Zak Smith visits Seoul’s latest luxury landmark, enjoying Korea’s fashion, art scene and cuisine.
A city of mesmerising neon lights, enchanting ancient palaces and an almost unrivalled modern arts scene, Seoul is a sensory overload and then some. Yet for some strange reason it has long been overlooked for the likes of Tokyo and Shanghai. However, the recent opening of the Four Seasons is putting the South Korean capital on the map, and will no doubt cement its place as one of Asia’s hottest new city destinations.
With Seoul Fashion Week grabbing international headlines, it was a perfect opportunity to visit the South Korean capital, awash with a celebration of avant-garde style all documented in an Instagram induced frenzy.
The hotel is at the heart of the ancient city, set in its own skyscraper a stone’s throw from the Gyeongbokgung Palace. This area was home to the Joseon Dynasty, and now houses the modern Korean dynasties of Samsung and Hyundai. Inside the hotel is adorned with over 160 contemporary works of art, its 317 rooms a reflection, not only of its environment, but also of the best of Seoul- sleek modernist design infused with Korean style.
Seoul is incredible at not only providing a snapshot into the best of Korea, but also interpreting the best of what the world has to offer: culture here is a religion. Every street corner is home to a modern art museum, a French patisserie and Korean couture. The Four Seasons was therefore no different, home to an American style speakeasy in the basement plus Japanese, Cantonese and Italian restaurants, totalling seven different eateries in the building, each at the level one would expect from a Four Seasons. If that wasn’t wide enough, the spa itself covers three whole floors of the hotel, making it a culinary and relaxation destination in its own right.
The concierge at the hotel was second to none, providing all the local knowledge needed to navigate linguistic barriers and cultural quirks, such as where to experience the best Korean barbeque, how to properly greet people and where to eat the freshest sashimi still practically swimming on the plate (Jagalchi, in the second city of Busan).
Art and Design dominates the city, not only through its palaces and cultural villages displaying the beauty of old Korea, but also in the best of modern design. Notably this includes the late Zaha Hadid’s Dongdaemum Design Plaza and the Samsung family’s own gallery, Leeum, housing works from the likes of Alexander Calder and Damien Hirst.
Made famous by the hit song, Gangnam is the style mecca of Seoul, not only for its international shopping, but also its local boutiques, enough to give Dover Street Market a run for its money. With two Michelin stars and a sister restaurant in New York, Jungsik is a must. Rated in the top 50 restaurants in the world, their contemporary interpretation on the best of traditional Korean cuisine was simply pure joy.
For a total change of pace, the hotel can arrange a tour of the North Korean border, a mere 60 kilometres from the capital. Eye-opening, saddening and deeply unnerving, one of the last vestiges of the Cold War can be viewed from lookout points in the hills above, and, when tensions are low, you’re able to get close enough to see the propaganda villages and North Korean flags fluttering in the sky. A piece of 20th Century history still blighting the region, the Demilitarised Zone tour is not to be missed.
As a culturally diverse culinary centre and futuristic city, Seoul is well worth the visit - with the best name in luxury travel now in town, there has never been a better time to visit Korea.