Bike’n Hike (VIII): Geumseongsanseong Fortress Wall (담양 금성산성)

Destination:  Geumseongsanseong Fortress Wall (담양 금성산성)
Cycling:  62km
Hiking:  9km

Days: 1

 

 


The original Bike’n Hike trip to the Damyang Fortress Wall was scheduled during a weekend back in January, but it was actually snowed out.   Fast forward a couple seasons and it was finally time to pull the trigger on this one day adventure.  Glad I did because not only was the weather perfect, but the fortress wall itself is way more impressive than I anticipated (or remembered).  To top it off, we stopped at DamJu Brewery (bamboo beer!) on the way home and the owner gave us a private tour of the place and free beers!  Win.Getting to the fortress wall from the house is fairly painless and only takes about 90 minutes.  Disregard what Naver Maps will tell you and avoid road 29 until after you reach “downtown” Damyang.  Instead take road 887…that’s the road our village is on and it’s a much more scenic ride (and considerably less traffic…in fact road 29 south of Damyang is borderline dangerous).  Here’s the cyclemeter link to help with directions.

 

Leaving the village.

 Damyang countryside.

887 will take you into Damyang where you will pick-up 29.  Follow the signs.

Once through Damyang you’ll have Chuwolsan to keep you company (the big rocky mountain).

Chuwolsan.

This is the small farming road you’ll need to turn right onto.  It’s unmarked so check the map.  This will bring you out just north of The Damyang Resort, where the park entrance is.

Just past The Damyang Resort (or just before if you arrive from the other direction) you’ll see this sign pointing to Geumseongsanseong.

Head up the road 2km to the park entrance.

Once you reach the parking lot, you can lock up your bike and get a look at the map.  It’s a pretty simple park, but you still have options.  Basically you will hike up to the “South Gate” and from there you will either take the trail hiking the perimeter of the park, essentially walking along the fortress wall and hitting all the “Gates”, or you will cut through the park via the valley trail and then hike back to the South Gate by using either the east or west mountain fortress wall trails.

I chose to hike down through the valley and back around via the eastern fortress wall trails, only because I had seen a bit of the western half of the park in the past.  Here was my route: 보국문 – 충용문 – 보국사터 – 서문 – 북문 – 운대봉 – 동문 – 내성 – 충용문 – 보국문.  This particular route was 9km in total (~4 hours).

The park isn’t labeled very well in certain areas, at least compared with your average National Park, but it’s difficult to get truly lost because it’s simply not a very big park.  At times we thought we had lost the trail because: A) we were hiking on the fortress wall which just seems wrong considering it’s a billion years old (seriously it was reconstructed in the 1400’s) and B) it was at times pretty dangerous with rocky trails, and steep drop-offs (“This can’t be the trail!”).  Having said that, we were never “lost” for more than a few minutes.

 Hiking into the park.

 First entrance into the fortress wall.  보국문.

Approaching 보국문 from the other side.

The second entrance.  충용문.

충용문.

충용문 from further up the western fortress wall trail.

The view from this second entrance, 충용문, is where you can really start to see how high up you already are.  It was a bit hazy this day, but the views of the valley and surrounding mountains are pretty impressive…and this is only the first kilometer of the hike.  From here you can also see the iconic views of the first entrance, 보국문.  This is pretty much what pops up if you google image search Geumseongsanseong.  Wish I had a better camera!

 보국문.

 보국문.

 보국문.

From here I headed down into the valley and followed the signs toward 서문.   The valley is a quick easy hike, which is good because the next section from 서문 to 복문 was by far the most difficult.  You have to hike back up to the ridge line which is pretty steep.  It’s amazing to see how much of the wall remains intact and hard not to imagine what led them to build and maintain such a massive structure.  Luckily you’ll have plenty of time to think it over because from here you follow the wall all the way up to the ridge line and then all the way back around to where you started.

Damyang Lake.

복문 is a great place to stop, relax and enjoy some makoli because most the climbing is out of the way.  It’s not exactly an easy hike back to your bike, but there aren’t any stairs either.  The views are incredible at this gate as well so it’s a good place to catch your breath and grab a few photos.

복문.

Jojo made it.

This next part of the hike is where it gets a bit dodgy.  It’s rocky with steep drop offs and it’s not always clear where to go.  Seems most of the trails eventually link up whenever they split, but it does help to pay attention during this stretch.  Maybe save the makoli for the end of the hike!  The views are pretty much 360 degrees during this stretch and you can actually climb up to one of the peaks.  It’s pretty intense.

