Monday, September 5, 2011

RSL Cold Spring Resort in Suao 瓏山林蘇澳冷熱泉度假飯店

This is quite simply one of the best hotels in Yilan - and in Taiwan. It's quite expensive, but you get value for your money. And the opportunity to soak in the cold spring water during the hottest days of summer, immersed in unapologetic luxury, is pure bliss.

This is an odd location for such a luxurious hotel. Suao is the only part of Yilan which was developed for heavy industry. The town has some large cement factories and steel foundries, which makes it feel more like Kaohsiung than Yilan. The town of Suao is basically an eyesore, despite a pretty setting wedged between mountains and sea. As you drive toward the hotel you'll wonder whether you've made a wrong turn somewhere. And the hotel is in a decidedly unscenic place, next to a gas station, because that's where the cold spring happens to be.
Don't worry. The hotel itself is absolutely magnificent, and turns inward on itself to feature the array of courtyard cold and hot spring pools. Once you go inside you're deliberately cut off from the dusty streets outside and encircled by impressive architecture. The style is Southern California Palladian, and it looks like everything was magically transplanted from Beverly Hills. The staff maintains the highest level of service I've ever encountered in Taiwan, and they all seem to speak sufficient English.

In the courtyard at the center of the hotel are a dozen gorgeous pools with spring water of various temperatures - cold, cool, warm, and hot. The pools and surrounding Italianate sculpture are all quite tasteful and elegant.

I had purchased a special package which included room, dinner and breakfast, spa, cocktail in the bar, drink by the pool, and the naked spring on the roof. I recommend getting the package - it's a good deal. Because we had a package of activities, we were busy the whole time.

After bathing in the various courtyard pools, we went for the spa. The spa area was very beautiful - everything was first rate. The spa treatment was basically a relaxing rubbing massage (instead of the usual painful Chinese acupressure). Afterwards we were served herb tea in a little lounge area.

Meals qualify as haute cuisine. I arranged in advance for the vegetarian option, and I was very satisfied. Everything was very tasty, featured local ingredients, and was elaborately presented. The people in the kitchen definitely know what they're doing.

After dinner we went to the impressive bar for a cocktail. A duo was playing live jazz, which I enjoyed. However, all of the bathing and spa had turned us into jelly, so we just ended going to bed early. Even though we were in a tatami room (which came with the package) and sleeping on the floor, I slept better than I had in a long time.

The next morning, after a beautifully plated breakfast, we went upstairs to the nude spring. As with the rest of the resort, the nude spring area is also very elegant. There was only one other person in the men's area, which was surprising. If you don't have a package, you have to pay extra to use the nude spring, so most people seem to just stick to the courtyard pools downstairs. The men's nude spring features hot springs and two cold springs, one pair inside and another pair outside, so you can look at either the mountains or harbor while bathing.

As far as I could tell, I was the only foreign guest that day. About half of the guests had brought their children, which surprised me. In the US a hotel this elegant would be a romantic retreat for couples, but Taiwanese seem to consider anything with a swimming pool a place to take kids. The other guests were very well behaved and the kids weren't a problem. However, all of the kids made the dining room a bit noisy, which was odd for a restaurant serving such high end food.

Don't bother to dress up. Despite the high price and surroundings, most of the other guests dressed like they had bought their entire wardrobe from the clearance bin at Carrefour. As far as I can tell, the only time most Taiwanese people ever dress up in their entire life is for their wedding photos.

Although the hotel is famous for its unique cold spring, because there is also hot spring water this would also be a nice getaway in winter.

To get here just drive south along the highway to the very end and exit at Suao. Then follow the signs to the hotel. You have to make a few turns to get there, but the route is well marked with large signs and billboards. You can unload in front of the hotel, then park in the lot on the left side of the hotel.

Here is the hotel website:

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