Apr 30, 2019
By Daven Wu.
As islands go, the first impression of Ulleungdo tends to be a little underwhelming. Rising out of South Korea’s East Sea, this squat, dark mound of cedar-and juniper-cloaked volcanic rock seems an unlikely dream destination, especially as getting here is, to put it mildly, a major schlep.
And yet, for generations, successive waves of curious travelers—lured first by word of mouth and latterly by gorgeous Instagram posts—have braved the rough seas from the mainland, inexorably drawn to the island’s mix of unearthly raw beauty, unique outdoorsy pursuits and incredible cuisine and, most vitally, spiritual energy.
For reasons now lost in time, Ulleungdo is believed to be an energy gateway, a natural conjunction between the primal forces of the Earth and the sky in which the waters are suffused with healing properties, the forests balance emotional trauma, and even the moonlight calms and soothes away stress and anxiety.
It’s almost kismet then that last year, the Healing Stay Kosmos debuted at Chusan-ri, a rugged spot at the edge of Mount Song-got and Seonginbong Peak where the island’s energy flow is believed to be at its strongest.
Designed by The System Lab, the new 12-bedroom resort (four of which must be rented together as the single Villa Kosmos) is a remarkable fusion of pioneering engineering, local materials, and elegantly futuristic architecture.
“Koreans believe that places with rich chi energy heals the energy of people and helps their wishes come true,” says the project’s lead architect Chanjoong Kim, and to his credit, the resort’s design is a subtle nod to that belief while managing to never descend into obvious tropes.
The all-white façade is an arresting swirl of loops and curls, the silhouette meant to symbolize the flow of yin and yang energies. The unusually ethereal quality of the architecture is the result of ultra-high performance concrete that doesn’t require reinforcing steel, which meant that the ultra-thin 12-centimeter walls were poured and formed on-site. The design, Kim notes, had to complement the environment, and flow with the monumental presence of Mount Song-got. “That’s why I wanted the architecture to be as light as possible, like a scarf lightly floating at the edge of the cliff,” he says. “The building may be an artificial existence, but it’s one that does not conflict with the surrounding nature.”
Facing the sunrise, the sea or trees, each villa is designed according to astrological and meteorological charts, and the diktats of yin and yang geomancy— specifically the five elements—and guests are assigned to rooms according to their birthdates.
As expected, the extracurricular activities on offer cleave closely to the island’s natural bounty, most of it pristine and undeveloped, largely as a result of its physical isolation over the centuries. Lined with rocky cliffs and caves, the emerald-hued waters around Seongin Peak are a natural draw for kayakers and scuba divers. Beaten paths fringed with wild Pampas grass wend through forests of fragrant pines, past lighthouses and bijoux fishing villages, and the shimmering 25-meter-high Bongnaepokpo waterfall.
The indolent may, of course, prefer to stay within the grounds of the Kosmos, where executive chef Sunjin Hwang parlays stints at El Bulli and Noma into a robust menu based around the sweet local fish and mountain vegetables available in the area, and where recent gastronomic triumphs have included steamed Dokdo Island shrimp served with a parsley and oyster emulsion, and a beef short-rib cooked sous-vide for 40 hours and paired with a heady truffle potato purée.
And on a clear night, when the black-velvet sky is ablaze with stars unmarred by light pollution, sit yourself in the resort’s Ring Chair in a grassy plain, and soak in the moonlight pouring down like a benediction from Mount Song-got. Like the resort itself, the experience is utterly in harmony with nature.
Visit thekosmos.co.kr, and villakosmos.com for Villa Kosmos bookings; or call 82-2/ 2038-9595. rates start from w350,000 per night. The four-bedroom Villa Kosmos is rented out entirely (for a minimum of four and maximum of eight guests) with rates starting at w2,500,000 per person, per night, a price that covers airport and ferry transfers— including a limousine service from Seoul Incheon International Airport— butler service, tour guide, and all meals cooked by a private chef.
The resort will provide detailed instructions, but generally, take the airport railroad express (letskorail.com) from Incheon International Airport to Seoul or Cheongnyangni train stations, which takes about 1½ hours (arex.or.kr). Then take a train to either Pohang (2½ hours from Seoul station) or Gangneung port (two hours from Cheongnyangni station). Hop onto a three-hour ferry ride to Ulleungdo (daezer.com). on arrival at the island, it’s a 20-minute taxi ride to the resort.