From here you hike back down and pass through the two main gates that brought you into the park.  It’s all downhill back to your bike so it’s quick and painless.  Normally we’d call it a day at this point, but as luck would have it, the DamJu Brewery was on the way home.  I’ve raved about this place in the past and have been anxious to get back there during the warmer months to enjoy that outdoor seating…I couldn’t imagine a better time or circumstance.

Needless to say, this rooftop beer garden is amazing.  The views are extensive and look out over the surrounding rice paddies and mountains.  There were even a bunch of paragliders cruising around over the open countryside right in front of the Brewery.  With all of these healthy distractions it’s easy to forget you still have another 20km to ride!

Two of the three paragliders.

The owners are really friendly and because it was before the dinner service, they joined us for a beer and even showed us around the brewery.

Pretty incredible end to an already fun day.  The ride home from the Brewery is just one road, the 887, so it’s not only difficult to get lost, but it’s also flat.  And it always guarantees nice views!

Tired of fortress walls?  Plenty of other options here.

Restaurant Review: 황가네 (Eco-Park Restaurant)

 


I’ve spent a lot of time at this restaurant over the years so it goes without saying I’m a bit biased and probably couldn’t give an objective review even if I wanted to.  However, judging by the reaction of family and friends I think I’m justified in giving this no-frills restaurant an enthusiastic two thumbs up.This place is well known amongst locals, mostly due to the cheap prices and pungent flavors (seriously the kimche at this place is beyond “fermented”!), but also has it’s fair share of signatures on the wall from visiting local/national celebrities.  Famous or not, this place is packed with customers during mealtimes, mostly ordering the star of the show:  the kimchee jiggae.  The kimchee jiggae (see photo above) is made with the aforementioned “funky” kimchee, but is also chocked full of pork and homemade green tea tofu.  Best 6,000 you’ll ever spend!


The green tea tofu can be ordered on it’s own (comes with dipping sauce) and will usually be served with the ban-chan before your main dish arrives.  It’s fresh.  It’s delicious.  Order some to-go on your way out!


Speaking of ban-chan, the six pictured above are usually what you get…the portions are certainly representative of Jeolla-Do (read: large) and refills often happen whether you ask or not.  The ban-chan (and food for that matter) is definitely on the salty side, but most good Korean food is.  The menu has a few different options, all of which you would expect to find in a place like this, but honestly I never venture far from the kimchee jiggae.  They are accommodating for vegetarians as well, but make sure you ask (everything except the tofu itself has meat and/or seafood in it).

Kimchee Jiggae, Ban-Chan and Green Tea Tofu

 

순두부 지께

Getting there from the house is easy.  Head towards the Eco-Park (take a right on the main road and a left at the gas station) and continuing walking past the park entrance (it should be on your right) for another few minutes.  The restaurant will be on your right and looks like this:

Stop by next time you’re in the area…you won’t regret it!
Looking for something else?  Plenty of other restaurant recommendations can be found here.

Restaurant Review: Hwansun Black Tofu (달맞이 흑두부)

 

 

Black tofu restaurants can be found littered throughout the Korean countryside and the Damyang area is no exception.  Unfortunately I wouldn’t recommend the two I’ve visited in Damyang (the one across from Sosaewon and the one across from Sanggyo both received a thumbs down) and instead will point you in the direction of the DalMatJi Black Tofu Restaurants.

The two I know of, have been to, and would recommend, are in Gwangju (신창동) and Hwansun.  The Hwansun branch is of particulary importance because it’s on road 817 which is a road frequently used by cyclists.  The “beast route” and the route I use to Wolchulsan National Park both use this road.  There is tons of good food along this road, and oddly enough, a plethora of Damyang style galbi restaurants!

The traditional hanok style restaurant is easily visible from the road and will be on your right if you’re headed toward Gwangju.  The decor inside maintains the traditional theme and has seating for groups of just about any size, although it’s limited to floor seating.

 

No surprises on the menu; it offers a variety of tofu dishes as well as bossam (pork) and jeon.  I’ve only eaten the beosut jeonguel (버섯전골), but made sure to make everyone else in the restaurant uncomfortable by staring at their menu choices.  It all looked delicious.

The banchan was small and boring by Jeolla-Do standards, but refill requests were gladly granted.

The mushroom stew (버섯전골), however, was impressive and plentiful.  It only takes a few minutes for the veggies to cook down before it’s ready to eat and if it cooks down too much you can simply ask for more broth (called 육수).

