I always end up finding absolute gems of places during the most unexpected and often inopportune (or opportune depending on your point of view) moments of my life. One rainy Saturday afternoon in Okpo, Geoje was no different! On the recommendations of a friend, I braved the weather to visit a cafe called ‘Gukjedang’ or ‘International House’ (국제당).
About a 5-minute walk from ‘Caramella’ (see previous Okpo travel post), this place is a whopping 3-stories tall (4-stories if you include the roof terrace!). I find the outside of the cafe quite appealing in that it has layers. Each floor of the cafe is different from the outside, starting from a brick-walled ground floor, to a smooth grey first floor with a balcony area, the next is a second floor surrounded by full-length windows, and then the roof terrace.
Inside, as you open the door there’s a staircase facing you, a bookshelf on your right, and the more interesting archway on your left, looking more like a decorated tear in the wall than a purposeful doorway.
Given the weather, it was very quiet and so the lovely lady at the counter (who I later found out is called Léa from Lyons, France) offered to give me a tour around the cafe. From her, I learned that the unique archway is actually made from wood collected from Gujora beach (구조라해수욕장) in Geoje! The floor-length mirror by the doorway is also made by harvested beach wood.
I love the idea of recycling natural resources to create such creative, and yet functional, pieces of furniture and decoration.
Another impressive piece of furniture which initially caught my eye was the main table facing the wooden archway. The surface of the table is made entirely of mismatched decorative tiles. I was amazed to find out that this, too, had been handmade by the cafe owners who placed each individual tile onto the wooden table.
As we walked around the cafe, Léa would point out other handmade objects to me, each of them giving the cafe a distinct but subtle character which I found endearing.
I also learned that ‘Gukjedang’ is also partners with the Geoje International Center, and so some of their desserts and treats are actually made by people in the community and sold at the store after being taste-tested to assure their popularity for Korean palates! You can see the origins of the day’s available food, or simply ask a member of staff, by the flags in front of each dessert displayed at the counter.
Their strawberries are also sourced from a farm in Damyang, so be sure to look out for the word ‘Damyang’ on the menu to try out their delicious smoothies and desserts made with the freshest, homegrown produce!
‘Gukjedang’ also holds weekly baking classes every Wednesday from 9:30am – 11:30am, so if you live in or around Geoje and want to make some delicious treats to wow your friends and family, give their classes a try! Every Friday’s the board games make an appearance, so if you and your friends nearby, make a reservation and get your game face on!
If you thought the ground floor was impressive enough, be prepared to be blown away by the first floor. Three words: colour-coded bookshelves. That’s right, the first floor is comprised of a huge wall-length set of bookshelves, in order of colour, and designated seating around the room. I particularly like the leather Chesterfield-esque sofa beside the bookshelves as a nice finishing touch. There are even piles of books on the floor close to the bookshelves, giving this space the personal library touch.
Though, my favourite part of this floor is the rolling library ladder. If I wasn’t dead set on acquiring a library, rolling ladder included, before, I am making it official now! I felt like Belle from the Beauty and the Beast, a bookworm princess!
As well as baking classes, ‘Gukjedang’ has a book club that meets once every month. Anyone is welcome, though the books they read are in English. The cafe also hosts a monthly international party, so go it alone or with friends, and meet up with some cool new people!
Up on the second floor, there’s a small hallway overlooking the nearby buildings and coast courtesy of the floor-length windows. Along the right-hand side of the hallway are two newly-made (at least to my eyes) empty bookshelves, and beside each of them is a smaller, sparse bookshelf. I noticed an electric/digital door lock on both floor-length bookshelves, so naturally I asked Léa about it. She gladly told me that the shelves were actually doors, and this floor was going to be made into a guesthouse with two small rooms where people would be able to stay!
I mentioned that I had never seen digital locks on wooden doors in Korea before and imagined it must have been difficult creating them. As expected, the bookshelf-shaped doors were handmade and when the guesthouse rooms are complete, the plan is to create a secret door by filling the shelves with books, thereby hiding the door locks from view. While that is no longer a secret for you, I’m sure the experience will be well worth it! I for one can’t wait to stay here.
Unfortunately, the rooms are unfinished as of yet and so I was unable to go inside, but I am assured the rooms will be open to guests in the near future!
But, as I wandered from room to room and floor to floor, impressed at everything I came across and incredibly envious of Okpo residents, I found I was waiting in hopes of something.
The ground floor was a haven for lovers of food and drink, with fresh, homemade food available daily. The first floor caters to book lovers and those searching for the perfect Instagram photos! The third, for travellers wanting to stay at a guesthouse with a twist but still with those home comforts of homemade food, good conversation, and a place to wind-down and relax. But, while their indoor rooms were perfect for those in colder months, what about those who wish to bask in the sun during the warmer months?
No worries, this place has you covered!
Directly above the guesthouse is a stairwell leading to the roof terrace. Again, these guys don’t do anything by halves – the roof of the stairwell is made entirely out of glass, and so you get a beautiful view of the sky (weather permitting) as you ascend the stairs. Overhead hangs a grand chandelier. As I looked up at it, I began imagining scenarios to best show it off. On a rainy day, looking up at the sky under the safety of a roof. At night, with the chandelier casting a glow on the reflective glass, catching a glimpse of far away stars. On a summer’s day, with the sun shining through the glass, and the sky flooded with the deepest blues.
Finally, we make our way to the roof terrace. Given the photos were taken during Korea’s monsoon season and days before a typhoon hit the Southern coast, I’m afraid the photos really do it no justice.
The roof terrace is simply perfect for summer – tables and chairs, artificial grass for that home garden vibe, decorative lighting, and even a glimpse of the ocean! I’m told they also have a projector which they have been using to show the 2018 World Cup football games. The cafe also does morning yoga classes every Tuesday from 9am – 10:15am either on the rooftop or, depending on the weather, in the library.
After the tour, it was time to make my order! The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I was intrigued to see how strawberry products sourced from Damyang would taste. I ordered a Damyang strawberry smoothie as well as the raspberry tart. I was not disappointed! The smoothie was fresh and light, good for a humid summer’s day. The tart was a good size, with thin shortcrust pastry and sweetened, plump raspberries in a sweet fruit jam.
I cannot speak highly enough of this place. It’s hard to imagine this place only opened in February!
Whether you are an avid cafe goer, foodie, bookworm, traveller, yoga enthusiast, baker, instagrammer, or just a socialite looking for a place to relax with friends – basically, if you are anyone and everyone, this place has something for you! Don’t believe me, check them out for yourselves: @gukjedang @gukjedangfb and the Geoje International Centre’s page @gic!