By Nathalie H. Seoul, South Korea
I would like to share with you our last trip to the island of Jeju, South Korea.
Its geographical location led me to believe that we were going to discover the equivalent of French “Corsica”, but it was rather a replica of “La Réunion Island”. Volcanic and arid up, exotic and green down, hot, quiet…
What strikes the eye is above all the immense central crater, volcano Mount Hallasan, which rises to an altitude of 1950m, the highest point in South Korea. Then, around it, 360 small conical craters rise to the seaside. This volcano is inactive, but relatively recent.
We did not climb to the summit of Hallansan, due to numerous constraints, but we climbed to the summit of Seongsan Ilchulbong (182m above sea level) by the sea, formed by an eruption of the seabed. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its geological curiosity (like a basin, a natural fortress) and its preservation.
The landscape of Jeju arises from the main volcano, in addition to the craters, there are cliffs, basalt columns, waterfalls flowing into the sea from the top of a cliff, black sand beaches, but also palm trees, orchards and vegetable gardens on fertile land.
Still in the geological domain, we walked (for the first time in our live) inside a volcanic lava tunnel, for 1 km, although it extends over more than 7 km. Manjanggul lava tube, dug naturally, is classified by UNESCO for its length and its preservation. With a maximum height of 25 meters and width of 18 meters, this tunnel is one of the largest in the world. Poorly lit and difficult to access, it seemed oppressive, unbreathable, humid and chaotic, even when we wore good shoes. The return to the open air was appreciated.
Volcanic stone is present everywhere on the island. Black, sometimes reddish, honeycombed, it is built into small walls, houses, paving, sculptures… We therefore decided to visit Stone Park where we walked between dolmens, menhirs, statues and representative colonnades. The most representative of Jeju are the large statues of grandfathers and grandmothers, comparable to those of Easter Island, placed at the entrance to a property or a village to welcome and provide protection. Legends and myths are told about each of them.
We voluntarily fled the city of Jeju in the north, as well as the Buddhist temples that abound in Korea, all identical (or almost). It was at the village of Seongeup that we stopped, because it was traditional with its small houses, with rounded thatched roofs, and walls mixed with volcanic stones and cob. These date from the 15th century and are still inhabited today by artisans, farmers and breeders. There, we find pottery, marquetry, stone sculpture, and folk plays like archery, vegetable growing, black pig breeding, among others. The village is surrounded by a fortress and has its Confucian school.
The most grown crops in Jeju are tangerine as well as green tea. So, we went to pick and taste the tangerines directly on a farm. We found tangerines juicy and not too sweet. There were other citrus fruits, like grapefruit, oranges, lemons, yuzu… and “Buddha’s fingers” (original). We wanted to visit the Citrus Museum, but it was being renovated. We did just a walk in the greenhouse, discovering several species.
In the green tea fields, it was more about photo spots than cultural approaches. The invasion of tourists there, but also the cultivation on flat ground (not on terraces), the pruning already carried out, the so-called museum poor in explanations and limited to 3 panels, the chain tasting in a small cardboard glass, the huge queue at the tea store, were not convincing. To stay in the green, the island is also full of golf courses, a true national sport.
We were able to discover and try green cosmetic products, including tea.
Cosmetics is a very developed industry in South Korea, a country where appearance is so important, and each manufacturer develops and promotes its product containing a fruit, a plant or a unique and revolutionary compound with proven effectiveness!
Apart from Korean cuisine identical to that of the peninsula, as well as freshly caught seafood, the only culinary discovery was the Jeju black pork, very tender and tasty.
Jeju island is booming, as demonstrated by all new constructions, renovations and developments linked to tourism. The place seemed cleaner, more flowery and better laid out than the peninsula. It is the Korean’s favourite place for a weekend only, or for the few days during which they can rest…