With a history of international trade dating back more than four centuries, Tainan, in the southwest of the island, has retained more of a period patina than other Taiwanese cities. It was founded in 1624, when the Dutch East India Company (VOC) erected a fort on a prominent sandbar overlooking the entrance to what would become a thriving harbour.
Vestiges of both European and Ming rule survive in the lanes of the Anping Fort district, on the west side of town facing the sea. Opposite the entrance to the citadel stand some of the many food stalls and cafés which have made Tainan famous across the country as the ‘City of Snacks’. Look out for crunchy deep-fried squid rolls – the island’s answer to Japanese tempura – and places serving Danzai oil noodles, a flavour-packed pick-me-up made from minced pork and shrimp broth.
Newest among the city’s attractions is the recently inaugurated Chimei Museum, the brainchild of a local plastics tycoon who paid $63 million to construct a palace in which to display his personal art and antique collection. Set in expansive landscaped grounds, the complex centres on a grandiose, white-painted Neoclassical building, whose exhibition of Western art includes an El Greco and a Rodin bronze. An impressive array of arms, armour and musical instruments are also on show. The museum gardens are a popular place for a stroll and picnic in the summer months, particularly on weekends.