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Hiking in Korea: The Jeju Olle Trail
Staying #active while away from home can be a challenge. That's not the case when you go to #SouthKorea specifically for #hiking the Jeju Olle Trails. An idea born from a love of walking by Suh Myung Sook, even she is surprised by how many people now walk these trails. It's a #unique, once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm so thrilled I got to enjoy.
Autumn is in full swing here on the beautiful island of Jeju, South Korea as dried orange leaves are set against the backdrop of the turquoise sea. I’ve just left the explosive capital city of Seoul to arrive in the calm and tranquility of Jeju. It’s hard to believe I’m still in Korea. After all, where are the neon lights and skyscrapers?
After all, where are the neon lights and skyscrapers?
Jeju is a rare patch of Korea bursting with nature, culture and heritage – its craggy coastline is lined with emerald bays and lapping beaches, while further inland are studded with ensconced waterfalls and green prairies. Having long gained a loyal following among South Koreans, Jeju is surprisingly empty of foreign tourists. Besides getting a taste of authentic Korean nature, I am also here to attend the World Trail Conference.
Held in autumn, the World Trail Conference is the first event ever held with the aim of sharing information and experience related in trail, finding a way to invigorate and development of Green MICE (trail industry) and building a global network among world trail experts. I’m honored to have been invited by the Jeju Olle Foundation and Jeju Tourism Organization to join in this event and witness Jeju’s first trail event. Besides attending several panel discussions on overseas trails studies, I will be exploring the Jeju Olle Trail for myself this week.
What Is Jeju Olle Trail?
The Jeju Olle Trail, that has been and is still being made in ‘Jeju Island,’ the most representative vacation spot in Korea, leads hikers into its spectacular scenery composed of the sea, oreum (a type of dormant, lateral volcano), stone walls piled up with black basalt, green fields in all seasons, wild flowers in full bloom on the roadside and tangerine fields loaded with orange-colored fruit.
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Considered one of the most beautiful and peaceful trails in the world, the Jeju Olle Trail gives peace, happiness and healing to those walking the trail. Since its first opening in September 2007, 21 courses and over 339km of routes have been made available to travelers.
"Olle" comes from the old Jeju dialect, which implies a very narrow alley or path from a street to a gate of a house. It is the first route that Jeju residents take to communicate with the world in their lives. "Jeju Olle" refers to the trail paths in Jeju that serve as trekking routes to connect Jeju to the world and beyond. Olle also holds another deeper meaning: as it sounds very similar to "would you come?" in the Korean language, Jeju Olle also signifies "would you come to Jeju?"
Each Jeju Olle trail offers a unique opportunity to soak in the beauty of the coastline.
On average, each Jeju Olle Trail is 10-18 kilometers in length and offers a unique opportunity to soak in the beauty of the Jeju coastline that varies rapidly from lowlands to highlands and back to lowlands again. These quick shifts in topography allow walkers to enjoy farmland and forests, grasses and palm trees, fresh water ponds and ocean vistas, waterfalls and cliffs, often all on a single journey. Almost all the planned walks are estimated to take between 4 and 8 hours to complete. There are absolutely no route fees.
Jeju Island: Korea’s Unique Volcanic Island
Jeju Island was the first site in Korea registered as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Harmonized with beautiful sea, falls, cliffs, caves, oreum and broad fields along with its mild weather, this island is an excellent place for active travelers with a love for the outdoors.
In Jeju, locals live by the “Sam Mu” (“Three Nothings”)– no beggars, no thieves, no gates; inhabitants include the Haenyo, famous women divers, who dive to depths of up to 20 meters without breathing apparatus to collect seafood which they sell along the beaches. There are stories about the diving women including Sulmundaehalmang (a grandmother from one of Jeju’s folk tales) and her descendants. Diving was one of the first professions for women in Korea and the Haenyo are some of the best free divers in the world.
Diving was one of the first professions for women in Korea.
Jeju presents its unique and brilliant color in each season. In spring fields are filled with bright yellow-colored flowers whereas golden beaches and mystic and ever-changing seas in different colors are presented in summer. In autumn coffee-colored silver grass in full bloom on the field rolls gently in the wind and white snow on the branches are beautifully coming out on the Mt. Halla-san in winter.
The pastoral scenery in Jeju are one of the most stunning landscapes in the whole of South Korea. Fields surrounded by short stone walls, seas in emerald color and oreum are unique views that people can see only in Jeju. Such exquisite views have mysterious power to heal people’s spirit that see them.
Nature aside, Jeju island is also an epicurean paradise with the local delicacies including Jeju tangerine, tile fish soup, broiled tile fish, abalone porridge, pheasant cuisine, hairtail soup and pork rib barbecue. Cows and pigs raised on clean grass, various seafood from jade-colored ocean and a number of different types of fruit in the clear sun are produced in Jeju.
Brief History Of The Trail
Suh Myung Sook, the founder and president of Jeju Olle Foundation, used to an editor of a weekly news magazine. Leaving her post as a reporter after 20 years of her service, she went on her own pilgrimage of 800 km known as Camino de Santiago from France to Spain. Towards the end of her pilgrimage, she met a woman from England and made a promise together to share the peace and happiness they found on the road with their home countries.
When she came back to her hometown, Jeju, she was determined to make a trekking route that would be widely loved by all the walking travelers all over the world. Some volunteers and her began to find and restore hidden paths, small routes inaccessible by cars and forgotten tracks. As a result, they decided to combine their efforts, creating these new trails for the walking travelers to explore.
Today, the Jeju Olle Foundation is continuing its exploration of the island to constantly find new routes circulating the isle and traversing its mountainous areas and small islands in Jeju.