Author: Anna Franco Ucar
Taking a walk along streets adorned with beautiful historic architecture, admiring the colourful murals on the small houses of a former shanty town, enjoying a mouth-watering bowl of bibimbap and some delicious makgeolli, and marvelling at the magical landscapes; it does sound pretty perfect, right? Well, the city of Jeonju is the best place to enjoy all that, and more.
Delectable food and drinks
Located in the western side of South Korea, Jeonju is among the most popular travel destinations for Korean travellers, which should come as no surprise, since the city’s name literally means “Perfect Region” (from the Hanja 全州). Moreover, while perhaps unknown to many foreigners, Jeonju is also the birthplace of bibimbap, the traditional bowl of rice topped with vegetables, meat, gochujang (hot chilli paste), and an egg that is adored by locals and outsiders alike. For this reason, Koreans say that this is the best place to enjoy the star dish, in particular their local variety with mung bean sprout jelly. The city has a thriving street food scene, and Nambu Night Market is the best location to try out classic treats like whole-wheat hotteok (Korean sweet pancakes), fried squid, or the on-the-go version of bibimbap: the bibimbap waffle, which consists of a waffle-like wrap made of seasoned rice containing a selection of ingredients.
Naturally, with food also come drinks, like the delicious makgeolli, the traditional unfiltered rice wine that dominates the nightlife in Jeonju. The city has devoted no less than seven strips of bars to the beverage, and during the evenings locals get together to enjoy bowls of the traditional wine, typically accompanied by different sorts of buchimgae (Korean pancakes), which are often on the house. Jeonju’s food is so beloved that the city was named UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2012.
Stunning architecture and artistry
Jeonju is also renowned for its beautiful historic architecture, in particular the hanok, wooden and stone-block houses with curved slate-tile roofs, which used to be the traditional homes of the Korean upper class around the 14th century, during the Joseon Dynasty, Korea’s longest and last political dynasty. Travellers can find hundreds of hanok in Jeonju Hanok Maeul (village), and even choose to spend the night in one to experience how former royalty lived, which although rather humble, as they slept on mats on the floor, was also sophisticated, as these houses have ondol, a traditional floor-based heating system for the rough winters, and daecheong, a cool wooden-floor style hall to protect from the heat during summer. Additionally, the hanok which are not used as guesthouses have been repurposed as museums, teahouses, workshops, and boutiques, which can also be visited, and a few still serve as homes for some families.
On the other hand, to get a different flavour of the city, visitors can have a walk through Jaman Mural Village, once an area in decay filled with poorly constructed shacks, but which has now been revived by many artists who decided to spruce up the place by painting colourful murals on the walls of the houses, and even started opening boutiques, galleries and cafes, like the popular Kkojittappong (or ET Café), a terrace café decorated with pastel colours and memorabilia from different films.
Mesmerising landscapes and parks
Another of Jeonju’s wonders are its beautiful natural spaces. The region is a very fertile area surrounded by a ring of mountains, with remarkable peaks like Naejangsan, admired for its exquisite fall foliage, or Maisan, which is said to look like horse ears, or Moaksan, a very popular hiking spot, often frequented by ahjusshis and ahjummas (Korean middle-aged men and women), that has a very nice area at the top where hikers can enjoy some kimbap and share a cup of makgeolli while marvelling at the view.
Moreover, the city has many wonderful parks that are sure to take any nature lover’s breath away. One of them is Wansan Park, ideal to visit during the springtime, as it is covered with different flowers, including cherry blossoms and royal azaleas, which form tunnels and give the park an enchanted forest vibe.
Another must-see is Deokjin Park, a delightful space surrounding a massive pond with a sea of lotus plants inside, which can be crossed through a suspension bridge. The pond also includes a large pagoda that offers an elevated view of the park, and also serves as a café and convenience store. Though it is a beautiful sight throughout the year, the best time to visit this park is around August, when the lily pads are in full bloom.
So now you know, next time you find yourself in South Korea, venture to the west and pay a visit to Jeonju, the city of marvels.
Written by: Anna Franco Ucar
Reviwed by: Luisa Quintero
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