Guesthouses designed for the human mind
The narrow driveway leading up to the guesthouse is sparsely dotted with modest country-style homes and a stretch of vegetable farms. By the time you get to the gate past the rural scene, the building’s stark presence imparts an odd state of denial.
It doesn’t take long, however, for the mind to recuperate.
It would be hard not to, upon discovering a shining jacuzzi installed in your bedroom floor, providing a splendid view of the private garden. It’s a scene you would normally expect to see in the Tuscan villa of a Hollywood celebrity.
Out on the balcony are two beach chairs laying next to each other, surrounded by mountains and the rooftops of nearby houses.
The guesthouse’s compound is divided into two buildings, each linked by numerous stairways that could easily confuse a first visitor. Every stairway leads to a different rooftop, posing different views of the landscape. If you keep walking absent-mindedly, you could easily find yourself on a balcony on the opposite side of the building.
But relax. It’s a house of mind, after all. The place was designed for mental drifting.
The guesthouse was originally built two years ago by an architect Q. M. Min. It did well, as the Vivaldi Ski Resort a few kilometers away drew young visitors. In December, the house’s owner, Kim Mi-jin, built another house next to the main building. Already, the place is drawing curious trendsetters from Seoul. As a sign, it was recently featured in a popular television mini series “Gung” (Palace) as the private villa of Yul, a prince of a royal family in the drama.
House of Mind (031-773-2210) is called a “pension” (a European-style guesthouse), but the place differs from the numerous other guesthouses in Korea that quickly went out of fashion. The manager Gwon Jeong-seon, prefers to describe it as a “five-star hotel in a rural surrounding.”
The place is one of the rising numbers of “boutique pensions” in Korea, which provide specially designed rooms and upscale amenities, like a separate porch and a private rooftop that comes with every room at the House of Mind.
It’s a niche market introduced by local marketers for people who want personalized service with the standard equivalent to deluxe hotels. Even at a quick glance, the place evokes an unusual setting for a guesthouse in the region. It has six rooms, each featuring different styles and sizes.
Lavendor, a two-story house, is designed in a modern style with simple black-and-white furniture, complete with marble floors and designer-made home accessories. It has two bedrooms, Rosemary and Jasmine, one on each floor with a bathtub installed in the upstairs bedroom.
Rosemary, which is located at the highest point of the building, has an outdoor spa in the deck looking out to a mountain view. Once the portable tent covering the tub is removed in April, the frame that surrounds the deck will be filled in with water, turning it into a lotus pond. Jasmine, which also comes with a spa, has a spacious terrace on the top floor. You can peek into the bathroom through a window in the top bedroom. A kinky idea, but it seems to work for some couples.
The price varies, ranging from rooms that are 160,000 won ($165) per night to 350,000 won on weekends. The price jumps about one third in the high season, which starts in July. Overall, the place isn’t cheap, but is still cheaper than five-star hotels.
There are also extra services, including campfires and barbecue grills for each room. For couples on wedding anniversaries, the pension gives out a free bottle of champagne. The DVDs are provided for free; there are board games and a restaurant featuring a chef of Italian cuisine who used to work at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Seoul. But take note: The place is an island of its own. There are no convenient stores or karaoke parlors within walking distance.
There are other options for boutique guesthouses on the outskirts of Seoul, if you search around.
Guesthouse Mumu (032-937-9065) on Ganghwa island presents a different atmosphere. It offers a more nature-friendly environment, built entirely out of wood in the style of a countryside ranch.
The house, on a hill overlooking a tidal flat, can only serve one guest or group at a time. Mumu has only one room, “white.” The two-story house comes with a kitchen, a porch and two bedrooms. Everything else within the compound ― the swing, barbecue grill and an outdoor picnic table ― are for the guests and the owner’s little daughter, Seohae (her name refers to the Yellow Sea).
No Eul-seon, an artist who runs the place with her architect husband, has a simple policy for running the guesthouse.
“Pensions should be run the way the name suggests,” she says. “It should be slow and quiet, like how retired couples manage their lives in their own homes. Owners shouldn’t expect too much [profit].”
It also helps that the vicinity of Ganghwa island, which has a number of important historic sites including a major fortress wall still preserved in its original form despite tourist development.
Mumu is also surrounded by Mount Mani, the island’s highest mountain considered to have one of the most pleasant routes in the country for hikers. The price of the house is more humble than Yangpyeong, charging 130,000 won on weekends and 100,000 won on weekdays. One of the charms of Mumu is the drive on the road to the house. Coming from Seoul, the stretch of mudflats along the seaside across Ganghwa Bridge appears unbothered by any human development. The seaside road from the bridge to the guesthoust is about a 15-minute drive. Take note, however: Noh’s couple recently built a guesthouse in a similar ranch style. It’s called Stardust Pension (033-345-6166) in Huengseong, Gangwon province, which also has an unpretentious atmosphere at a reasonable cost.
Namoonje (041-672-7635) on Anmyeon island is another boutique guesthouse in Korea that’s known for its theatrical decor. The name is well-known to Koreans who like scenic guesthouses, but the place still appears in local travel magazines as an ideal spot for year-end parties and anniversaries.
The house definitely has a discreet location and quiet surroundings, which is rare in central Anmyeon, known as something of a pension ghetto. Namoonje, mostly known as “an island within an island,” is located on Soe island.
The interiors for its five rooms have been mainly designed in a Mediterranean style, with lush colored wallpaper and exotic furniture that look like it could be featured in a television commercial. Azzuro, which means “blue” in Italian, is totally blue, with a high ceiling and a stylish rug. The rooms vary from 100,000 to 300,000 won on weekends.
Azzuro accommodates up to eight people. Other rooms hold more, but most are intended for couples.
The place has a great jogging route and a tennis court. But the beauty of boutique guesthouses anywhere across the country, after all, is the luxury of resting in your room as long as you want, enjoying the scenery out the window.
by Park Soo-mee