A Small Korean town’s European affair: Gapyeong
Since my childhood days, I have been fascinated by European towns. Special thanks to ‘The Sound of Music’, that I have watched at least a 100 times. However, with current responsibilities, Europe was way off my chart.
During research on outskirts of Seoul, I came to know of Gapyeong (a county near Seoul). From the images, it seemed like what little bit I had seen of European small towns. After getting the detailed research done, we left for Gapyeong in an early winter morning.
Gapyeong overview from Petite France
Main attraction on the way is iTX, high speed train that takes you to the North-East of Seoul through surrounding hills and mountains. As we went around winter end, the hill tops were still covered in snow. Although there are a lot of tourist spots in Gapyeong, I will mention the ones I have been to.
We got off the iTX at Cheongpyeong station.
Unlike rest of Korea, this area is much simpler. It doesn’t give the ‘tech-y feel’, which you get, almost everywhere else in Korea. Cheongpyeong station is surrounded by simplistic, yet breath-taking natural beauty. It’s like a breath of breezy fresh air. It’s like a small town of Europe in Korea.
You can get Gapyeong tour bus from Cheongpyeong station for any of the tourist spots in that area. In our case, the first pick was ‘Petite France’.
Tour Bus leaves from the station bus terminal, quite frequently during the day. You just have to get in and buy tickets from the driver. Ticket charges per person are 5000 Korean won. Make sure to keep the tickets with yourself and show them each time you want to take the tour bus, for or from any stop on the way including your train station. You don’t have to pay for the ticket again.
It takes around 25 minutes to reach Petite France. If you go around winter season, you will witness snow-clad mountains and frozen lakes throughout this little journey. Its “small and white…clean and bright”, till the limit your eyes can see.
And hence you reach ‘Petite France’. Ticket windows are located at the entrance gate. Ticket charges are 8000 KRW each. From there onwards, you enter a colony of flashy vibrant colors. Keeping up to its name, Petite France is a small French Colony located up on a hill in Gapyeong. From what I heard, the components of this colony were actually transferred from a small French village and re-assembled over here.
Although the place is not so huge (area-wise), but offers a whole lot of stuff to explore within that limited area. Here you can experience traditional French culture, food, living, music, residence and architecture. All the buildings are made in typical Mediterranean style…high, narrow and colorful. Be it stay over rooms, visitors lounge, souvenir spots, formal dining or casual hangout places; this place has got all that it takes to attract its visitors.
Highlights of this exquisite little ‘fairy tale colony’ are; Orgel House, Art Gallery, Traditional French Residence, Memorial Hall of the author of Little Prince (inspiration of Petite France), Maestro’s Office of “Beethoven Virus” (Korean drama that was shot in here), Amphitheatre, Observatory and Marionette Theatre (featuring traditional French art performances).
It took us decent two hours to visit this place peacefully, and then we left for our second and last chosen destination of the day, “Nami Island / Republic of Naminara”.
Gapyeong tour bus will drop you close to the ticket counter area of this island. Ticket price is 8000 KRW, again.
From the wharf, you can catch Ferry that leaves after every 10-15 minutes for the island. It’s a short 5 minutes trip, dropping you right at the entrance of Nami Island.
Nami Island is what will make you fall in love with nature, all over again. Trance and tranquility, is what defines this place. And icing on the cake is further beautification done by the Nami authorities. Even the used glass bottles are not spared and assembled into unique and fun art pieces.
Nami Island got hugely famous after the super success of “Winter Sonata”, Korean drama that was shot over here. While strolling through the island, you will come across the monuments that make sure to keep the drama and its nostalgic moments and memories alive. Most popular amongst these are; The First Kiss Bridge, Winter Sonata statue, and Sonata Drama Gallery shop.
Nami Island is a huge place and requires ample time for a relaxing visit. If you feel energy drained, make use of bicycles, tri-cycles, mini trains, golf carts and other enjoyable rides available within the vicinity on a decent fare.
The island encapsulates three villages in itself : Love Village, Happiness Village, and Dream Village; all 3 of them carrying a distinct feel, yet enriching you with equally soothing calm and peace casted by tree-lined paths and photogenic surroundings.
Unlike rest of the places I have visited in Korea, Nami truly stands out to be a cultural melting spot. Seems like no one wants to give this place a miss! And why should they? Nami island has got it all: natural beauty to ponder over, artificial beautification worthy of appreciation, link to Korean history (it has got the monument of General Nami’s tomb- the same person after whom the island name is kept), warm and earthy stay over cottages, vast variety of food and food shops, and what truly bowled me over: Muslim prayer room.
We spent around 4 hours at the island and in all smiles, took ferry back to the wharf, from where we got on the Shuttle bus for Gapyeong station to leave for our way back home.
All the readers out there, who want to experience the ‘unheard small town life’ of Korea, Gapyeong is the place for you: A place where you can breathe pure fresh air, explore the lush-ness of nature and genius of human minds, rejuvenate in a tranquilized environment and last but not the least … can’t help but marvel over greatness of The Ultimate Creator.
Photo Credits: M. Bilal Amin