Rebirth of a mountaintop retreatSamcheonggak, a mountaintop hideaway once used by the political elite, has been renovated and opened to the public as a cultural and dining space.
Nestled on the side of Mount Bugak in central Seoul, the complex of six buildings was originally built as a meeting place for top South and North Korean representatives in 1972. The secluded venue, designed in traditional Korean architectural style, soon became known as a "secret joint" for senior government officials during the President Park Chung-hee administration.
In 2001, the Seoul city government bought the facility and opened it to the public, changing it into a traditional culture house. However, because of high maintenance costs, the government selected Paradise, a local hotel and casino group, to run the facility from July. The main building and grounds underwent renovations for about a month and re-opened on August 22 as a tourist attraction and restaurant.
"We tried to recreate a place in Seoul where people could experience how Koreans used to enjoy nature and culture in the old days," said Kim Hwa-gyeong, a Paradise official.
The new Samcheonggak is mainly composed of Yepuri a performance hall for traditional Korean dance and music performances, and Yi-gung a restaurant that serves traditional palace cuisine in full-course meals. There is also a lounge bar that has a panoramic view of downtown Seoul
Currently on stage is "Barameui Dohak" ("Spirit of Wind”), a story based on the tragic life of Anpyeongdaegun, the third son of King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty. The performance has traditional dance elements including sword and mask dances, and is about 70 minutes long.
Yi-gung offers several types of royal court foods, including the famous gujeolpan, where a wooden dish is divided into nine compartments ― each containing meat and vegetables that are of a different color, with a stack of yellow round pancakes in the middle. Private rooms are available for groups of four to 30.
Also, in the annex buildings one can learn various traditional crafts such as paper-making, calligraphy or the tea ceremony of the royal court. Most of the courses are four months long, but customized courses are also possible.
Although Samcheonggak is less than a 10-minute drive from downtown Seoul, the lush greenery and quiet make it a rare natural oasis. For those who don’t have time to participate in any of the activities or attend the performance, a walk on the grounds or on the road leading to the houses can be a refreshing experience.
by Wohn Dong-hee
"Barameui Dohak" performances take place at 8 p.m. Monday to Friday, and at 4 p.m. on weekends. Tickets are 40,000- 50,000 won. Reservations for the restaurant "Yi-gung" can be made at (02) 750-3700. A 10% VAT is added to the bill.
To get to Samcheonggak, take a free shuttle bus that runs at 30-minute intervals from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., with stops at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, Kyobo Book Center, and Gyeongbok palace. For more information, visit www.samcheonggak.or.kr.