A host of rural pleasures in Gangwon

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A host of rural pleasures in Gangwon

On a recent Sunday afternoon in the backyard of a country house in Pyeongchang county in Gangwon province, people sat around, dining on boiled chicken cooked with special herbs. Wines made from cherries and wild berries were passed around.
The meal, which was prepared by the host family for visitors on a farm tour, was followed by a traditional breakfast and lunch the next day.
“I was able to enjoy nature,” said Cho Sung-il, 36, from Seoul. “I also met great new people and really experienced the countryside.”
In 2003, 82 residents of Pyeongchang county created a network of farmstays to help the regional economy. It was an alternative set up by the villagers in the area to compete against the luxury pensions that became a popular form of lodging in the area in the late 1990s.
There are 500 individual pensions in the region, and the villagers who were providing humble homestays felt threatened by the competition.
Some local residents suggested establishing a network, and indeed that’s what they did.
In July 2003, Pyeongchang county, backed by the local branch of Nonghyup, a financial institution that mostly deals with farmers and rural communities, searched for ways to revitalize the area’s farmstays.
They coined the term “nongbak,” which means lodging at a farmhouse, instead of using the English word “pension,” adding the nuance of the comfort and warmth of the countryside. The same year, the group of 82 villagers formed the Nongbak Association and promoted their business through their Web site, www.happy700stay.com.
Last April, some of the members of the association visited Hakone, a Japanese spa resort in Kanagawa prefecture, to learn more about the management of lodging facilities and services.
A year and a half has passed, and Pyeongchang county has developed a reputation for distinguished lodging facilities, offering more than just a place to sleep.
At Gyechon Hwangtobang in the county, guests can ski in the winter and visit waterfalls in the summer. At the 700 Village, another farmhouse also in Pyeongchang, people can go sledding in the winter and mountain biking in other seasons.
The Gamagol Nongbak offers hands-on cooking sessions for visitors using freshly picked mountain vegetables. At the Moonhee Nongbak, visitors can experience diverse outdoor activities such as fishing. The Small Log House runs carpentry classes.
Most farmstays offer unique programs for their guests.
Jeong Jae-hyun, 30, the public relations representative of the association, said, “We try to prepare a different program for each farmstay. We plan to offer various activities by combining the programs with neighboring areas, including a neighborhood tour to experience the countryside.”
Since the association was formed, there have been visible results. Up to 30 percent of the rooms at Riverside, a farmstay with seven rooms, were occupied in 2003. Last year, the figure rose to 35 percent, increasing its annual income from 35 million won ($34,000) to 40 million won. The number of visitors to the Web site increased to 2,800 last year from 700 in 2003.
Lee Sang-myeong, 41, said, “Incomes did not raise dramatically over the past year and a half, but the owners’ attitudes toward service and advertising have changed dramatically.”
Pyeongchang county recently joined hands with the leisure sports industry and hosts of farm tours to establish the “Green Tour Group” to promote the area’s farm tourism industry.

by Lee Chan-ho
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