Gangneung, South Korea

Photo: Hotel SEAMARQ

South Korea has been in the news a lot recently. But not for the right reasons. Instead of the upcoming Winter Olympics, Seoul’s exciting food scene, or summer travel to the beaches and the mountains, everyone is worried about their neighbor to the north. It’s unfortunate, especially since the country’s future depends on two irrational men, who seem more worried about themselves than the rest of the world. So, if just for a moment, let’s forget about them and shift our focus south of the Military Demarcation Line.

We should be talking about Gangneung. The east coast city is full of classic buildings from the era of the Joseon dynasty. It’s known for its beautiful cherry blossoms along Gyeongpo Lake in the spring. Sandy beaches, lined with seafood restaurants, and perfect vantage points, to watch the sun rise over the Sea of Japan, make it a popular escape from Seoul during the summer. While the city will host the Olympic Village and most of the skating events, including ice hockey and figure skating, in February.

A new design hotel was built in Gangneung just in time for the Olympics. In an area known for its hanok (traditional Korean houses), the SEAMARQ Hotel certainly stands out. It sits on a tree-covered hill; a winding road leads up to its gate. It was designed by Richard Meier, an architect famous for his striking white buildings. It’s a high-rise with huge glass windows looking out toward the ocean, the lake, and, in the distance, the Taebaek Mountains. Plus it sits along Gyeongpo Beach’s pure white sand.

The hotel is immediately impressive. The two-story lobby features a 65-foot table cut from the trunk of a zelkova tree. You almost don’t notice the simple George Nakashima chairs and the wavy Ingo Maurer chandelier because of it. There’s a gallery with ancient Silla art, a huge granite fireplace in the Lounge, and the all-white Chef’s Table, as well. The zen basement spa offers everything from a red clay room to a scrubbing room. The Beach on the Cloud is an outdoor pool surrounded by sunbeds, a jacuzzi, and a snack bar. Wooden steps lead down to the Beach House and the soft sand. There’s even a stage, called the Arena, for outdoor performances.

So, in theory, you’d never have to leave the SEAMARQ. You could curl up under a goose down blanket in your Gallery Double room—selected because it offers panoramic views of both the lake and the ocean—eat your way through the tasting menu, and move between the spa and the pool. You could certainly end the summer on a gorgeous beach. While you could almost forget about the tension along the border to the north. Almost.


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