enjoyed Taipei. The city is not the prettiest, but people are friendly, the food is excellent and public transportation is extremely efficient and easy to use. But what has delighted me the most is that you just have to hop on the subway to find yourself light years away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
One Sunday morning, on a sunny and extremely hot day, I decided to take the metro to the last station of the red line, Tamsui (淡水). Tamsui is a suburb of Taipei, located at the mouth of the river of the same name. Although we can see the city in the distance, here the air smells of the sea and the pace is slower.
Once out of the subway, I followed the boardwalk along the river. On the other side, you can see the district of Bali, which can be accessed via a ferry that departs from Tamsui. But I decided to focus on this side of the river, because in addition to its seaside Tamsui also has some historical places that are worth visiting.
I first decided to head to Hobe Fort. After the war between China and France in the 1880s, the Chinese government decided that Taiwan maritime defenses needed to be strengthened, and Tamsui, because of its strategic location, was chosen to build a fort. Fort Hobe was completed in 1886.
Since Hobe Fort never saw any war action (apart from having served as a military training ground for the Japanese imperial army), it is still in relatively good condition today. It has been restored in part to its former appearance, although archaeological research is still taking place to find out exactly what the buildings in its central part looked like.
Hobe Fort can be visited rather quickly, as most of its rooms are empty and there are few explanatory signs (although the employee at the reception gave me a flyer with descriptions in English).
After having finished visiting Hobe Fort, I took a few minutes to stop at the New Taipei City Martyrs’ Shrine, located nearby. The sanctuary is dedicated to the victims of the China-France war and is located on a former battlefield of this war. The park is beautiful and peaceful, and I was surprisingly the only person there on that Sunday morning.
I then headed for the other fort in Tamsui: Fort San Domingo. A fort with a Spanish name in Taiwan? It is because Spain was present in Taiwan in the 17th century to try to profit from the trade with China. The Spaniards built a fort in Tamsui, but the Dutch, also present in Taiwan at the same time, seized it in 1642. They expelled the Spaniards, destroyed the fort, and then built a new one on the same site. It is the one that can still be visited today.
In its incredible history, the fort later belonged to the Chinese, the British, the Japanese, the Australians and the Americans, before Taiwan recovered the building, restored it and opened it to tourists.
And there were many tourists when I went. The visit was therefore less quiet than that of Hobe Fort, but the building is beautifully restored (you could easily imagine yourself in Europe) and there are several descriptions, in Chinese and English.
After this visit I slowly made my way back to the metro station, this time passing through the old main street of Tamsui. Shops of all kinds, street food (especially seafood), colourful stairs, urban art, Tamsui is the perfect little town that allows you to escape from the big city.
There is a map at Tamsui subway station that indicates the location of the Hobe and San Domingo forts. Hobe Fort (the farthest) is 2.5 km from the subway station. San Domingo is on the way. It is possible to buy a common ticket for both attractions (which also gives access to the historic house of Tamsui customs agent, which I have not visited).