Members of the Cittaslow Inspection Team gather salt at Taepyeong Salt Farm in Jeongdo, Shinan County, South Jeolla Province. The team praised the area as ``blessed land'' and welcomed the county as a member of the Cittaslow Movement. / Courtesy of Cittaslow Corea
By Han Sang-hee
Seoul is without a doubt one of the busiest cities in the world, and many Koreans have started to realize the importance of slowing down. Try visiting a "Cittaslow," or one of the country's slow cities to appreciate the environment, food and culture they have to offer.
Cittaslow Corea, the Korean branch of the Cittaslow movement, was started by its Chairman Sohn De-hyun in 2007. After organizing the branch, Sohn quickly recommended several cities to the Cittaslow committee and after observations of the areas an inspection team designated Sinan, Wando, Jangheung, Damyang and Hadong Counties as members. Yesan County, South Chungcheong Province has also applied for membership and is waiting for final confirmation from the team.
``The salt farm in Jeongdo is a blessed land'' ― Cittaslow Inspection Team
Jeongdo, located in Sinan County, South Jeolla Province, is the seventh-largest island among the 1,004 in the region and is famous for the nation's largest salt farm, where more than 15,000 tons of sea salt is harvested every year.
The Taepyeong Salt Farm is a popular tourist spot, and is where the Cittaslow inspection team went to experience the salt-making process. The farm was also chosen as the first company in the world to join the ``Friends of Cittaslow,'' in which it will promote the movement and become one of the main Cittaslow firms in Asia.
The salt farm also operates the Salt Museum, designated as one of Korea's modern cultural heritages, nearby the island's dock. The museum offers programs in which visitors can participate in collecting salt at the farms. From walking along the farms and collecting salt with large rakes to storing it in a warehouse, tourists can not only experience salt-making, but also take home a kilogram. For more information about the salt farms, visit www.saltmuseum.org or call (061) 275-0829. To get to Jeongdo, take a bus to Jido and a ferry from the Jisingae Marina.
``Everything in Wando is beautiful!'' ― Cittaslow Inspection Team
Cheongsan Island of Wando County, South Jeolla Province, may not have any special tourist spots or catchy events to attract visitors, but that is the reason why the island was designated as a Cittaslow by the committee.
The word ``cheongsando'' literally means a smiling mountain in green. It takes 50 minutes to get there from Wando Port, and as soon as tourists step onto the island, they can find a unique scene of barley fields, the crystal clear ocean and ancient stone walls.
Sanseo Village is a small village surrounded by traditional a stone wall. The ancient walls, designated as Registered Cultural Heritage No. 279, make a picture perfect backdrop, and visitors can also learn of ancient wisdom, such as ``gudlejang non,'' a farming technique in which fields are covered with stones and dirt for better use. Thanks to the traditional folklore and atmosphere, many film directors and drama producers have used the island for their productions, including for the film ``Seopyeonje'' (1993) and the popular television series ``Spring Waltz'' (2006, KBS).
Wando County is also famous for fresh abalone, accounting for more than 90 percent of all Korean abalone production. To get to Wando, take a bus to Wando Intercity Bus stop.
``Jangheung is expected to be the center of Korean slow food.'' ― Cittaslow Inspection Team
Jangheung County, South Jeolla Province, is surrounded by mountains and is famous for a small village called Banwol, which has some 40 households. The secluded and tiny area was far from a popular tourist spot until the village became famous for breeding beetles and growing shiitake mushrooms.
Shiitake mushrooms, commonly known as "pyogo" mushrooms here, started growing in Jangheung in the mid-1940s. The area provides perfect conditions for the tasty mushrooms to grow, with its abundance of pine trees and mild climate. Jangheung accounts for some 2,500 tons of mushrooms every year, the largest producer in the nation.
The Yuchi District is representative of "slow food," with its organic ingredients and numerous recipes. Tourists can have a taste of some of the area's best known dishes, including "Namdo jeongsik," a full course meal with numerous side dishes, and the "Jangheung samhap," a mix of Korean beef, scallops and shiitake mushrooms. To get to Jangheung, take a train to Gwangju from Seoul and a bus to Jangheung Intercity Bus Terminal, or take a bus directly to the terminal.
``Damyang will be expected to be a worldwide place to experience Korean traditional culture.'' ― Cittaslow Inspection Team
Samjicheon Village in Damyang County, South Jeolla Province, is a small village of 500 residents where tourists can find well-preserved traditional hanok houses and stonewalls.
The village is the home of the some of the most famous hanok, which were owned and passed down by the Go family, generation to generation. The houses have been recognized as Important Cultural Assets and are now under the protection of the government.
Near the village, visitors can find the Korea Bamboo Museum and learn about Damyang's bamboo art. Damyang has been producing and preserving bamboo art products from the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910), and now tourists can get a glimpse of some of the works at the museum. Other must-see attractions are the Metasequoi Road, which has been the backdrop of many dramas and movies, the Jungnogwon Garden, the Soswawon Garden and the Sigyeongjeong Pavilion. There is a bus that travels from Seoul Express Terminal to Damyang twice a day.
"Hadong is the first Cittaslow that specializes in green tea plantations and it will continue to be presented to participants.'' ― Cittaslow Inspection Team
Hadong County, South Gyeongsang Province, is already famous for its green tea farms and now many can enjoy the area as an official Cittaslow.
The wild tea farms are more than 1,000 years old and were mostly used to serve kings. The fields in Agyang village are particularly special as they don't use any artificial fertilizers or other props such as plastic coverings. The tea's growth is aided by the wind and the temperature, which is warm in the daytime and chilly after sunset.
Along with fresh green tea, the village in Hadong is also famous for delicious persimmons, known as Daebong persimmons. The temperature makes the area apt for drying the bright orange treats, which visitors can taste and buy during their visit. The village also holds a persimmon festival every November.
For book lovers, the house of Choi, the main character of one of Korea's most famous novels, ``Toji," by the late novelist Park Kyung-ni, is also a treat. The traditional houses still stand intact near Agyang village, and tourists can learn how people lived during the Joseon Kingdom and step into the famous scenery of the well-known novel. There are eight buses that travel to Hadong from Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal every day.
The Cittaslow movement was started in 1999 by four Italian mayors who aimed to bring ``la dolce vita,'' or a ``the sweet life.'' Inspired by the Slow Food organization, the movement's goals stand to improve the quality of life in villages and cities, while resisting fast-paced and homogenous culture and life patterns.
In order to become a Slow city, the village or city must satisfy certain criteria, including a population of under 50,000, choosing to implement an environmental policy to nurture distinctive features of the town or city, the preservation of historical buildings and locations and the support of organic food.
Currently, there are 118 cities in the world that have been recognized as Slow cities, including Korea's five. Korea is the only Asian member of the movement. For more information, visit www.cittaslo.kr.