Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a huge metropolis where modern skyscrapers, high-tech subways and pop culture meet Buddhist temples, palaces and street markets. Notable attractions include futuristic Dongdaemun Design Plaza, a convention hall with curving architecture and a rooftop park; Gyeongbokgung Palace, which once had more than 7,000 rooms; and Jogyesa Temple, site of ancient locust and pine trees.
The Shilla Seoul
Even before its makeover (completed in 2013 by interior architect and designer Peter Remedios), aficionados were already talking about this as the “most beautiful hotel in Korea”. Since opening in 1979, The Shilla Seoul, flagship of the Shilla Hotel Group (a Samsung subsidiary), comprising two wings and bordering Janchungdan Park, has attracted Korean and foreign princely families, stars and writers, business leaders and travelling dandies from every walk of life, all won over by its splendour and perfect elegance. Impeccably soundproofed and flooded with light, the 43-square-metre Business Double Deluxe rooms, mostly facing Mount Namsan, offer the ultimate in comfort, with homely interiors, contemporary furniture, and marbled bathrooms. Guests can also enjoy the best fitness centre in town (gym, indoor pool, hot tubs, sauna and Jacuzzis, and other fitness gear) together with the Guerlain Spa and its Urban Island equipped with outdoor swimming pools.
Ideally located in the heart of deluxe Apgujeong close to leading international fashion and luxury brands, this sensational concept store has totally reshaped the Seoul fashion scene since it opened. The original idea, floated by the giant Shinsegae and its creative director Milan Vukmirovic, has been translated into an impressive, high design complex by architect Peter Marino, and is intended to respond to the sophistication of current styles. It comprises two white marble, almost crystalline, buildings, between which rises an impressive vertical monolith resembling a metal blade. Boon the Shop, designed with natural materials such as wood, marble and linen, unfurls over several floors, starting with the atrium where there’s an imposing sculpture entitled Double Necklace by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel. The various retail units offer international luxury menswear and womenswear as well as local brands. Check out the fabulous array of shoes, leathergoods and jewellery. Hip Japanese shoppers come here on a pilgrimage questing for rare designs by Alexander McQueen, Céline, Maison Margiela, Christian Louboutin, Lexon, Gareth Pugh, Vionnet or Libertine. But it’s equally popular among local celebrities – the Korean phenomenon G-Dragon, for example, is a regular.
“In search of the best ingredients and combinations”, Bicena is the precious fetish of the new Korean cuisine in Seoul. It is authentic and literally and figuratively faithful to its roots, unworried by innovations and experiments, and cooked here by chef Kwangsik Jun. The wonderful setting and decor, with spectacular views from the 81st floor of the brand-new Lotte World Tower, which houses the new ultra-luxurious Hotel Signiel from the 76th to 101st floors, is all extremely delicately done. Owned by KwangJuYo which is among other things a producer of ceramics and traditional pottery, the brand proposes an invigorating, home-cooked cuisine with lots of red ginseng, sweet dates, medicinal herbs, pine nuts and fermented sauces – a culinary journey drawing on a mix of the house’s experience in courtly gastronomy, traditional haute cuisine and regional flavours. The menus – Light of Life, Mother Nature, Great Evergreen, Long Liberty and Pure Innocence – are all very high quality. The seasonal raw fish, mandu (Korean dumplings), yubupi (tofu skin) with hallabong (Jeju orange) and crab meat, black marbled marinated pork from Jeju with fermented plums and soy leaves, or the bulgogi marinated in ganjang (soy sauce) with mushrooms and green onions are just a step closer to paradise. The manager Lucia Cho explains that Korean cuisine focuses on the use of natural ingredients that nourish human bodies, considered to be little universes. It couldn’t be better put. Booking recommended.
Operating since 1982, the visible signature of this famous gallery, known for its high standards, is Jonathan Borofsky’s sculpture of a woman walking on its roof. The gallery exhibits major contemporary artists, including Ed Ruscha, Joseph Beuys, Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Louise Bourgeois, Jean-Michel Basquiat and designer Jean Royère, as well as prominent Korean artists whom the gallery promotes on the international scene through its participation in major art fairs, such as Basel, Fiac Paris, Frieze Art Fair New York, The Armory Show, Abu Dhabi Art and Art Stage Singapore. Kukje (“international”) Gallery is also notable for the layout of its buildings: three physically distinct structures (K1, K2, K3) form a single complex whose bold lines clearly reflect its firm foothold in modern times. This is especially true of K3, a stunning windowless, concrete, mesh-clad bunker designed by So-Il, the New York architectural firm run by Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu. The gallery’s ambitions are clearly expressed in this balance between the aesthetic provocation of the first gallery and the mesh cladding of the new building, between radical works such as Amant Suspendu by Jean-Michel Othoniel and the ironic dwarves of Paul McCarthy, to which the gallery has devoted a book weighing a hefty 1.8 kilograms.
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