Although Europeans have been in Seoul for centuries — historically in Myeongdong (명동) — a portion of the Banpodong (반포동) district became a notable hub for French expats starting in 1981 when the Lycée Français de Séoul — the only licensed French language school in the city — moved to the area. French speakers with children found it convenient to live nearby; and the neighborhood gradually became more French as cafes, restaurants, grocery stores, clothing shops and more popped up to cater to the local population. In 2006, in honor of the French community, a modest park was created on a hill in the neighborhood and officially named Montmartre Park (몽마르트 공원) after Montmartre in Paris.
Since that time, the entire neighborhood may have been referred to as "Little Montmartre" — or at least "Little Paris" or "Little France" — from time-to-time, but it is more commonly called Seorae Village (서래마을) after its primary street, Seorae-ro 1-gil (서래로1길).
Seorae Village has long been considered an "off the beaten path" attraction by the Korean media and the city of Seoul itself, but it had yet to have a single mention on the big tourist advisory sites or to be flagged as a tourist attraction on the world's search engine at the time we first wrote this piece. Accordingly, travelgasm.com considers it to be a worthwhile addition to our collection of "7 Things Tourists Don't Do in Seoul, but You Should."
Structurally, Seorae-ro 1-gil essentially is identical to Garosu-gil (가로수길) in Gangnam (강남구). They're both small scale streets flanked by sidewalks shaded with attractive Ginkgo trees. Unfortunately, the side alleys in both areas tend to be narrow, often grimy, and force people and cars to compete for space, but the primary streets are pleasant.
If you pay attention to details, you first may notice that the street sign for Seorae-ro 1-gil has the French "Rue Seorae 1" in the lower right hand corner, a quiet notice that this street is unique in Seoul. As you progress further, you will notice French flags on lamp posts, the French language on businesses, and most likely some French people as you get closer to the school.
If you expect Seorae Village to resemble Montmartre you will be disappointed because the buildings are not French. The buildings in Seorae Village are much more modern and generally lack architectural distinction, but the architecture in Chinatown in Paris isn't Chinese either. It's the businesses and the people in the neighborhood that give Seorae Village its charm rather than its architecture.
Seorae Village doesn't have any official tourist attractions, but it is a particularly good destination for breakfast from a bakery or a leisurely French lunch or dinner. On our visits, we enjoyed a basic French-inspired lunch at the attractive Cafe O'Fête chain and the cute local Juliette for a French dessert tart. If you don't mind paying Parisian prices, there also are some beautiful Michelin-recommended French restaurants in the area like July and Soigné that no doubt are lovely.
We've mapped out the best route to Seorae Village from Terminal Express Bus Metro Station below via the Famille Station Mall (파미에스테이션), a hike and bike trail, and people-only bridges. The walk could be better, but if you stick to this route, you can minimize the time that you have to spend contending with large, unpleasant streets in the area.
How to Get Here: Take the Orange Line (Line 3), Olive Green Line (Line 7), or Light Brown Line (Line 9) to Express Bus Terminal Station. Head toward Exit 5 and Exit 6, but rather than following the directional signs the full distance, turn right into the Famille Station Mall (파미에스테이션) and make an immediate left through the corridor of restaurants. Exit 5 is at the end of the corridor. If you pop out onto a hike and bike trail with a small canal on the left, you found the correct exit. If you end up in a carpark, as we did on our first visit, that's Exit 6, and you will need to turn around and try again (the mall will be to your left from that direction). From the hike and bike trail, go straight until you reach the people bridges to your left to cross the canal and the large Sapyeong-daero (사평대로) street.
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