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Maehwa Village - Plum Blossom in Gwangyang

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T

he first to bloom early in spring are the beautiful plum trees. Gwangyang in South Jeolla-do province is the place to go and explore over 10,000 beautifully blooming plum and apricot trees.

In Korean traditional culture, plum blossoms symbolize the “noble mind” and the virtue of “patience”. Plums are also believed to have healing properties and subproducts of plums are used in traditional Korean medicine as a remedy for many sicknesses.

The Gwangyang Maehwa Festival, named by the blooming plum trees happens every early the first couple of weeks of March. Thanks to the mild climate of South Jeolla-do province, this might be the first place in the whole country (if we don’t count Jeju-do where cherry blossoms might be already blooming) where you will be able to enjoy the first blossom and get reminded of the freshness and beauty the spring brings.

Korean Pavilion at Maehwa Village - Plum Blossom in Gwangyang

The story of Gwangyang Maehwa Village is very fascinating. Before becoming the Mecca of Plum Blossom in Korea, it was a small provincial village named Seomjin Village. Until a young lady with a big heart and love for plums turned the remote farm of 5000 plum and apricot trees into an early spring attraction. It took over 50 years to plant, grow and build the facilities of what’s now known as Korea’s plum village – Gwangyang Maehwa village.

Today over 10,000 plum trees, 3,000 large earthenware storage pots, 80-year-old bamboo forest, traditional Korean houses, a pond, Korean style pavilion, several coffee shops, restaurants, and plum products store, as well as a festival visitor center are open and welcome visitors from near and far.

Pots and blooming plum trees in Maehwa Village in Gwangyang
Paths in Maehwa Plum Village
Pond and Korean Hanok House at the Plum Village in Spring

Gwangyang Maehwa Village Festival

It’s not surprising that every year during the Maehwa blossom there’s a big festival organized here, that takes place for over 2 weeks. Unfortunately in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival was canceled. But don’t worry, the trees are still there, they are blooming and you can still see them.

View from the top of the Plum Village - Gwangyang Plum Blossom Festival

What to Expect From Gwangyang Maehwa Village

The Maehwa Village spreads out on a hill so expect to climb up. From the parking lot most part of the farm is not visible, so don’t be discouraged by the look as there will be lots of cars and merchandise.

Move up and you will see Gwangyang Maehwa Culture Center. It’s worth visiting before you start your exploration around the plum farm grounds. On the first floor, there’s an art exhibition, and a store offering plum products proudly made out of the plum trees. Have a look and mark what you want to buy on the way out – you don’t want to carry up the hill with you something that you can buy later. Good idea is to pay a visit to the toilets that are just behind the store – they are very clean and well maintained. The second floor tells the story of the plum village – its history, explanation of the healing properties of the plum, and interesting products made out of plum.

Visitor Center at Maehwa Plum Village
Maehwa Gwangyang Plum Village
Produce Sell in Maehwa Village Visitor Center

After you are done with the Culture Center, move up the hill. There are two paths but I recommend taking the one that’s on the side of the plum ice cream pavilion – if you face the building of the culture center, it will be to your right.

There are many paths to explore from this point – you can climb up a staircase for an amazing panoramic view of the village and the whole river valley, or go a bit down and see a couple of beautiful village houses and a pond all surrounded by blooming plum trees.

If you get hungry there’s a small restaurant with a limited menu – sea products Korean pancakes and guksu. What will be lunch without plum makkoli? Inside the building, there’s a table next to a window, overlooking the plum trees. If you are lucky enough to get that table,  it’s an amazing spot to eat and enjoy the beautiful view.

The Maehwa Village spreads out on a hill so expect to climb up. From the parking lot most part of the farm is not visible, so don’t be discouraged by the look as there will be lots of cars and merchandise.

Exploring the blooming plum trees at Maehwa Village
Bird Eye View to Maehwa Village in Gwangyang
Food pots at Maehwa Village in Gwangyang

Guide to Gwangyang Maehwa Village

There are several organized tours that will take care of transportation and tour guides in English. Since the location of the plum blossom is so remote, I highly recommend signing up for one of the organized.

Colorful Plum Blossom at Maehwa Village
Pajeon plum magceolli at the restaurant
Plum Ice Cream at Maehwa Village

Getting to Gwangyang Maehwa Village

By Bus/Taxi

There’s a direct express bus from Seoul Nambu Terminal to Gurye and Hwagae. We got off at Hwagae as it’s closer to Maehwa Village by taxi. Bus ticket from Seoul to Hwagae is between ₩20,000 and ₩30,000 depending on the bus service you choose. There are 7 busses a day, but I just make sure to get an early one as it takes over 3 hours to get there. 

 

From Hwagae Bus terminal we took a taxi and it’s around ₩25,000 to the Maehwa Village (25 min). You can also use public transport, but it’s deep in the province and buses are not very frequent (7-8 buses a day, so you might end up waiting for over an hour)

Korean Pavilion at Maehwa Village

By KTX

You can take KTX from Seoul Station or Yongsan Station (most trains in that direction depart from Yongsan Station) to Guryegu KTX Station. It takes 2:40 h and costs around ₩42,000. The slower ITX will take 3:50 h for ₩35,000 and 무궁화호 train will get you there in 4:30 h for ₩24,000. If you are not in a hurry and want to travel budget, that might be the cheapest way to get there. 

 

Getting to Maehwa Village from the Guryegu KTX Station by public bus can take really long as you need to change buses. The taxi will take around 45 min and will cost ₩45,000.

Village Houses in the Plum Park

Korean Plum Blossom Species

Plum in Korea has a long history. Several books were written during the Joseon Dynasty (Yanghwasorok by Gang Hui-an(1417-1464), Mulmyeongyugo by Yu Hui(1773-1837), and Hwaamsurok by Yu Bak(1730-1787)) mention various types of plum trees. 

 

According to Korea Plum Blossom Research Institute, there are 5 types and 194 species of plum blossoms currently being cultivated all over Korea.

Drooping Plum Blossoms 수지매형

While most plum blossom tree branches shoot up, drooping plum blossom branches tend to droop toward the end. The flowers can have a single layer or multiple layers of petals, often in white, light pink, dark pink, or red.

Lying Dragon Plum Blossoms 와룡매형

These plum blossom trees have stalks that either twist or crawl towards the ground. The flowers are white, pink, or dark pink. Although the petals are often layered, some flowers have a single layer of petals.

Scraggly Plum Blossoms 용유매형

Scraggly plum blossoms have naturally knotted and twisted branches. They bloom later than the upright and drooping plum trees. Its flowers are often white and in multiple layers. The fruits grow either singularly or in pairs.

Sib Plum Blossoms 행매형

The branches and leaves are similar to those of an apricot tree. Its young bark tends to be thicker than other plum blossoms. The flowers can be single or multi-layered and are white, light pink, pink, or red. This species is known to withstand the cold better than its peers.

Upright Plum Blossoms 직지매형

Upright plum blossom branches are rigid; they grow in a straight line, often directly upwards. Most of the species of plum blossoms belong here. The bark is shades of red-brown, gray brown, dark brown, grey-red brown, or green.

Address and Work Hours

Korean name:
구례산수유꽃축제

Address:
English Address: 45, Sanggwan 1-gil, Gurye-gun, Jeollanam-do
전라남도 구례군 산동면 상관1길 45 (산동면)

Cost: Free

Open: All day — the plum farm is not closed up, it’s OK to go early in the morning and stay until late in the night. Respect the fact it’s private property.

Maehwa Village - Plum Blossom Paradise in South Korea

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