The vibe: A design-conscious beach resort surrounded by nature
Location: 152 Taepyeong-ro, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do | View on Google Maps
Loyalty Program: Marriott Bonvoy
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The AFAR take
An hour flight south from Seoul, the tropical South Korean island of Jeju had long been an escape for domestic travelers in search of sun, sand, and nature. That has changed: The April 2023 opening of JW Marriott Jeju Resort & Spa, a design-centric beach resort from the international luxury hotel chain has put the destination on the international traveler’s radar.
Contrasting the resort’s straight-lined exteriors by global architecture powerhouse WATG, Bangkok-based hotel designer Bill Bensley infused interiors with eye-popping yellows (a nod to the canola fields that carpet the island in spring) and dark grays inspired by the basalt stone walls that traditionally hemmed the farms. In typical Bensley fashion, tongue-in-cheek elements abound: Keep an eye out for the faux taxidermy pigeons perched on the Hanok-style eaves in the lobby, and look down the hallways to find silver flying fish dancing along the baseboard molding.
Who’s it for?
With miles of coastal walking trails unfurling from its backyard, the hotel is an ideal base for nature lovers planning to explore Jeju’s natural wonders—waterfalls, volcanic craters, and other-worldly rock formations. Wellness lovers will appreciate the sprawling spa and, soon, the natural hot spring pool in the garden, which is due to open in winter 2023. The resort is family friendly, too: Little ones will enjoy the kids club, which has its own pool and water playground.
The resort teeters on the craggy southern tip of Jeju Island, which means the endless blue sprawl of the East China Sea, and tiny Beomseom Island on the horizon, are on display from almost every part of the resort. Easy-to-walk trails behind the resort lead to cliffside vistas, such as Oedolgae and Hwanguji Seonnyeotang. Jeju’s most notable sights, such as Hallasan Peak and Seongsan Ilchulbong, require a drive, so consider renting a car for the duration of your stay.
With miles of coastal walking trails unfurling from its backyard, the hotel is an ideal base for nature lovers planning to explore Jeju’s natural wonders.
There are 197 guest rooms, and while 28 of them are sold as suites (with separate living rooms or extra beds), even the entry-level rooms offer heaps of space. Whichever floor or type you book, the look and feel is similar: blond wood, pops of tangerine orange and canola flower yellow, and licks of gold. Bathrooms are split in two: the vanity area features two sinks, mirror-covered walls, and tasseled lanterns dangling from the ceiling, while the separate bathing area feels like a miniature jjimjilbang (a Korean bathhouse), thanks to its huge square tub clad in yellow marble. Ground floor rooms and suites lack dazzling views of the sea but make up for it with access to a small private garden and outdoor tub made from hinoki wood.
The food and drink
Jeju is famed for its top-quality produce, and the resort’s four dining outlets highlight it in different ways. From his open kitchen at the Flying Hog, chef Joon Ko draws on island-raised meat (including black pork, Jeju’s culinary claim to fame) and local vegetables for multi-course dinners prepared on a wood-fire grill. Highlights include charred mandarin “burgers” and buttery local hanwoo beef sweetened with a paper-thin layer of dried milk skin.
Seafood harvested by Jeju’s haenyeo (women divers) gets the omakase treatment at Yeoumul restaurant, while marble-floored all-day diner Island Kitchen hits the spot with lobster brunches and truffle-flecked avocado toast. For a pick-me-up between meals, the Lounge offers excellent pastries, playful afternoon tea sets, and signature Jjinn Lattes, an addictive cream and espresso-based concoction made with locally roasted beans.
Staff and service
The service, by a team of young Koreans who moved to Jeju from all around the country, is friendly, assertive, and on the ball. Menus appeared within seconds and water glasses were refilled before I had to ask. From the poolside to the restaurants, staff seem genuinely eager to help guests make the most out of their stay—even through the occasional language barriers with non-Korean speakers like myself.
From the restaurants to the pool, every entrance is created with accessibility in mind. Some of the rooms are adapted with roll-in showers and grab rails, and every floor is accessible via an elevator.
Bensley’s bold interiors aren’t the only thing that will catch your eye. The resort’s Korean owner, an avid collector of contemporary art, has curated an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, and installations by such artists as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst in the public areas. Among them are Daniel Arsham’s eroded Brillo boxes, intricately painted ceramic plates by Korean artist Lee Woo Hwan, and a wall-spanning piece by French painter Laurent Grasso. In the garden, you’ll find a rainbow-hued trio of rocky totems by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, which were commissioned for the resort.