All dressed in purple, a group of women held long rakes aloft as they walked in a line to a lavender field to do some pruning on an island in the southwestern part of South Korea.
Inspired by their native balloon flower, residents of Banwol and Bakji Islands—known as the “Purple Islands”—have painted their houses, roads and bridges in different shades of the color, and planted purple flowers such as lavender and asters to transform their town into a tourist attraction.
“Old people like us have a secluded life here, since all the young people left the town,” said villager Shin Deok-im, 79, who has lived on Bakji island for more than 60 years. “I’m glad to see young people and kids visiting to see our town. They are all like my grandchildren.”
The tiny, tranquil islands, which have a little over 100 residents, were picked for a tourism project supported by the government.
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Since 2015, Shinan county has invested 4.8 billion won ($4.25 million) to turn the islands purple, including painting more than 28,000 square meters of roofs lilac.
The campaign has drawn over 487,000 people since its official start in 2019, according to the county office.
Restaurants on the islands offer purple rice and serve food on purple plates. Some residents have taken to the purple project with gusto.
To cater to the new waves of tourists, there are a few more amenities on the island, including a cafe, two full-service restaurants (one each on Bakji and Banwol), bike rental services and a small hotel. It takes about six hours to get there from Seoul by bus or private car.
‘I purple you’
“Every morning I dress up in purple from head to toe, even including my underwear and shoes, and that makes me happy,” said 88-year-old resident Jung Soon-shim, who was sitting in a purple gazebo.
Visitors can walk on three purple footbridges connecting the two islands to the larger one near it. There are benches decorated with the “I purple you” slogan made popular by K-pop band BTS member Kim Tae-hyung, more commonly known as V, which means “I trust, love and support you.”
Those wearing purple are even allowed free entry to the islands.
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