Taipei - Off the beaten track
Sungshan Nature Reserve
This picturesque reserve to the southeast of the city is huge and densely forested - perfect for hikers. Along with numerous trails, visitors will also stumble across several of the temples dotted through the area. The reserve comprises four mountains. Elephant Mountain is the smallest and is therefore a great place for beginners to stroll or expert hikers to get warmed up. From here you can choose from Lady Finger, Tiger's Head and, the highest at 325m (1066ft), Nine-Five Peak. There are many approaches to the reserve, though the most popular is by bus from the centre of the city to the magnificent Sheng'en Temple. From here, the only way is up.
If you're heading out of the city, point your nose towards Tienhsiang. The highlight of Tienhsiang is the nearby Taroko Gorge, probably Taiwan's most beautiful scenic spot. The gorge is 19km (12mi) long, with sheer cliffs dropping away to a rushing river of white water. The Eternal Spring Shrine, just above the entrance to the gorge, straddles a waterfall: it was built as a memorial to the 450 workers who died building the Taroko Highway. The town is a lovely little resort at the top of the gorge, nestled between towering cliffs. Relaxing and tranquil, there's not much to do in the town itself, but there are plenty of walks nearby.
Exactly 1km (about half a mile) uphill from Tienhsiang, the tunnel hike is, as its name suggests, a walk which leads through a dripping tunnel, past outstanding scenery, to the Paiyang Waterfall and beyond. A little further out of Tienhsiang, Wenshan Hot Springs is a very pleasant, natural spring. Tienhsiang is popular with honeymooners, so visit during the week if you want a bit of quiet solitude. A third of the way down the east coast, Tienhsiang is serviced by buses and tours from Taipei.
The Yangmingshan mountain range at the northern end of Taipei provides a scenic alternative to the bustle of the city centre. Springtime sees blossoming cherry trees and azaleas. The lower slopes are home to wealthy Taiwanese and westerners who prefer the cooler, clean air. These areas are also home to ultra-expensive US-style housing projects, but most of the mountain is protected from such development and still remains a great place for hiking day-trips. There is a restaurant in the park that is practically impossible to get a booking at and a few thermal areas, including a hot-springs resort. Camping is possible in the area - as is hotel accommodation - but most just go for a couple of lungsful of fresh air.