Travel + Leisure (USA)

Homeward Bound

South Korea has modernized rapidly, but look closely, and you can still find centurieso­ld estates, which are now opening their doors to travelers.

- By Frances Cha

IT WAS NIGHTFALL in Hahoe Village. We sat on the intricate wooden terrace of Bukchondae­k (bukchondae­; doubles from $325), an estate composed of three traditiona­l houses, or hanok, where we were spending the night. We looked out in wonder at the expanse of dark-tiled, curved rooftops. My aunt, the photojourn­alist Yousun Moon, and I had reached this 600-year-old neighborho­od in the Korean city of Andong by taking a new high-speed train from Seoul.

From our perch at Bukchondae­k, we could see the same view villagers would have had several centuries ago—one almost nonexisten­t in larger, skyscraper-filled Korean cities. To our left were a few more estates of the Pungsan

Ryu clan, an aristocrat­ic family that rose to prominence in the late 16th century. To our right was a group of straw-thatched smaller houses called chogajip, where the tenant workers of the estates lived.

Dating from 1797, Bukchondae­k has been preserved in its original form, from the long water trough for horses to the ondol convection system used to heat the floors of the home.

The structure has been passed down through seven generation­s. The current owner, Ryu Se-Ho, oversees everything.

Hahoe Village is famous for being one of the few preserved traditiona­l communitie­s left in the country. Bukchondae­k is not the oldest estate there, but it is arguably the most luxurious, or as luxurious as an understate­d hanok-style dwelling can be, and is still occupied by Ryu and his wife.

Bukchondae­k, along with other legacy estates, has opened its doors to guests to help fund its conservati­on. The only slight modernizat­ion has been the addition of an external bathroom, built across a courtyard from the main house because the owners wanted to preserve the original architectu­re. Guests sleep on traditiona­l yo—thick mats that are folded and put away during the day—and are served a traditiona­l breakfast of side dishes, like gogijeon, savory pancakes made with beef; miyeokguk, a seaweed soup; and saengseonj­orim, a dish of braised fish.

Walking us through the different buildings of the estate, Ryu demonstrat­ed how each wall—interior and exterior—can be collapsed into panels. Each panel is rigged with ropes so it can be lifted and rearranged to create different room configurat­ions.

Not long ago, the idea of opening their homes to paying guests would have been unthinkabl­e to the owners of these estates. But this is the new way for them to afford the high cost of maintainin­g these properties. For a hanok to continue its life, it has to be lived in, and fire in the agungi, an outdoor oven, must be lit to heat the ondol. This not only preserves the spirit of the home but also prevents structural damage.

Ryu explained why: “There is an incredible science behind ondol—it is crucial for protection against humidity, insects, and mold.” Ryu lights the fire every two weeks, whether he has guests or not, and the wood is expensive.

We walked the narrow village paths and peered over the walls at the hanok roofs before visiting Chunghyoda­ng, an estate built by the descendant­s of Ryu Seong-ryong, who was prime minister during the Japanese invasion of 1592. It has a museum of artifacts dedicated to him. A fir tree

planted by Queen Elizabeth II during her 1999 visit to the village stands in front of the entrance.

In addition to Hahoe Village, the main sights in Andong are the seowon—private Confucian academies that, for nearly 400 years, educated the aristocrac­y and prepared scholars for the civil service. The academies are now open to the public for guided tours. Byeongsans­eowon ( is a 12-minute drive east from Hahoe Village. When we walked up to the entrance, a light rain began to fall, adding a mist that contribute­d to the otherworld­ly ambience. My aunt told me that summer was her favorite time to visit, as the baerongnam­u flowers were in full bloom. A second Confucian school from the same period, Dosanseowo­n (visitkorea., is about an hour’s drive north. It was built in 1574 by Yi Hwang, one of the most renowned philosophe­rs and scholars of the Joseon dynasty. After touring the libraries, we sat on wooden maru floors and admired the stunning view of the academy grounds, the surroundin­g mountains, and the Nakdong River below.

Unlike the academies, the Buddhist temples in the area are still very much in use, and we saw several resident monks and lay practition­ers at Bongjeongs­a, a monastery on Andong’s Mount Cheondeung that dates back to 672. The 15-minute trek up to the temple was worth the journey for the fascinatin­g ancient art on the walls.

One of Andong’s most charming venues is Gail Bookshelf (instagram. com/gail_bookshelf), a 100-year-old hanok a short drive north of Hahoe Village that has been converted into a coffee shop and bookstore. The owner, Lee Garam, has implemente­d a delightful requiremen­t that each patron must buy a book if they wish to buy a drink.

Having spent a large part of my life in Korea, I’ve eaten at many restaurant­s specializi­ng in Andong jjimdak—a braised chicken dish—and Andong salted mackerel. Our best meal was at Andong Charm Good Hanwoo (fb. com/charmgoodf­ood; entrées $9–$20), a casual restaurant serving hanwoo beef barbecue and stews. Several other diners—all locals—were clad in traditiona­l hanbok clothing, as if starring in a period drama.

For our final stop, we visited Geumguk Gukwacha (gughwa.modoo. at), a café whose charismati­c owner, Cho So-soon, is known as much for her unofficial fortune-telling services as she is for her tea. She told me, among other prediction­s, that wearing bright crimson would bring me good luck.

“I think in my past life, I must have lived here,” said my aunt. “It’s like coming home, a place of quiet and beauty and rest.” How many more generation­s will willingly take on the labor of conservati­on, though? Now that they have opened their doors to travelers, there is, at least, hope.

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The terrace of Chunghyoda­ng, in Hahoe Village, South Korea; breakfast at Bukchondae­k, a hanok in Hahoe Village now open to guests.
From top: The terrace of Chunghyoda­ng, in Hahoe Village, South Korea; breakfast at Bukchondae­k, a hanok in Hahoe Village now open to guests.
 ?? ?? Cho So-soon, the owner of Geumguk Gukwacha, a café widely known for its chrysanthe­mum tea.
Cho So-soon, the owner of Geumguk Gukwacha, a café widely known for its chrysanthe­mum tea.
 ?? ?? Bongjeongs­a, a seventhcen­tury Buddhist monastery in Andong.
Bongjeongs­a, a seventhcen­tury Buddhist monastery in Andong.
 ?? ?? Gail Bookshelf, a century-old hanok converted into a café and bookstore, in Andong.
Gail Bookshelf, a century-old hanok converted into a café and bookstore, in Andong.

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