The capital city of South Korea, Seoul has long been a pivotal city of this part of the world since its inception 2000 years ago. In its early days, the Han River flowing through its centre put it on the trade route to China. Post-war the city went through an economic growth that catapulted South Korea to the position of the 15th largest economy of the world.
The heat and humidity make summer the least desirable time to visit Seoul. In spring, March to May, flowers take over the city turning it into a gigantic garden; this is the most popular season. The gentle temperatures of autumn, September to November, help set up an apt ambience to enjoy the folk games and traditions of Chuseok, Korea’s biggest festival.
Ancient traditions compete with cutting-edge technology; pagodas and Buddhist temples stand alongside sky-scraping architecture, and street food vendors test their skills against internationally acclaimed chefs – Seoul contrasts at every corner.
The Wow Factor
The focal point of the W Hotel’s WOO Bar is the 18 meter long bar counter. And for those who are unable to find a seat at the longest one in Korea, egg-shaped seating pods have been scattered all across the space. The shiny spaceship like DJ station and in-motion images on the digital artwork completes its ultra-modern look.
The main restaurant, ‘Kitchen’, on the other hand has been modelled on the lines of a country house with its open plan and a natural-hued colour scheme. While the Away Spa on the whole is designed to soothe and lull the senses of the visitor, it is the Hinoki hot tubs that steal the breath away. Carved like halved coconuts, they have been placed on an outer deck against the dramatic canvas of the Seoul skyline.
These signature spaces created across the common areas of the hotel coupled with the grandiose interiors of the rooms and a design philosophy that marries Asian influence with Western modernism has made W a must-visit destination of Seoul.
The W hotel makes a dramatic statement with its metal and glass façade. A large glossy ‘W’ mounted at the entrance mirrors the changing times of the day. With its 253 rooms the W is unusually large for a boutique hotel. Most of the rooms are pristine white with accessories and furnishings in red bringing in a flash of colour like the round bath tub in the suite fashioned out of red glass. The Spa Room category has been clothed in a soft grey palette for a soothing effect while the Scent Room takes personalisation to the next level by allowing guests to pre-select from a customised menu of aromas for the room.
A Royal Retreat
Changdeokgung was one of the ‘Five Grand Palaces’ built by the Joseon kings, and over the years it became the favoured one for most of them. Over the years it has been destroyed multiple times by fire but the attention on recreating it with authenticity means that it is still an outstanding example of Far Eastern palace architecture.
The appeal of Changdeokgung lies as much in its wooden buildings with ornamental carvings as in its harmonious existence within its natural setting. When adding the palace to the UNESCO World Heritage List, the committee commended it for being adapted to the topography and retaining indigenous tree cover.
At first look Ssamziegil, in the shopping area of Insadong, appears to be like any mall, but peel away a layer or two and its unique wares will come into view. Sloping ramps connect one level to another of this low rise structure. Ssamziegil is in that part of Insadong which does not allow vehicular traffic, thus lending it a quiet, laidback character.
It prompts a visitor to slow his pace as he peers into aisle after aisle of small shops selling products right from handmade soap to traditional art and craft, to papier-mâché, to accessories and other one-of-a-kind products. The open courtyard in the centre, graffiti in the elevators and art installations in the stairwell make for a unique shopping experience.
A Wall In The Hole
It’s an intriguing sight, stones and pebbles in piles of random heights within a cage, with some stones appearing afloat, spreading out of the piles. This is the exterior wall that unifies Café Ato and the Metro Seoul, a local newspaper. This installation signifies conveying and spreading of information much like the newspaper itself.
The stone feature also lends a more rustic feel to the café and sets it apart in the urbane landscape. The interiors complement the ambience set up by the facade with its neutral and earthy palette and furniture and furnishings of wood. The full length windows merge the indoors and outdoors while enhancing the very visual dining experience.
Text By Himali Kothari