It’s not the cheapest lunch option around, but well worth the price for the quality and quantity that you’re given.  Not to mention it’s a beautiful restaurant and a fun place to take visitors or stop by while you’re out exploring the countryside.  Enjoy!

Looking for a bit more meat in your diet?  Plenty of other restaurant suggestions can be found here

Restaurant Review: Eco-Park Restaurant – 엄마손맛집 (Mom’s Food)

 

 

 

This little gem of a restaurant has been sitting under our nose for the last year and a half, and for one reason or another we never walked through the doors and sat down for a meal.  Thankfully a day out with the Gwangju Birds Korea Group put this place on our radar and we’ve been back multiple times since.

The restaurant is located directly in front of the parking lot entrance for the Gwangju Lake Eco-Park.  Here’s the google map.


Upon entering it’s pretty clear chunggukjang (청국장) is the star of the show at this spot.  If you’ve never had it, it stinks…in a good way.  The interior is small, but that’s understandable considering the entire operation is run by an adorable elderly Korean couple.  The 할아버지 (grandpa) runs the front of the house and the 할머니 (grandma) cooks the food.  They’re both ultra friendly and a little Korean and a smile goes a long way in a place like this.

 

 


The menu is simple and reflective of the location by offering some true Korean countryside classics.

 

Menu

The steamed chicken (백숙) is served EVERYWHERE around here and I can almost guarantee I know a better place to get it (남향가든 just around the corner) so stick with the cheaper (and faster!) menu items.  The zucchini stew (애호박찌개) isn’t shy with either the zucchini or the pork and uses the 닭도리탕 broth (a bit on the sweet side).  It’s delicious, but the Chunggukjang (청국장) is much better in my opinion.  It’s the real deal.

애호박찌개

 청국장 (to be fair this was take-out)

The Seafood Jeon (해물파전) is the unsung hero of this place.  It’s amazing.  Better than the soups.  Better than most of the Jeon around Damyang.  This is what my friends originally recommended and for good reason.

 

해물파전

                                

해물파전

해물파전

Additionally, if you’re a fan of Korean food and strong flavor, you’ll love the banchan at this place and similar places around the neighborhood.  They’re made with local ingredients, in-house, with pride and without short-cuts.  Restaurants in North America would advertise this to ad-nausea, but around here it’s just what’s expected.  Those massive re-purposed water jugs behind you with fermenting locally-grown garlic?  They’ll be on your table in a few weeks.  The owners were making the dried anchovy banchan when we arrived and were so proud of it they gave us a healthy portion to take home when we left. Amazing.

Garlic

반찬

반찬

 Looks like Kalguksu (칼국수) takes center stage during the warmer months, but personally I’ll be returning for the makoli and pajeon!


Not interested in locally grown food cooked with care?  Here’s a few more options you proably wont’ like.

Restaurant Review: DamJu Brewery (담주브로이)

To learn that bamboo beers exists in this world and I didn’t know about it was a bit heartbreaking.  To learn said beer is being made locally and I’ve cycled within a 100 meters of the brewery at least a dozen times was absolutely soul crushing. What other bamboo themed treasures am I missing out on?

I ended up here with some of Damyang’s hardest working civil servants in order to celebrate both the end of the week and the end of our six-month long study group.  The “bamboo beer brewery” was casually mentioned as a place to host our celebration.  Mind blown.

The beer is made with actual bamboo leaves (or so says the owner), but let’s face it, it tastes nothing like bamboo.  The novelty factor is off the charts though so I was instantly sold on the concept.  You have your choice between a Weizen and a Dunkel.  I was partial to the Dunkel, but can definitely see myself enjoying a few thousand Weizens on the rooftop patio (!!!) next summer.

UPDATE:  I did in fact come back in the warmer months…the beer garden is indeed amazing!



Paragliders over the rice paddies

The food is the typical anju-ish stuff you would expect (don-katsu, salad bar, fried chicken, etc) except for two surprises: bamboo shoot sausage and bamboo shoot ddeok-galbi.  I’ve raved about the sausages before, not realizing where they came from.  The ddeok-galbi is so-so and the fried chicken was blasphemous.  I wouldn’t wander too far from the sausages and the don-katsu, by far the best two things on the menu.


As we were finishing up our meal I asked the owner if they offered take-out beers, like any good brewery does, and sure enough they do!  10,000won per bottle (1000ml).  They also sell the bamboo sausages and ddeok-galbi.


