Slow down in Jeonju

Slow down in Jeonju

In A little south-western corner of the Korean peninsula, one last bastion of placidity still defiantly holds out against South Korea's general "bbali bbali" (loosely translated to "hurry, hurry!") culture.

The city of Jeonju's hanok village has been awarded the Slow City status by Cittaslow International, making it the 7th Slow City in Korea.

With its many narrow alleyways, and the largest collection of hanok (traditional Korean dwellings) in South Korea, Jeonju is the perfect place to slow down to enjoy a living breathing city still encased in the medieval cloak of Joseon Korea.

Fans of sageuk or historical dramas will find the hanok a familiar sight as many K-dramas are filmed here. While Seoul's Bukchon district may be known for its hanok, it is Jeonju's extensive collection of some 700 beautifully preserved hanok or traditional Korean houses, many of them several hundred years old that promises rewards for the traveller seeking an authentic travel experience into Korea's past.

For my 71-year-old mother, my younger sister and me, Jeonju is our one concession to history and culture in a hedonistic trip dedicated to the altar of shopping in Seoul.

The rail journey from Seoul's Yongsan station whisks us to Jeonju in under three hours. From Jeonju's train station, the hanok village is an inexpensive cab ride away.

To complete the experience, we book a night in a hanok which comes with ondol flooring, a staple of hanok architecture where the heat from charcoal and wood fires set in chutes beneath the houses keeps the hanok's floor toasty at night.

Today, more modern heating techniques serve to keep the floor warm, saving us from asphyxiating on toxic fumes.

The best way to enjoy the Jeonju's hanok village is to throw the itinerary out of the window and just go where your curiosity takes you.

Take a leaf from the town's snail mascot cheerily pointing the way on signposts throughout Jeonju,and slow down to savour its charming atmosphere.

We spend a leisurely afternoon strolling through its many lanes, peering over low stone walls fringed with roses in bloom into gravel-filled courtyards, browsing in boutiques, checking out other hanok guest houses and ancient Confucian academies.

Many hanok have reinvented themselves into chic and cosy cafes and teahouses.

On that warm spring day, children happily splash about in the cool waters of a stream running through the main thoroughfare of the village. Under the shade of the 500-year-old gingko tree, a landmark in the village, tourists seek shelter from the sun to nurse their icy mounds of patbingsu, a yummy mountain of shaved ice laced with fruit and syrup.

As the day continues, we wander further to the periphery of the village, ending up at the Jeondong cathedral, built in the late 1800s to commemorate the martyrdom of two early Korean Christians, both of whom were killed at Pungnammun just across the road.

Trivia note - South Korea has the largest number of Catholic martyrs outside of Italy.

Today, the cathedral is a key Catholic pilgrimage site in Korea. Even if you are not Catholic, the cathedral is worth a look, particularly at sunset as the grey and orange brickwork of the old cathedral glow warmly in the day's dying light.

Just across the road is the only reminder of Jeonju's four city gates - the Pungnammun - which sits in the middle of a traffic island.

Despite the prosaic location, the magnificence of the gate is an arresting sight of red lacquered pillars and walls rising from steep slopes of stone.

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