This is the 32nd in a series of articles highlighting tourism spots in Seoul. The guide for planning weekend trips in the capital city will help readers rediscover Seoul. - Ed.
By Annabelle Lee
There are a number of towns in Seoul where foreigners gather and live. Many Japanese people live in Dongbuichon-dong, and Chinese people gather in Yeonnam-dong and many Korean Chinese live in Garibong-dong. Seoul`s French district is in Seorae Village.
It`s 7 a.m. People are lined up in front of a bakery to buy freshly baked pastries. People riding their bicycles to the bakery and lining up in front of the bakery to buy croissants and baguettes is perhaps a scene normally seen in movies or in France. But this is a corner of Seorae village.
Seorae Village is Banpo 4-dong in Seoul`s Seocho-gu. After passing the Sapyeong-ro on the south end of the Banpo Bridge, it is located near Seorae-ro next to the Seoul Palace Hotel. It was named after the winding stream in front of the village. The Seorae Village starts from Seorae Park.
The park reflects the history of Seorae Village, which had winding stream water, and the 21st Century dream of Seocho with its dynamic horse fountain and the slanted "Wall of Time" statue which gently reflects the artistic sensibilites of France. The highlight of Seorae Park is a footpath covered by a canopy of roses. The path, with its red rose petals on the ground, is alluring like a red carpet of the Cannes Festival. From this place, if you go straight about 500 meters passing the Seoul Palace Hotel, an alley appears on the left. This is the "Seorae road" and the adjacent area is the "Seorae Village."
About 800 French people, which are about a half of French population in Korea, live in Seorae. Therefore, it is called as a "little France" - or more perhaps more appropriately "petite France." French people began living around here because the French Embassy School in Korea moved there in 1985. As the French corporations such as Carrefour, TGV, CLSA, and Bank Renault began to enter the Korean market after 1990, Seorae grew. As more and more French people came the village became what it is today.
There are high-end villas on both sides of the sloping main road of Sorae, and if you go up the sloping road, you will see a row of wine shops, bakeries and food stores.
The first thing that caught my eye was the three-colored pedestrian walkway. The 300 meter long sidewalk from the entry of Seorae road until the Banggae Middle School is red, white and blue. These are the colors of the French flag.
Other than this road, there are three colored footpaths on most of the pedestrian walkways here. The road signs are written in French and Korean together such as "Attention ecole (Attention School District)" and "Hospital Ste-Marie," showing that both Korean and French people live here. Many roads are also named after places in Paris such as Montmartre.
The best time to be in Seorae is at 4 p.m. in the afternoon. In front of Ecole Francaise de Seoul gate, French mothers gather together to pick up their children. Soon, the children speaking in French pour out and the Blue Dragon Park is filled with French children.
A quiet piece of France
You feel like you are standing in an alley in Paris as you meet blond French people in trench coats with long mufflers. However, Seorae Village is mostly relaxed and secluded. The area, where the French work and make money, is either in Gangnam or central Seoul whereas Seorae village is a quiet residential area mostly for families. Perhaps thanks to the French, who enjoy eating out after work, there are many good restaurants in Seorae Village. Since they have to meet the expectations of the French, who are known for their particular taste in food and demanding reasonable prices, a valley of excellent restaurants have sprung up here, where only restaurants with good food at cheap prices survive. There are freshly baked baguettes with French ingredients made by a French pastry chef, steak sauce invented by a chef from New York, and pizza baked in an oakwood stove, among others. There are French and Italian restaurants. An increasing number of people from elsewhere who want to enjoy French food in a relaxing environment come to Seorae. In particular, one of the popular spots is wine store.
At Winenara VINIWINI (02-592-9035), you can enjoy pastries and wine at the same time and they have about 400 types of wine in stock. You can select your wine according to various smells and tastes of wines from different countries and can also select wine, upon a sommelier`s recommendation. There is nothing better in the world as drinking wine while enjoying the distinctive tastes of different cheeses. The place has a warm interior, and I recommend the terrace on the deck where there is a good lighting. You can drink the wine you buy at the shop`s bar at no extra charge. The opening hours are from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. The wine shop & bar "Tour du Vin (02-533-1846)" also has wines from France, Australia, Chile and Italy as well as cheese, pasta, salami, olive oil, and capers. They are open from 10:30 a.m. until 1 a.m. next day. The Italian restaurant Popolarita (02-593-2340) is one of the more well-regarded restaurants here. They are open from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. (Lunch time from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m.).
Where French meets Korean
Seorae Village is not just a place for French culture. The place is a blend of French and Korean culture and acts as a heartland of another culture.
In the case of La Plante (02-596-0190), which takes such pride in its beautiful interior that one cannot tell whether it is a cafe or a flower shop, you can find Western flowers including roses but also traditional Korean flowers such as crape-myrtle and peony.
June 20 saw the 2009 Banpo Seorae Korea/France Music Festival involving about 2,000 people, including local residents and artists, who love music. As such, Seorae Village has become a part of Seoul, Korea.
While walking through Seorae Village, if you want to rest, you can pop into Mariposa (02-534-4173) where you can see the entire Seorae Village from the 5th floor. A beautiful night view unfolds after the sunset in Seorae. A place where you would not envy the streets of Paris, this is Seorae Village of Seocho-dong in Seoul.