Zen-like tranquility and Michelin-starred cuisine await.
By Samantha Sault
Upon arrival in Taipei, the only thing this traveler required was tranquility, especially after a journey from Washington, D.C., that included nearly 24 hours in the air with a leg on EVA Air’s hyperactive Hello Kitty-themed flight from Hong Kong. With the unshakable jet lag that results from crossing the International Date Line, my definition of “tranquility” meant a proper cocktail and a proper, non-induced night’s sleep, ideally at the same time.
Tranquility can be difficult to find in Taiwan’s bustling capital that makes Washington, D.C., feel like a small town.
Enter the W Taipei, a stylish yet serene oasis that contrasts sharply with the neighboring stark skyscrapers, many of which were rapidly erected after the Chinese Nationalist Party leader Chiang Kai-shek and his followers fled the Communist Party to build a new life on the island in 1949.
The W Taipei has been treating guests to Starwood’s signature brand of hip tranquility since it opened on Valentine’s Day in 2011. Like its sister properties, the hotel incorporates fashion, design and music into every detail of the 405 guest rooms and communal spaces, with the W’s familiar electronic soundtrack providing an energetic beat for the traveler lost in translation. Yet the hotel also embraces the history and culture of its home, from the Taiwanese wood décor and contemporary art lining the lobby and corridors, to the Chinese flavors on the restaurants’ and bars’ menus.
I got my first taste of those flavors when I entered my Wonderful Room, where house-infused oolong gin, honey syrup, lemon juice, ice and a chic purple shaker awaited. (How did they know I’d need a cocktail?)
An homage to Taiwan’s historic tea houses, the hotel’s oolong martini prepares you to slip into the crisp, white linens for a long slumber — if you can determine how to operate the futuristic Toto toilet and shut the remote-controlled window shade — or to slip back down to the 10th floor for a nightcap with young locals at the poolside lounge.
Located in the fashionable Xinyi District known for culture and nightlife, the W Taipei is the ideal home base for business and leisure travelers. Across the street, you’ll find the Eslite Bookstore, selling five floors of books, fashion and design-driven housewares and gifts 24 hours a day. A few blocks away lies Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, dedicated to the man who led the revolution against the Qing Dynasty in 1912. The Metro Rapid Transit (MRT) station around the corner quickly connects you to convention centers and historic sites throughout the city, including Liberty Square, home of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, Concert Hall and National Theatre.
But you’ll also want to take advantage of all the hotel has to offer, from the Away Spa’s rejuvenating massages if you can’t get rid of your slept-on-a-plane pains, to YEN, the penthouse restaurant and bar offering memorable Cantonese cuisine and sweeping views of the city.
In June, YEN welcomed Michelin-starred Hong Kong chef Ken Yu as the new executive chef. Since then, he has helped make the restaurant a choice spot to celebrate or make a deal or enjoy a glass of champagne with a view of glittering Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world. (Dubai’s Burj Khalifa overtook it, but it’s nonetheless impressive.)
“I could not wait to explore the gourmet city of Taipei,” says Yu, noting the variety of culinary options available from hotpot to Japanese steakhouses to the famous Shilin Night Market, hawking fried chicken, buns and even stinky tofu.
The only Chinese Michelin-starred chef in Taiwan, however, has earned a mention himself for his creative yet approachable cooking.
“Food has always played a major part in the Chinese culture, as we believe one needs to eat well to live well,” he says.
And indeed, well you shall eat under his watch. In addition to classic Cantonese dishes like a melt-in-your-mouth roast suckling pig and fried rice, Yu developed a series of signature dishes that mesh perfectly with the W’s design-driven aesthetic. If, like the chef, you love seafood, don’t miss the “The Pearl,” a decadent pumpkin bisque with black truffle and crab-shrimp paste, and “The Beauty, The Moon,” a surprising blend of braised crab with winter melon and black truffle lobster sauce.
With its thumping music and mirrored embellishments and stylish crowd enjoying gourmet cocktails, the W Taipei takes you far away from the austere architecture, traffic and bustling crowds of Taiwan. But for the weary traveler, the W Taipei’s hip tranquility may fit the bill.
10 Zhongxiao East Road Sec. 5
Rooms are available from TWD 10,620/night ($353 USD) for a Wonderful Room to TWD 334,000/night ($11,110) for the Extreme Wow Suite, the largest suite room in Taiwan with a bi-level, loft-style floor plan, a 270-degree view of Taipei and Taipei 101, private gym area and sauna, and designer furniture and decor.
Samantha Sault is vice president of communications for the United States Fashion Industry Association and a writer in Washington, D.C. She has written for publications including Washington Life, The Weekly Standard and The Washington Times, where she writes the weekly “Get Out: This Week’s Pocket Picks” events column. Her work can be found here.