Gwangyang Maehwa Festival

The month of March signals a change in South Korea that seems to breathe life into every corner of the peninsula. The air itself changes and the world seems to come back to life, waking from its cold slumber in brilliant displays of rebirth. Flowers start to bloom, birds return to flight, and festivals celebrating the changing season resume to lure people back into the world after a cold hibernation. While the cherry blossoms of April get the majority of the praise when it comes to Korea’s beautiful spring blossoms, the Maehwa Festival in Hadong comes a month earlier. This festival truly welcomes the warmer months and kicks off the festival season for the year to come.

The plum blossom (maehwa) festival in Hadong is one of the first flower festivals of the year. Located near South Korea’s southern coast, just north of Gwangyang, the climate in this region allows for thawed soil and warmer winds often weeks before the northern provinces emerge from the frigid depths of winter. The cherry blossoms are certainly the most iconic heralds of winter’s end, but the Maehwa Festival is special in that these trees are often the signal of warmth to come. The weather during this festival is often frigid enough to make festival-goers question the wisdom of the plum trees, but the celebratory nature of this event, reveling in the beauty and thankful exodus from the cold months, acts more as a promise from nature that the months to come will be as majestic as the maehwa.

Located along the Hadong River, the sprawling acres of plum trees at this festival are not the only stunning scenery that visitors can enjoy. The entire river valley is dotted by small clumps of newly budded plum trees as well as other signs of the coming spring. The brilliant white flowers of these plum trees may be most concentrated where the festival is held, but the drive into Hadong from the southwest is nearly as majestic as the festival itself.

Lining the winding roads into the area are thousands of the same plum trees awaiting festival participants, which makes the journey almost as spectacular as the festival itself. The winding paths through the plum farm create beautiful landscapes for photographers and nature enthusiasts alike. There are thatch-roof pavilions to rest in, tents filled with food and shopping, musical performances on stage, scenic overlook locations, and enough space to escape the crowds. The Maehwa Festival is not the most popular or largest festival in South Korea, but it might be one of the most welcoming. Its size, atmosphere, and timing combine to make this festival stand out in ways that only visitors to Hadong will understand.

From March 11 to 19, the Gwangyang International Maehwa Festival will be a welcoming sign from nature that spring’s breath of life is present among the trees and animals. This festival is not nearly as popular as some of the other flower festivals in South Korea, but each year it brings the first sign of relief from winter and the atmosphere at the Maehwa Festival is palpable with communal excitement. From the live music and serenity of the plum tree groves to the festival food vendors and handmade crafts made by local artisans, this festival is a true gem. The budding of the maehwa has long signaled Korea’s first rustlings from hibernation, and now is the perfect time to coax yourself out of your warm apartment to enjoy the birth of spring!

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