The cluster of tiny islands known as Jinmen (or Kinmen) lie just a few miles off Xiamen’s eastern shoreline, but in political terms they’ve often seemed oceans away: This idyllic archipelago, a former military reserve, belongs to Taiwan, and tourists from mainland China were long prohibited from visiting. That ban was finally lifted in 2003, and now weekending mainlanders can’t get enough of the island’s traditional villages and soft sand beaches. After taking a 30-minute ferry from Xiamen, hire a taxi for your time on Jinmen (you’ll pay by the hour). Your first stop: lunch at Gao Keng, for a beloved Taiwanese specialty, beef noodle soup. Order it with braised beef or beef tendon, along with a small plate of tender pan-fried beef and a side of stir-fried vegetables. And be sure to cap this off with a dollop of Gao Keng’s housemade pickled-cabbage-and-chili condiment; it’s supremely addictive. Then head out to explore. You’ll notice military remnants peppering the landscape; resident knifemaker Maestro Wu cleverly folds this history into his work. Spend time at his knife shop, and marvel as the lanky craftsman forges shiny cleavers from hunks of steel and discarded artillery shells, the reminders of tragic battles waged on this land. (You won’t find these masterful creations on the mainland, so pick one up here at the source.) Next, have your taxi drop you beside the time capsule that is Mo Fang Road. Pop into Balance Juice Bar for a fresh fruit smoothie or a sweet potato or taro milkshake, made with organic produce and milk from local farms. Continue along the pedestrian street, then turn right and head through a towering gateway that reveals a Buddhist temple. The lane to the temple is lined with traditional medicine shops, joss stick vendors, and counter stands selling the island’s gaoliang sorghum hooch.
Before venturing over, confirm that your passport allows entry to Jinmen: U.S. citizens and certain other nationalities may enter visa-free, but Chinese nationals a required to register in advance with a national ID. The Conrad concierge can assist with entry requirements and with ferry booking. (Note that you’ll need to book a return trip along with the outbound ferry, and the last boat back from Jinmen typically departs at 5:30 p.m.)
GAO KENG BEEF NOODLE RESTAURANT髙坑牛肉店: 38 He Douli Gaokeng, Jinshazhen, Jinmen; +082-352-549; open 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m.
MAESTRO WU’S KNIVES 金合利鋼刀: 892 Boyu Lu, Jinningxiang, Jinmen; +082-323-999.
BALANCE JUICE BAR: 5 Mofan jie, Jinchengzhen, Jinmen; +082-312-601; open 11 a.m.–9 p.m.