The biggest drawback to this place is the location.  It’s not really near anything notable and is just outside “downtown” Damyang.  You’ll certainly need to call a driver or get a taxi after your visit and it’s not cheap to get anyway from here.  Your best bet is to wait until spring, hop on your bike, and enjoy the countryside views to and from the brewery.

The owner’s wife is an absolute angel and deserves special recognition.  Turns out she is a childhood friend of the chairman of our village and immediately called him once she found out where we lived.  This small coincidence made us instant BFFs and translated into copious amounts of “service”!  Free sausages and booze for everyone.  She even sat down with us and had a couple of beers at the end of the night.  Pretty awesome.

UPDATE:  So we’ve been back a few times since this orginal post and the owners have been very generous every time.  Our last visit they even gave us a tour of the brewery.  It’s impressive for the middle of Damyang…lots of expensive imported German brewing equipment!


Don’t like beer?  Plenty of other restaurant suggestions can be found here.

Restaurant Review: Daega (대가 – 생선구이)

Daega is another popular “destination restaurant” for both domestic tourists and Gwangju day-trippers alike.  It’s situated directly across from the Gwangju dam and it checks all the right boxes by being comparatively cheap, serving local specialties and having a somewhat quirky “traditional” interior design.  Even during the winter months, when everything else is dead, this place is thriving on the weekends with a packed parking lot and a full restaurant.

 

Even if you don’t like grilled fish (looking at you dad), this place is just straight up fun to be in.  Walking through the big wooden front doors, you’re greeted with a large open restaurant offering floor seating, table seating and a few private rooms in the back.  There’s tons of traditional kitsch around to keep your eyes occupied while your stomach waits for your food to arrive.  They even have a water-way built into the floor with goldfish swimming around!

The menu has a few options, depending on the size of your group, but it’s basically your choice of grilled fish with or without ddeok galbi.  Don’t sleep on the ddeok galbi…it’s better than most (all) of the Damyang restaurants specializing in this tasty local treat.  The set menus toward the top will give you a mix of different fish, ddeok galbi and the dolsot rice.

The banchan will arrive first, of course, and while it doesn’t look like much they are extremely friendly about refilling the dishes you like, especially if you catch them before the lunch/dinner rush.  The kimche is at least a million years old and is phenomenal…refills are a must.

Next out is the dolsot bap.  If you’ve never had it before, it’s basically two dishes in one:  rice and 누룽지 (I’m not even going to try and spell that in English).  Simply scoop out your rice into the separate rice bowl (not pictured).  Don’t scrape too hard because the crispy burnt pieces stuck in the bowl is what makes your 누룽지.  Next, fill the stone bowl with the barely tea from the pitcher on your table and put it aside until the end of the meal.  During the time it takes you to eat everything else, this burnt rice and barely tea will turn into a delicious after dinner porridge.

Shortly after you’ve dealt with your dolsot bap, the fish and ddeok galbi will arrive.  The type of fish will vary depending on which set menu you choose, but it’s all delicious!  If you’ve been in Korea longer than five minutes you probably know the fish comes out whole…you’ve been warned.

  

Here’s what the entire spread looks like:

 


For dessert you have a choice of coffee, shikhye or do-it-yourself ice cream cones.   Or you can do yourself a favor and skip the crappy dessert and order another round of OB and a few more of those tasty ddeok galbi paddies!

죽순 소시지 (Bamboo Shoot Sausage)

죽순 소시지 (Bamboo Shoot Sausage)
6km down the road (at the 고서 intersection) there is an appropriately named grocery store called ‘Local Food’ offering all the best and freshest foods the local farmers have to offer.  Bamboo alcohol, free range eggs and volume 10 kimches and namuls are all standard goods for sale.  The bamboo shoot sausage however, isn’t something I’ve seen before and honestly bought strictly for the novelty of the photo.  
The novelty obviously stemming from the fact that bamboo is EVERYWHERE around Damyang and the locals try their best to exploit it in every way possible.  These particular bamboo shoots (죽순) are no joke though…they’re expensive and people come from all over to try and poach them from the local forests.  I “chased off” at least two poachers this summer from our front yard.  They also grow extremely fast so you have to pick them at the right time.  This photo shows a bamboo shoot that grew 230cm in a week!
I clearly misjudged the sausage though.  They were delicious.  And as someone that routinely makes sausage, I can honestly say there were made by someone who knows what they are doing (natural casing and all).  At 7,500 for five they’re definitely pricier than what they have at the nearest Home Plus, but worth every won.