Ticked off another place I've wanted to visit for years: Lin Family Garden (林家花園, sometimes called the Lin Ben-yuan Garden) in Banqiao, a substantial but little-loved city just south of Taipei.
It's one of north Taiwan's best-known attractions, and now that admission is free it gets very crowded on weekends and holidays. Despite the crowds (and the noisy tour guides, and the photography-club members clustering around models hired for the day) it's well-worth visiting. No one building in the complex, nor any particular aspect of the gardens that surround them, is jaw-dropping. However, there is a great deal to see, and if I wasn't pressed for time I could easily have spent more than two hours here.
The Lin Family Mansion and Garden was built 1847-1853 by one of north Taiwan's richest and most influential families. In the late 19th century, the garden was surrounded by rice fields, and Guanyinshan was visible in the distance. Now, of course, it is surrounded by tall buildings. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful oasis of greenery and a good place to see Qing Dynasty architecture, stone sculpture, wood carvings and other decorative arts. The main residence, the Three-Courtyard House (pictured top right), has 52 rooms and more than 120 windows and doors. Other buildings within the Garden bear endearing names such as the Revere the Cosmos Pavilion and the Fragrant Jade Anteroom. Entrances and walls bear auspicious bat or butterfly motifs (pictured lower left).
The garden (open: 09.00-17.00 daily but closed first Mon of each month; admission: free) is about 15 minutes' walk from Banqiao's combined HSR/TRA/MRT station. Fuzhong MRT Station on the Blue Line is very slightly closer.
Fans of traditional mansions heading to south Taiwan should make time for the Hsiao Family Residence and the Gupoliao Zhuang Family Residence.