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Quiet Goheung County is a sweet escape to explore: For delicious yuja and incredible ocean views, head west of Yeosu

Nov 22,2019
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A visitor, left, takes a rest on a bench inside the Naro-do Cypress Forest. This particular forest started to get more visitors because it is located adjacent to the Naro Space Center, where many families with young children like to visit. The trail, center, that leads hikers to the cypress forest is relatively flat. An aerial view of Mount Mabok, right, which is known for its rocks of many different sizes. [LEE SUN-MIN, LIETTO]
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At the Naro Space Center, left, visitors can learn a lot about space exploration and see the Hoberman Sphere, above. [LEE SUN-MIN]
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Children, left, get their hands on a variety of foods made with the citrus fruit yuja, above, which is grown in Goheung County. [LEE SUN-MIN]
GOHEUNG COUNTY, South Jeolla — Thanks to newly-constructed bridges and some more on the way soon, this quiet county across from Yeosu, one of South Jeolla’s best-known port cities, is gearing up for a huge influx of travelers making a day trip out of visiting some of Goheung’s attractions and trying out some of its famous dishes.

With the new infrastructure in place, Goheung County plans to attract a total of six million visitors in 2020. To keep people coming throughout the year, the county plans to provide many discounts and travel vouchers that visitors can use during their visit. The county aims to boost the number of visitors to 10 million a year by 2028.

While it is relatively unknown to those based in the Seoul metropolitan area, Goheung has become an affluent area thanks to an abundant seafood industry in the region, according to a tour guide. Yet, many people living in the county send their children to study and work in bigger cities, like nearby Gwangju, which has resulted in a decrease of population.

While it may not be as fancy as Busan or Yeosu, which has many tall buildings and trendy eateries, Goheung offers a calmer and more peaceful environment away from large crowds and plenty of spots to enjoy the landscape and fill up your stomach without waiting in line.

Those who make it before the bridges open up will be able to enjoy some of Goheung’s delicious fall delights before the crowds come.

Goheung is where about half of the country’s yuja — better known internationally by its Japanese name yuzu — is grown. The fruit grows well in the region due to the relatively warmer weather found in the southern part of the country.

An occasional frost in the morning early in the year is said to help the fruit become tastier when it is harvested in the fall, according to a local travel guide.

In order to enjoy the tastiest yuja, the tour guide suggests choosing the fruits that have rough skin. The fruit is usually a light yellow color, similar to a lemon, but as it ripens, the color gets deeper.

The round fruit that resembles the shape of tangerines is too sour to be consumed on its own. Usually it is mixed with sugar to make it into a preserve, and the liquid is used as a sweetener. Often the preserves are used to make warm tea as well. The tour guide mentioned that individually-packaged yuja juice boxes have been made for those who want to enjoy the sour juice on its own.

Yuja is harvested once a year, from around mid-November to the end of the month. You can buy either a jar of premade preserves or the fruits themselves to make your own preserves when you get home.

Another treat to enjoy in Goheung is red stingray or skate, a 1-meter-long (3.3-foot-long) fish that is often eaten raw. The meat is pink, which some have mistaken for slices of grapefruit.

Yet, the best part of the fish isn’t the meat — be sure to try the liver. Called ae in Korean, the liver is a pinkish, orange or apricot color and is usually the size of two adult fists.

The liver is also served raw, and the texture is almost like a pudding. Different from liver from duck or goose, the liver of the ray tastes much lighter, yet it is still flavorful. Many seafood restaurants have the fish ready when it is in season, but make sure to call ahead and check if they have a fresh catch in stock on the day you plan on visiting.

Looking for more familiar seafoods to try? Try samchi, or Spanish mackerel. The seas around Goheung are known for being filled with samchi, and it is in season from October to February. It may taste similar to mackerel when grilled, but the flavor is totally different when eaten raw. While the meat of a mackerel is ivory, the Spanish mackerel is pink. The texture is not as oily as raw mackerel either.

While some enjoy eating Spanish mackerel raw, the more popular choice is to either grill or braise it with spicy sauce. Locals add drops of yuja to make the grilled fish even more refreshing.

After eating, Mount Mabok is the place to go, no matter how athletic you or your travel partner may be. A road takes you close to the top of the mountain where you can see a wide ocean view with some islands in the distance.

All you need to do is to walk about 20 minutes, and while some sections of the trail may be a little steep, the jaw-dropping view from the top is worth the effort. The mountain is known for its rocks of all sizes that make the walk up to the top a bit different than any mountain in the Seoul region. Mount Mabok is only 538 meters high.

Even on top, there is one rock barely standing at the edge of the cliff, daring many bold hikers to get close and try to push it off. It looks like it’s about to drop at any time, but won’t budge, even if an adult pushes it with all of their might.

As the leaves turn red and yellow, the view right below where you sit also makes a great backdrop for photos.

The mountain is also known as Mount Sogaegol because many people think it is as beautiful as Mount Gaegol, another name for Mount Kumgang. The so in Sogaegol means small, indicating that Mount Mabok is like a miniature version of Mount Kumgang. The sea that is visible from the mountain is Dadohaehaesang, one of the marine and coastal national parks of Korea.

If hiking the steep trail even for a short time still seems too energy-consuming, head out to Naro-do Cypress Forest in Mount Bongnae. The forest is getting more popular because it is adjacent to the Naro Space Center, one of the frequently visited spots in Goheung.

The forest is about 21.6 hectares (53.4 acres) large, and the trail inside is flat. There are some benches set up close to trees, making the forest a good resting spot for visitors coming to town for some fresh air.

Move on to the Naro Space Center for a quick, yet informational walk. There are many educational details about the Korean space industry and information about Naro-1, Korea’s first carrier rocket and the first launch vehicle to orbit the Earth from the country.

The Hoberman Sphere, hanging from the ceiling inside of the space center, is there to visualize the theory of how the universe is constantly shrinking and expanding. The center is especially popular with families with young kids.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]

To get to Goheung County, go to Central City Terminal in Seocho District and get on a bus to Goheung Bus Terminal. It takes about four hours and 15 minutes to get there. It usually costs 35,800 won for a one-day trip. You can also take an express KTX train down to Suncheon Station and then rent a car to drive for another hour to get to Goheung County. For more information about Goheung County, go to www.goheung.go.kr or call (061) 830-5114.

Since the county’s website isn’t available in English, if you seek assistance in other languages, call 1330, Korea’s tourism hotline, for any kind of travel information. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and offers service in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.