Immersed In Nature
Japanese Hospitality, World-Class Architecture & Natural Hot Springs Nestled Deep Within Central Taiwan's Mountains
Deep within central Taiwan’s famed Guguan hot spring area — a mountainous and spectacular setting nestled within the Daija River Valley located about an hour and a half drive from Taichung City — the extensive journey to HOSHINOYA Guguan takes you along expansive rivers, gorges and scenic mountain ranges reaching an altitude of 3,000 metres.
As the third international outpost for the Japanese luxury hotel group Hoshino Resorts, HOSHINOYA Guguan is their first located in Taiwan. Embracing the natural beauty of its site and surroundings paired with a deep understanding of its indigenous culture and history, the hotel harnesses its extraordinarily picturesque landscape, ancient thermal hot springs, undisturbed nature and an unparalleled sense of calm. The stellar hospitality begins with an in-room welcome wagashi handmade traditional Japanese sweet and bancha Japanese green tea. If you are familiar with what to expect at a luxury Japanese hot spring ryokan, then expect the same at HOSHINOYA Guguan — an undisputable sibling and localised transplant in Taiwan.
Surrounded by seven scenic mountains, the approach to HOSHINOYA Guguan is nothing short of breath-taking. Following the panoramic drive, guests arrive to a roji-like passageway and driveway lined with bamboo ending with a stoic and contemporary steel and glass building. Entering the hotel’s main foyer and solid Pachyloba wood reception desk, the entrance features sleek and expansive, tall ceilings — intended as a direct contrast to the outside world.
Designed by Japanese architect Rie Azuma — behind the design of each of the HOSHINOYA properties’ buildings — the hotel is a modern retreat that sees a light-filled interior expressed through full-length glass windows framing the outside garden and nature. The expansive site includes one main restaurant, 49 guest rooms with private onsen, a communal hot spring and sauna, plus an outdoor pool and lounges located alongside the garden. The proximity allows guests to immerse themselves in each distinct season of the year from autumn foliage to spring cherry blossoms as dragonflies, butterflies and beetles accompany the vivid natural light and soft breeze.
Inside the central lounge and reception foyer, tonal lounges are accompanied by expressive Taiwanese and Japanese artworks (curated by Tokyo-based Art Front Gallery), providing a feeling of being inside an art gallery. The lounge is a welcoming central space featuring an array of books on art, nature and architecture that guests can browse at leisure. The atmosphere is akin to a gallery, yet equally as comfortable as a private home.
Azuma’s architecture blends Japanese aesthetics with Taiwan’s cultural history — notably the native population of 14 aboriginal tribes and atayal peoples local to the Guguan and Nantou region. The subtle interplay of light and shadow is found heavily throughout the hotel, whilst the use of layered stone was used in homage to the indigenous Taiwanese atayal people’s architecture as stone slab homes. Although HOSHINOYA Guguan covers a vast footprint, Azuma has created a series of transitions between indoor and outdoor spaces that heighten all of the senses allowing for guests to indulge in the natural passing of time.
As HOSHINOYA Guguan is located on a plateau, architect Azuma utilised the panoramic vista by designing guest rooms in maisonette-style overlooking the captivating mountain range. With five rooms types — Shui, Sen, Shan, Feng and Yue — accommodating couples, families or single travellers seeking ultimate relaxation. Azuma’s design harmonises a minimalist interior with textural discoveries with both timber and carpeted flooring and soft lounges facing directly towards the mountains above and garden beneath. Here, Azuma has defined all that one may require for a peaceful and relaxing stay. Akin to less is more, rooms feature design elements that don’t distract the eye. From the maisonette floating timber staircase to private hot spring baths with adjustable louvers, to full-length glass windows creating a gorgeous, moving painting throughout the day.
Utilising the Guguan region’s famed hot springs, HOSHINOYA Guguan embraces and celebrates their soft, low-alkaline and natural sodium bicarbonate spring water sourced directly from under their soil in a stunning design. The hotel’s communal onsen bath features both an indoor and outdoor space and sauna with a landscape design that sees exquisite stonework from Izumi Stone Works from Shikoku in Japan, founded by revered stonemason Masatoshi Izumi. The design is a modern interpretation of stagnated natural stone formations — perfectly reflecting Taiwan’s unrelenting natural landscape formed millions of years ago.
One of the highlights of the hotel is its extraordinary garden filled with trees up to 80 years in age. During the hotel’s build each tree was left in its existing state, retaining its complex and vibrant ecosystem. Landscape gardener Hiroki Hasegawa — Hoshinoya’s long-term collaborator who has led the planning of each Hoshino Resorts properties’ gardens — approached the garden design in partnership with a local gardener. The result is a mesmerizing balance of nature and nurture. 10 gazebo pavilions are nestled within the garden where guests can lounge at during all times of the day, whilst a series of interwoven small rivers flow with natural mountain spring water running from the Ba Xian mountains — that even includes small fish and shrimp — concluding through to the neighbouring Da Jia River. An on-site activity arranged by the hotel that is not to miss, is their garden tour that provides a complete insight into the garden and its flora. From viewing the Umbrella Plant and it’s thin grasses used by native Amis people for weaving, to witnessing the ancient carvings on the Taiwan Red Two-Leaf Pine trees with markings made by the Atayal indigenous peoples to source its pine oil.
As a HOSHINOYA property, each kaiseki dinner reflects traditional Japanese cuisine with a localised twist. Starting with an oshibori warm hand towel and roasted tea, the atmosphere heightens all of the senses alongside HOSHINOYA Guguan’s friendly and attentive staff. A stand-out dish throughout the kaiseki course was the wanmono; Japanese broth with steamed prawn ball, decorated by a sansho mountain pepper leaf and soft daikon radish cut in the shape of a moon crescent. The sharp spice of the pepper matching perfectly with the supple broth and textured prawn ball. The impressive Japanese sake list provides guests with a slice of top sake outside of Japan such as Modern Senkin Muku from Tochigi to Dassai’s Junmai Daiginjo brewed in Niigata polished to 39%, or Masamune from Mitobe Sake Brewery in Yamagata. It was equally as fantastic to see a Taiwanese wine also available; WE by WEIGHTSTONE’ FRIZZANTE W°2 comprised of 40% Golden Muscat, 20% Black Queen, 10% Kyoho, 10% Mussan. For breakfast, served in the same dining space overlooking the morning light of the garden pond, guests can select from a Japanese, Taiwanese or American breakfast. The Taiwanese congee breakfast includes a scallop congee cooked with chicken broth, Shaoxing drunken chicken, vegetable Nanban-zuke, Hakka-style salty pork, seasonal fruits and a delicious douhua soy pudding.
It’s a pleasant surprise to find a sense of Japanese zen transplanted to the heart of Taiwan, yet HOSHINOYA Guguan achieves an originality that makes them a destination not to miss. From stellar Japanese omotenashi hospitality and attention to details where staff kindly go above and beyond to ensure guests are fully catered for, to the considered design and atmosphere by architect Azuma who has blended Japanese aesthetics with native Taiwanese values and culture. The result is a calm and inviting expansive grounds with stellar views, where guests are immersed within the beauty of Taiwan’s pure nature.
424, Taiwan, Taichung City, Heping District
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Text: Editor-in-Chief Joanna Kawecki
Images: As credited, Hoshino Resorts & Champ Magazine©