In the lavender scented streets lovers find Paju has magicPAJU, Gyeonggi ― In Ridley Scott’s new film “A Good Year,” which opened in Korean theaters this week, the cocky yet handsome investor Max Skinner (played by Russell Crowe) moves to Provence, southern France, to sell a small vineyard he inherited from his late uncle.
Once there he comes to realize that life is meant to be savored amidst the beauty of the Provencal chateaus and the vineyards. As an added bonus he manages to find Fanny Chenal who becomes the love of his life. It seems this story made a light bulb go on in Lee Deok-gyu’s head. Who said such a romantic narrative only exists in movies? At least that’s what Mr. Lee thought as he eagerly prepared a surprise proposal for a girl he had secretly admired for a long time. His problem was that the girl in question saw him as no more than a good friend. For four years he carried the burden of his unrequited love but he was not disheartened. Mr. Lee reckoned that all he needed was to find just the right place and atmosphere to propose. Then he believed his beloved’s resistance would fold.
He couldn’t go halfway around the globe for that. But the idea of a good wine, a chateau and a lavender field sounded like the perfect ingredients for the love potion he hoped to make. All he needed was a venue near Seoul where he could make his girl feel like Fanny Chenal. .
So finally, on a recent evening, Mr. Lee stood facing the girl. They had eaten at a French bistro with a glass of Cotes du Luberon. They shopped for lavender fragrance and took a walk around a dusty, cobble-stoned road in a town that had been made to look like a village in Provence.
Some might call it a lame imitation but the young couple was happy enough. Mr. Lee read a love letter out loud and the girl smiled as she took his hand. Then came applause from a crowd who watched as the young man finished his missive and the couple walked off into the sunset.
The venue that saved Mr. Lee’s heart from bifurcation is a small cluster of shops, restaurants and craft workshops located in Paju, north of Seoul. It’s called the Provence Village, a place designed to make visitors feel they are standing in Arles or Aix, the towns that give Provence its special kind of magic
But it could be the magic only works for those who are in love like Mr. Lee.
Instead of a lavender field, the cluster of shops sits amidst rice paddies and highways leading to the Unification Observatory, just south of the demilitarized zone. But the scent of lavender is pretty strong because of the indoor and outdoor workshops that let visitors make their own lavender soaps, oils and bath salts.
There are also hand-made soaps made from brimstone extract and herbs, anti-cellulite cream, tea-tree oil, rose, peppermint, camomile and jasmine.
Those who close their eyes and hold hands with a loved one can almost persuade themselves they are standing in a vast field of natural herbs. Kim Jong-seo, a college student who was on a date with his steady girlfriend Shim Seong-eun fell for the magic.
“It’s our second anniversary and I wanted to make my girlfriend happy,” he said holding Ms. Shim closely by his side. “I am going to try making the lavender soap for her.”
They strolled away to craft shops where hand-made vases and “French-styled” home plates were sold.
Walking along the rows of faux houses with red-tiled roofs, tiny flower pots and walls painted in white another young couple giggled as the boy whispered something in the girl’s ear.
Choi Hye-won, 24, said she felt as if she were starring in the Ridley Scott movie because the evening had been as romantic as the film.
Lee Su-yeon, a marketer at Province Village said most of the evening visitors to the town are dating couples, while in the mornings and afternoons, family members crowd the miniature theme park.
“Mr. Ha (the president) created the village 10 years ago after he was inspired by a small Provencal town,” Ms. Lee said. “We’ve made it bigger as the years passed.” Now the village comprises eight substantial buildings and couples in love can hop from one to the other.
Chu Mi-yeong and Yim Un-rae, a married couple, were enjoying their meal at a French bistro.
“Actually I am not sure how Provence wine differs from wines from other regions,” Ms. Chu said smiling shyly. “But I like the idea of drinking them at such a pretty place with my husband.”
Ms. Chu and her version of Max Skinner gazed over the wine racks and out the window, where a string quartet played on an outdoor stage.
On their table, a verse from Charles-Pierre Baudelaire in a plastic folder seemed to speak to them.
“It is the hour to be drunken! To escape being the martyred slaves of time, be ceaselessly drunk. On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.”
It was not a bad sentiment, especially for those in love. And that is the way to visit this place. For those who come on their own it is much harder to suspend disbelief. After all, Provence is over 5,000 miles away and a rice paddy does not smell much like a field of lavender.
To get to Provence Village: Take the Jayu Highway toward Munsan, north of Seoul. After about one hour, exit at Seongdong. It’s the same exit that leads to the Unification Observatory. Take a left at the first crossroad you encounter, then take another left almost immediately after you take that turn. There is a sign leading to Provence Village, located 600 meters from where you made the second turn. For more information on the village,
by Lee Min-a
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