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South Korea may be known for its hi-tech cities and bbali, bbali (hurry, hurry) culture, but it’s also teeming with incredible sites to unplug and get away from it all – something that, let’s be honest, we probably all need right now. The combination of its otherworldly natural attractions, bracing outdoor experiences and rebalancing spas inspired by ancient, traditional medicine make Korea a must-visit for anyone whose primary vacation aim is deep relaxation. Whether you’re seeking a cathartic release or in need of a digital detox, these dreamy Korean destinations are perfect for switching off and restoring in nature’s serene solitude.
Forest-fuelled wellness walks
Seogwipo Healing Forest, Jeju Island
The setting alone, with its pure air and towering cedar trees, is enough to make anyone feel better. But Jeju Island’s wellness destination Seogwipo Healing Forest was developed around the science-backed concept that salim yok (forest bathing) can strengthen the body’s immune system and promote a healthy mind.
Here, 11km (6.8mi) of walking paths snake through lush vegetation, bedecked with footbaths, reflexology paths and sunbeds that invite visitors to be at one with nature. Various guided programmes are available in which “forest therapists” utilise breathing and meditation exercises to encourage participants to tune into their senses and be fully present in the beauty of their surroundings.
On the eastern coast of Jeju Island lies Chuidasun Resort Tea and Meditation. Few things in life are as soul-soothing as a cup of tea and conceptualised with this in mind, Chuidasun Resort Tea and Meditation encourages guests to forget their worries and enjoy the here and now through a cup of cha.
Visitors are invited to participate in a complimentary private tea experience in which they learn the basics of darye (Korean tea ceremony) and enjoy a Jeju-grown tea of their choice. But the tranquility does not end there; rise early for tea meditation or wind down with a guided evening yoga session, both of which are held on-site.
Adding to the placid atmosphere of the hotel are the unrivalled ocean vistas visible from each guest room; you’re a stone’s throw from the Olle Trail, with the sand and sea a short stroll away should you need to walk off your caffeine buzz.
Chaeseokgang Cliffs, Jeollabuk Province
Towering above the Yellow Sea, the dramatic Chaeseokgang Cliffs in the coastal region of Buan seem almost as if they’re suspended in a state of serenity. Over the course of millions of years, the sea has sculpted this geological site, stratifying its steep slopes and carving it into craggy protrusions and otherworldly shapes.
Walking through the tide pools and along the cliffs as waves crash into them, one can feel a sense of metamorphosis in themselves, too, while the salty sea air awakens the senses. Visit at sunset for especially majestic views; it might just be the perfect time and place to press the reset button.
A full-body detox
Healience Seonmaeul Resort, Gangwon Province
A tucked-away sanctuary with sweeping views of Jongjasan Mountain, Healience Seonmaeul Resort is designed to help guests balance their state of mind and nourish their bodies. Simple but spacious rooms with low beds are meant to promote restful sleep, for example, while terraces and decks are furnished with peaceful perches to take in the surrounding landscapes.
If you’re a more active type, take advantage of the many amenities and activities available. Start your day with a session in the yoga yurt, sweat out your stress in the traditional clay sauna or even take one of the resort dogs for a walk on a nearby nature path (they make great trail guides). Plant-forward meals are included and are not only exceptionally tasty, but also free of artificial ingredients.
Digital detox plays an important role in the Healience experience: there are no TVs or wifi so you can fully enjoy a screen-free stay.
The simple life
Suncheon, South Jeolla Province
It’s no wonder why countless species of birds stop at Suncheon Bay along their annual migratory routes; the coastal wetland is largely untouched by man. Known as Korea’s ecological capital, the nature reserve features scenic salt swamps, mudflats and the country’s largest reed colony. Find yourself reconnecting with Mother Earth as you take it all in at the Yongsan Observatory.
Just outside the reserve, the fortress village of Naganeupseong will inspire you to keep a slow pace as you explore traditional thatched roof houses and dwellings indigenous to the region. Get a taste of the simple life by enjoying a gayageum performance, going fishing or trying your hand at weaving. By the time you leave the quaint village, you’ll be wondering what you need your digital devices for.
Seoul’s secret neighborhood
The pace is unhurried throughout the lesser-known neighborhood of Buam-dong, an area often associated with independent galleries and artisan workshops. In fact, you might even forget you’re in the bustling metropolis of Seoul while you’re here; there are no Starbucks, hawkers or scurrying deliverymen in sight.
Enjoy a quiet afternoon wandering the hilly roads that wind around picturesque hanoks (traditional Korean houses) and tiny cafes that are begging to be explored. Don’t miss Seokpajeong, a former royal villa comprised of gardens, city views and quarters that were once used by Joseon-era magistrates. Get further off the beaten path at nearby Baeksasil Valley; where lush flora, the sound of rushing water and ancient rock carvings provide a respite for the weary and a quiet space to recharge.
Gangwon Province is the perfect balance of scenic landscapes, winter sport offerings and low-key coastal towns, making it a noteworthy detox destination. Its star attraction is none other than Seoraksan National Park, which features well-maintained hiking trails, enchanting temples and breathtaking autumn foliage. Experience it all by taking the challenging but rewarding trek to the towering peaks of Ulsanbawi. If mountain climbing isn’t quite your idea of rest and relaxation, ride the cable car for equally impressive views.
Post-hike, recharge and detoxify at Osaek Hot Springs. Legend has it that long ago, nymphs came here to bathe in the mineral-rich waters to relax and enhance their beauty before returning to the heavens. To enjoy a different side of Gangwon-do, head to the laid-back surf town of Yangyang, where pristine beaches are punctuated with outdoor cafes and plenty of beanbags and hammocks for vegging out and soaking up the sunset.
A retreat from city life
Hadong County, South Gyeongsang Province
Nestled in the Jirisan Mountain Valley, the rural town of Hadong is a refreshing retreat from urbanity thanks to its stunning natural beauty and no-frills approach to life.
In the spring, the hillsides of this tiny tea-growing town come to life, blanketed in the pink and purple hues of plum trees. Soak up some peace and quiet in one of several parks that line Seomjin-gang, the river that flows through Hadong, or wonder at the expansive rice fields near Jirisan National Park. Either way, being in the great outdoors is natural healing at its finest.
Experience an authentic Buddhist way of life by doing a two-night Templestay programme at Ssanggyesa, one of the most important temples in Korea, thanks to it being the home of beompae – elaborate Buddhist musical rituals.
If the meditation sessions don’t send you into a state of serenity, the sight of nearby Hwagae Cherry Blossom Road certainly will. For around two weeks of the year, thousands of delicate flowers bloom along this 4km stretch before falling to the earth and creating a layer of soft, floral snow.
To discover even more about Korea’s compelling culture and to start planning your trip, visit english.visitkorea.or.kr
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