The Japanese Apricot Tree is called maehwa (매화) in Korean, and is grown in Gwangyang county in the Jeollanam-do province for its fruit which can be prepared and eaten or used to make an alcoholic beverage. Not only do they produce fruits, they also produce beautiful flower blossoms every spring. And like beautiful flowers that blossom all over the world, people come to Gwangyang every spring to enjoy looking at them and, in the case of the maehwa, enjoy the special products made from the fruit.
This festival is held at the end of March because it is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring. The weather on the day of my trip to Gwangyang was just a little cool with a lot of sun and blue skies. For those lucky enough to have been there, it was a perfect spring day for a flower festival.
This festival takes place along the banks of a river. The festival grounds are small but include all the standard Korean festival attractions such as a cafeteria food tent, performance stages, festival food tents, snack food venders, and various information booths.
The location of the maehwa trees is a hill on a riverside. As you beginning walking toward the hillside, you will see lots of locals selling products made from the maehwa fruits and some other products such as fermented bean paste (된장) that is made on the hillside as well.
The tree flowers are the main reason I went to the festival, and I wasn’t disappointed. The timing was great not only because of the weather, but also because there were approximately 85% or more of the trees in full bloom. As with all natural events, mother nature is in control.
I along with most of the people casually strolled up the hill through the trees, stopping to take pictures in front of the flowers. A few people I noticed were sitting under a tree eating a snack. I think this is the best way to enjoy this festival. Festival food is generally overpriced, often doesn’t fit your tastes, and must be eaten where you buy it, but packing a picnic means you will spend less money, be sure to eat something you like, and be able to eat it under a beautiful tree. Just don’t forget to bring a plastic mat to sit on.
Other attractions to look for include some observation points, an old Korean house, and a giant storage facility for fermented bean paste jars. Getting to each is pretty easy. All you have to do is follow the crowds and look around.
I recall seeing three observation points located near the tops of the hills that offer a very nice view of the maehwa trees and the surrounding environment. The one with the gazebo was my favorite because you can sit and relax while you enjoy the view. A sign written in Korean asks you to take your shoes off before stepping into the interior of this structure.
The old Korean house you can see there probably isn’t used as a home, but it kinda helps one to step back in time in his mind for a moment. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of remade old style Korean homes, but this one is the only one in the area and actually feels like it fits the environment. Remade homes such as this usually don’t feel authentic to me.
The jars are simply impressive because there are so many, and seeing them left me with many unanswered questions. For example, I wish I had asked someone how long the beans have been in the oldest jars, or if there are other products such as soy sauce (간장) and gochujang (고추장) being made as well.
One thing to note about this festival is that in 2010, this festival and the Gurye Sansuyu Flower Festival were held during the same weekend. Gurye is the county located just north of Gwangyang which means a person could have visited both festivals if they stayed the night in Jeollanam-do. In the future, I recommend seeing if the festivals overlap so that you can enjoy visiting both yourself.
Unfortunately for me, I have Sundays and Mondays off from work and was forced to choose between the two festivals. I did, however, visit Gurye on Monday when the festival was over in order to see the sansuyu flowers anyway. And that will be the topic of my next article.
Sitting at my desk and looking back, the Gwangyang Maehwa Flower Festival is a winner in my book. If this festival and the Gurye Sansuyu Flower Festival are held on the same weekend every year, then I am certain that lovers of nature and Korean festivals will have a great weekend if they visit both. Nevertheless, the Gwangyang Maehwa Flower Festival is good enough on its own to warrant a recommendation from me.