The Smart And Surprising Ways Four Seasons Hotel Seoul Honors Korean Culture

Since I grew up spending many summers in Seoul, South Korea’s capital feels more like a second hometown. And over the years, I’ve taken pride in watching the rest of the world, at long last, take notice of the city’s singular charms. While increased interest has generated a welcome spate of new hotels, one in particular stands out from other area luxury accommodations.

Opened in 2015 and conveniently situated in Gwanghwamun near many of Seoul’s popular attractions like Gyeongbokgung Palace and the shopping district Myeongdong, Four Seasons Hotel Seoul sets itself apart with thoughtful, and oftentimes surprising, nods to Korean culture. Because while it’s standard practice for hotels nowadays to incorporate local touches, Four Seasons Hotel Seoul goes far beyond the norm.

Appointed with glittering city views, ample space to spread out, and sleek furnishings, the 317 guest rooms and suites are also kitted out with Korean accents such as bamboo-print carpeting, headboards inspired by hanboks (traditional attire), and vintage ceramic vessels and wooden chests to merge the east and west.

Throughout the rest of the property, you’ll continue to find reasons to pause thanks to the impressive 160-piece collection with a strong showing by Korean artists. In the lobby, for example, you’ll find White Wind by Ran Hwang, a three-dimensional wood panel adorned with pins, buttons, and beads depicting Gyeongbokgung in an eye-popping format. Nearby, Water, Rock, Pine, Bamboo, Moon by Kim Jong Gu lends the space even more dramatic flair with its raw, brushed steel strewn on the canvas with calligraphic forms.

Because travel takes a toll on even the most seasoned jetsetters, book the hotel’s signature Purifying Experience. A contemporary take on the centuries-old public bathhouse tradition of body scrubs, the 30-minute session offers a bit more discretion since the invigorating head-to-toe exfoliation is performed in a private room. (Be sure to take advantage of the various pools and saunas beforehand, to soften and prep your skin.)

Though there’s seven unique restaurants and bars onsite—more than any other Seoul hotel, and ranging from the lauded Cantonese Yu Yuan to the pioneering sultry cocktail den Charles H.—it’s The Market Kitchen where you should commence your day. The breakfast buffet may not be as big as other hotels, but the focus is squarely on quality with its colorful, enticing spread of Korean banchan (assorted kimchis, stir-fried anchovies, seasoned greens) presented in shiny brass bowls, alongside hot items like mushroom and perilla seed soup. Even the glass-paneled floor—which offers a glimpse of the ancient ruins that were discovered and meticulously preserved during construction—pays homage to the hotel’s history.

But it’s Oul, the new lounge adjacent to the Italian eatery Boccalino, that’s quickly capturing the attention of Seoulites and hotel guests alike. A chic place to end a busy day of exploration, Oul is a joyful celebration of the country’s rich drinking culture. Every little detail, from the makgeolli kettles—here, they’re used to pour water—to the jeogori (the top of the hanbok) donned by the staff, has been considered. The entire drink menu, including the beer, soju, and spirited cocktails, is proudly Korean-made, and pairs wonderfully with the compliementary anju (drinking snacks) of salty-sweet ueong (burdock root), crunchy kimchi rice clusters, and fried smelts.

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