For years, I've heard South Korean friends swoon on the mention of Jeju Island, a semi-tropical island south of the Korean peninsula. It's a volcanic island, and although none of the volcanoes have been active in a long time, the previous volcanic activity has left behind a wonderful, lush and fertile landscape.
Jeju is also popular as a honeymoon destinations for Koreans who can't afford a holiday abroad, and is becoming increasingly popular with Chinese holidaymakers (and shoppers - many Koreans are terrified how they are building shopping centres with the popular Korean cosmetics brands opposite the major landmarks).
As the island is all geared up for tourism with all kind of commercial kitsch, I had heard mixed reviews. Many Western visitors seemed disappointed by the touristyness, while Koreans simply proclaimed "If you rent a car, you can easily get off the beatren path and experience a quiet and peaceful island". Renting a car wasn't going to be an option for us, as Koreans have... well, an interesting driving style, which ranges from passive aggressive to lethally aggressive.
We did figure out a way to make it work and see a lot of the island. The strategy: Split our week in Jeju between the two main cities and transport hubs and use public transport as well as taxis to walk some of the Jeju Olle Trails. "Olle" is Jeju dialect for the mud path that would traditionally lead from the country road to somebody's house. A few years ago, Jeju's tourism agency decided to set up a few dozen walking trails along the island, mainly along the coast, that allow a more sustainable kind of tourism and exploration of the island.
|a temple along the trail|
Not a hiker? Neither are we - I'm pretty terrified of any elevation over 300 metres! Luckily, most Olle trails are more like long walking routes rather than hiking trails that require alpine level gear and fitness. The trails are also rated from "easy" to "medium" and "difficult" to "very difficult. Most trails are between 12 - 20 km long, which makes them ideal for a day hike.
|trail markers as inspired by Jeju's own tiny ponies|
Now when Koreans sigh at the mention of Jeju, I understand what they mean - the island is a world away from the rest of frenetic, built up South Korea. I will definitely be back - there are many other routes to explore, which can also be easily accessed from other villages and towns on the island.
BONUS Puppies we met along the trails: