I arrive at Seoul’s Incheon airport at dusk after two weeks traversing Tokyo and Okinawa on a business trip. I am mentally and physically exhausted, desperate to enjoy the comforts of a reliable, five-star property after several nights in small, but perfectly formed, functional hotels.
Blonde marble and dark wood interiors give way to a spacious, modern, comfortable room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Songdo’s version of Central Park. Really, the park is a carbon copy, albeit a slightly smaller one, of New York’s most famous green space. Pedal boats and water taxis are illuminated with fibre optic lighting. To the right, skyscrapers that populate this ‘smart’ city’s international business district are lit in changing colours that create a vision of the future.
Songdo is regularly held up as a model city of the future, an example of an aerotropolis: a city built around an airport. Forty miles from Seoul, Songdo is less than eight miles from Incheon International Airport and covers 1500 acres of reclaimed land. The city, within Incheon’s free economic zone, and with a working port, has been developed to attract multi-national corporations and industry for its proximity to the airport, in hopes of creating a gateway to northeast Asia.
Residents occupy high-tech, LEED apartments, schools, office buildings, and shops. Jack Nicklaus has set up a golf course. A European-style canal walk adorned with sculptures runs the length of a shopping arcade and a handful of buildings.
The best views of Songdo’s landscape are to be found in the Sheraton’s club lounge.
It’s a race against Mother Nature to grab a seat facing a walled window to catch the sun setting, but I’ve won. The sight is enough to clear away the stresses of work travel. The food in the lounge is refreshingly healthy with things like crudite and hummus or tomatoes and mozzarella in the evening and omelettes made to order in the morning with fruit and a few other usual suspects.
The hotel’s location means most of the business district is walkable, with a Lotte store and independent cafes and restaurants across the road.
High ceilings and more windows encompass the well kitted out gym and a 20-metre pool perfectly built for lap, as well as leisure swimmers.
The city of Songdo is worth a visit for those interested in sustainable cities and architecture; it’s proximity to Incheon makes it ultra-efficient as a stop-over. The Sheraton Grand’s presence in the heart of this new urban development makes it easily accessible.