In selecting Gangneung as a destination on our South Korean odyssey, it was actually the accommodation that played a large part in making the final decision.
We had locked in about half a dozen other destinations and ended up in the position where we had about three spare nights available. Where to go?
We considered Mokpo, Andong, Ulleungdo Island and numerous other locations, but in the end our selection of Gangneung, and Hotel November in particular, came down to three things; it logically slotted into our clockwise navigation of the Korean peninsular, it had a reputation for the best beaches in Korea, and a three legged golden retriever named ‘Winter’!
As touched on briefly already, we travelled to Gangneung from Sokcho by intercity bus. There aren’t any trains linking these two cities, so buses are pretty much your only option. It’s a good thing they are dirt cheap and run quite frequently! On the other hand, if you’re travelling from Seoul then there are quite a few trains and buses servicing Gangneung, as it’s a very popular weekend or holiday location for the residents of Seoul.
One thing to note, if you are travelling from Sokcho, you might want to make sure your bus stops at the Jumunjin bus terminal, as this terminal is a lot closer to the hotel than the Gangneung bus terminal. If you’re thinking of lugging a backpack over to Hotel November then this will be critical, but if you’re taking a taxi then it’s not so much of an issue. A taxi to Hotel November will take about 5mins from Jumunjiin, and around 20mins from Gangneung. Taxis are extremely good value in Korea, so don’t let the extra 15mins concern you, as it will only cost you an extra W5,000-10,000 (~$5-10AUD) for a lot less heart/foot-ache.
Our first impressions of Hotel November were great! Located atop the highest piece of land in the area, yet only a few minutes walk from the beach, the views were spectacular up and down the Youngji coastline.
After passing through the gorgeous little coffee shop on the lower level (at which we consumed a number of very good beverages!), we took the elevator up to the main level, past the old-school telephone box that had been converted into a tiny library, over the bridge and into the cosy, yet expansive reception area.
Within minutes Mr Kang was there to greet us, with a huge smile and an immediate, yet completely unnecessary apology for his apparent lack of English skills. If anything, he had the best command of English than almost anyone else we met in South Korea!
As we reclined in one of the lounges beside the very classy foosball table, we were sipping on a delicious ‘Welcome’ beverage when we got our second greeting for the day, this time from the wet nose of our favourite furry companion for the next two days, Winter!
While age is certainly creeping up on him, losing a leg to a car accident some time ago didn’t stop him from hobbling his way around the hotel environs, even managing to hoist his gigantic front paw up onto my lap in the hopes of a morsel or two!
Our room for the next couple of days was everything we could have hoped for. Spacious, and very tastefully decorated over its two levels. It even had a record player in the corner with a selection of records available to you (Gangneung does have its very own gramaphone museum, so I suppose this is quite fitting!). First up was ‘The Best of Air Supply’, followed by some John Lennon and a little bit of Vivaldi!
On our first evening we hadn’t really planned anything concrete for dinner, so we decided to try the Korean BBQ that the hotel organises every evening.
Wow…what a magical evening! Hotel November is renowned as a romantic destination for honeymooning couples, and after this dinner we could see why.
French? Yes. Italian? Yes. But a romantic Korean BBQ…?
How’s this for a setting?
As the evening waned, we talked, enjoyed some imported wine, admired the changing colours of the sky at sunset, watched the antics of the house cat who was extremely interested in our shellfish scraps, and we cooked…with mittens!
There were so many courses, all of them delicious, and the fact we did the cooking simply added to the intimacy of the evening. The staff were always on hand to help out if needed, so don’t be nervous if you haven’t tried this sort of meal before!
The highlight of the meal for me would have to be the ‘dessert’, a hot chocolate created from a pot of milk warmed over a flame, into which we added some of the most delicious chocolate buttons. Of course, we were sitting in a canvas teepee at this stage (duh!)… Minutes later and we had ourselves a decadent hot drink that only got tastier the deeper we delved into the pot of liquid gold!
If you do decide to stay a while at Hotel November, then add this dining experience to the top of your list!
It’s unfortunate that the hotel doesn’t offer any other dinner options, because the seaside restaurants at Youngji didn’t excite us all that much. Winni’s does a very good burger, and there are a number of cafes, but most local restaurants didn’t have anything at all in English and also didn’t provide images with prices, making it extremely difficult to know what you’re getting. As the summer peak season hadn’t yet commenced, tourist numbers were down making it difficult to gauge the quality of the local restaurants by the number of patrons, our normal means of judging whether a venue is worth frequenting.
Breakfasts on the other hand were extremely good, with the hotel offering both a Korean option and a Western option. In the interests of comparison I tried both, and found the western breakfast to be one of the best we had in Korea. While the Korean breakfast wasn’t the best we had on our holiday, it was certainly up there!
As I mentioned previously, the views from Hotel November are fantastic! Above the coffee shop they have built a gorgeous turret-like tower from which you can look out over the East Japan Sea. The other thing you’ll notice at the top is a large box filled with envelopes. Huh…what’s up with that?
This is what Hotel November refer to as their ‘One year’ letter concept. Befitting their romantic reputation, they give you the opportunity to write a letter to your significant other, place it in the letter box at the top of the tower before you leave the hotel, and then in 12 months time the hotel will post the letters to you both, free of charge, no matter where live around the world! How cool is that?!
We spent three nights at Hotel November, but we could have easily spent a week. The service we received from Mr Kang and his team was absolutely exemplary and couldn’t be faulted, going above and beyond in anticipating our every need. In the interests of a balanced review though, I do need to mention the standard of the furnishings and fittings. At first glance the decor fits the romantic theme that they are trying to engender, yet if you look a little bit closer you’ll notice that things are starting to look a little bit weary and could do with a lick of paint or general spruce-up. It’s a shame because it’s about the only negative I can possibly think of, and it isn’t that a big a deal really, particularly when everything else is so wonderful!
I mentioned in a couple of earlier posts (here and here) that Hotel November isn’t in the middle of town, but again this fits with their marketing thrust towards couples and their desire for time alone with a beach nearby. Taxis are readily available and there is a local bus service that you can use if you do want to get down to Gyeongpo Beach or the lake, or if you’d like to go into the CBD of Gangneung. The hotel also offers complimentary use of their bicycles for house guests, which would be the perfect way to visit Jumunjin fish markets to the north, or to even cycle all the way along the beach south down to Gyeongpo (if you’re feeling fit and don’t mind a longish bike ride!).
Personally, I’d recommend staying either three or four nights at Hotel November, as this will give you the opportunity to both enjoy the local sights, and also make the most of the gorgeous hotel. Regardless, whether it’s a long or short stay, I’m sure you’ll be as happy as we were!