The Jinhae Gunhang (Naval Port) Festival is the largest cherry blossom festival in the country and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists, eager to catch a glimpse of the delicate flowers. / Courtesy of organizers
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Nothing signals the beginning of spring like the blossoming of flowers. As temperatures get warmer, delicate cherry blossoms, vibrant yellow cornus fruit flowers, pure white apricot blossoms and all kinds of flowers start appearing throughout the country.
Everyone should take the opportunity to revel in the beauty of these flowers while they last until early April. Grab your cameras and follow the trail of the blossoming flowers throughout the country.
A word of warning: Be prepared for the hordes of camera-toting tourists who are all eager to capture the fleeting beauty of the flowers.
Over 83 acres of blooming ``maehwa'' (Japanese apricot) trees can be found in Maehwa Village, in the Daap-myeon region in South Jeolla Province. The Gwangyang Maehwa Festival opened last weekend, the first in a string of flower festivals around the country this season.
When in bloom, the apricot trees are filled with white flowers called ``ume.'' The entire Maehwa Village and the Baegun Mountain are blanketed with pure white ume that create a picture perfect landscape.
The trees also produce the small green Japanese apricot called ``maesil,'' which has a tangy flavor. Many shops sell maesil, as well as maesil drinks and preserves.
The festival ends March 22. To get there, take the express bus to Gwangyang from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal. Visit www.gwangyang.go.kr or www.maehwa.org.
Cornus Fruit Flowers
Brilliant yellow flowers from the ``sansuyu'' (cornus fruit) trees are starting to fully bloom in Gurye county, San-dong, South Jeolla Province. The Gurye Sansuyu Festival, which begins today and runs through the weekend, is held every year in an area usually known for its hot springs near Mt. Jiri. Visitors flock to catch a glimpse of the explosion of yellow blossoms near the mountain slopes.
The festival also highlights the use of sansuyu flowers as ingredients in tea, rice cakes, and alcohol. Visitors can enjoy the pretty flowers and take leisurely walks around the area, but they can also relax by taking a dip at the nearby hot springs. Take the bus to Gurye from Nambu Bus Terminal (travel time: 4 hours). Visit http://gurye.go.kr.
If you fail to catch the Gurye festival, you can still have a chance to catch the sansuyu bloom at the Icheon Baeksa Sansuyu Blossom Festival April 3-5. Visitors can walk among the 100-year-old sansuyu trees at the villages near Baeksa-myeon, Icheon, Gyeonggi Province. The charming village of Dorip-si will be ablaze with yellow colors as the sansuyu trees begin to blossom. Visit http://www.2104sansooyou.com.
The Jinhae Gunhang (Naval Port) Festival is the largest, and arguably the prettiest, cherry blossom festival in the country. This year, the festival starts March 27 and runs through April 5 at Jinhae, South Gyeongsang Province.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists head down the city to bask in the beauty of the cherry blossoms trees. The festival's roots date back to April 13, 1952, when the statue of famous Admiral Yi Sun-shin was unveiled at the Bukwon Rotary. Yi, a local hero, victoriously led the Korean army against the Japanese in a naval battle. But it was only in 1963 that the festival honoring the Admiral's patriotism was developed into an annual event.
There are special spots offering amazing views of the cherry blossoms around Jinhae. At Mt. Jangbok Park, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the entire city covered with cherry blossoms, contrasting with the sparkling blue sea. An alternative is going to Mt. Jehwang Park, where you can walk up the 365 steps, called ``Year Stairway," for another view of the city blanketed with blossoms.
Take a walk under the canopy of cherry blossoms at the tree-lined Anmin Road, or the picturesque 1.5-kilometer tunnel along Yeojwacheon street from Park Land to Jinhae Girl's High School.
The public can also have a chance to visit the cherry blossom street inside the Korea Naval Academy and Naval Base Headquarters. The compound is usually closed to the public but is open during the Gunhang festival. Visitors can see a full-size ``Geobukseon," an old turtle ship, and the naval museum. From Seoul Station, take the train to Changwon, where a shuttle train to Jinhae Station is available during the festival. Visit http://eng.jinhae.go.kr.
The Hwagae Cherry Blossoms Festival, which runs from April 3-5 in Hadong, South Gyeongsang Province, may be smaller than Jinhae's festival but offers no fewer pretty blossoms.
Couples should take note while walking along the ``10-ri cherry blossom street," also known as marriage street. According to an urban legend, couples who walk while holding hands along that street will get married and live happily ever after.
While in Hwagae, visitors can also drop by Hwagae market and sample the representative dishes such as sliced raw sweetfish and ``chamgetang," or king crab broth. Visit http://tour.hadong.go.kr.
Spring in Jeju
Because of its location at the southern part of Korea, Jeju Island experiences spring earlier than the rest of the country. Various flower festivals are held this month and early April. The island is covered with stunning yellow flowers during the Rape Flower Festival (March 28-30).
Jeju's king cherry blossoms are said to be bigger and more beautiful than other cherry blossom varieties. The blossoms, which can be found at the sports complex district and in downtown Jeju city, will be at their peak during the King Cherry Blossom Festival (April 4-8). Another popular festival, Canola Blossom Festival, is held simultaneously. The festival celebrates the blooming ``yuchae," or canola flowers.
Seoul in Full Bloom
The Yeouido Spring Flower Festival runs through April 9-13 and is one of the most awaited flower festivals in Seoul.
More than 1,000 cherry blossom trees, as well as azaleas and forsythias, can be found along Yunjung street, behind the Yeouido National Assembly Building, making it a popular destination for families, friends and couples.
Other places to enjoy spring flowers in Seoul include Namsan Park, Changgyeong Palace and Kyunghee University campus.