MUMOK, museum of modern art, Vienna

WINTER CITY ESCAPES

Published: 06 Nov 2021
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Great design, art and culture – and an amazing hotel to check in to. These five destinations have everything you need for a short break when the weather turns chilly

Vienna

Vienna is Europe’s foremost design city in many ways. Scandi cities do their thing but Vienna’s solidity and risk-taking give it the edge. Its annual Design Week and Waves Music Festival attracts many cultural tourists, ditto its many museums such as MUMOK (www.mumok.at) and The Architecture Centre (azw.at/en). Then there are the buildings by Zaha Hadid and Otto Wagner, the Kunsthaus, the transgressive art of Klimt and boutiques and neighbourhood markets that make the senses sing. The Gratzhotel/ Urbanauts collective transforms old shops into apartments you can stay in – they are beautiful endeavours. Public housing such as Karl Marx Hof and Alterlaa is extraordinary and who could miss a visit to the American Bar by Adolf Loos (www.loosbar.at).

Where to stay:

Quite simply one of Europe’s best hotels, period. The Guesthouse mixes effortless hospitality with warmth, professionalism and stylishness. Where to begin with what it does right? The interiors by Sir Terence Conran are homely yet aspirational: the window nooks you can sit in and browse books while overlooking Albertinaplatz are unique and fun. High-quality finishes abound and mid-century modernism pairs with luxury touches. The bakery and bistro offer breakfast until (yes) 11 pm and also serves a remarkable schnitzel in exquisite surroundings. The location cannot be beaten – right across from the Albertina Gallery. All in all an experience to cherish.

theguesthouse.at/en

Berlin

Berlin is, of course, celebrating the Bauhaus Centenary year with various special events and Dessau, home of the new Bauhaus Museum (www.bauhaus-dessau.de/en), is just a short train ride away from the German capital. On the outskirts of Berlin the new E Werke gallery (ewerk.net/en/) has opened in the dormitory city of Luckenwalde. This former power station has been transformed, Tate Modern-style, into a brand new capacious art museum. Berlin’s weirdest new piece of design is the resurrection of the former Berlin Palace – demolished in GDR days and replaced with the Peoples’ Palace. A renovation of the building sees a copy of the original 18th-century architecture fused with modern design to create a new home for the Humboldt University’s art collections (humboldtforum.org/en). And of course, there are plenty of Teutonic Christmas markets dishing up steaming gluhwein.

Where to stay:

Provocateur. In the city that never sleeps (or keeps its clothes on) Provocateur shamelessly sets itself out as a place for pure indulgence. Its rooms have a USP we’ve never seen anywhere else in the world: push a secret button and a cinema projector whirrs into life, shooting a raunchy video over one of the walls. Dark woods and plenty of plum and cherry mark out the lip-smacking interior design by Amsterdam’s Saar Zafrir. The hotel is a project of Gekko Group, which run some of Germany’s sleekest art hotels such as Roomers in Frankfurt and Baden Baden, and also a member of Design Hotels. The inhouse Golden Phoenix Restaurant is a model of low lit pleasure too; you can order a Berlin Breakfast – vodka, coffee and cigarette – from the menu. www.provocateur-hotel.com

YEREVAN

Armenia’s capital is where the cognoscenti are starting to head for a design fix in an up and coming city that’s as exotic as it is intriguing. Events such as Fashion Forum, stores such as Kare (https://www.kare-design.com) and new design hotels are bolstering this reputation. The Cascades is one of the monuments of the rapidly changing city – a vertically stepped museum complex housing the Cafesjian Art Centre (www.cmf.am) and alfresco sculptures by Barry Flanagan, Peter Woytuk and Fernando Botero. Tufenkian Carpets (www.tufenkian.com/pages/tufenkian-yerevan) weaves and sells authentic Armenian carpets, which are so much more than just a domestic floor covering, but more of a symbol of the culture of the entire country and a reminder of its unique history.

Where to stay:

Yerevan’s first luxury boutique hotel, The Alexander, aims to transform tourism in the city and attract design-conscious global guests. Part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection of top end independent hotels, it features opulent interiors by Alexander James International and wall coverings by Newmor. Mixing traditional motifs with a spacey aesthetic, the 114-room hotel also boasts a top floor members’ club and several restaurants and is located in the heart of the historic city. thealexanderyerevan.com

The Alexander hotel
Copyright 2018 Matthew Shaw

HELSINKI

The Finnish capital makes the most of its almost complete darkness in winter by lighting up with an innovative light art festival, Lux (www.luxhelsinki.fi/en/) in January. It’s a far cry from those terrible son et Lumiere rip-off events that have spread worldwide. Instead, decent artists are given free rein to make video, sculpture, technologically-inspired work and projections that sprout around Finland’s capital and bring light to the darkness. By day you might want to visit the Marimekko HQ (Mikonkatu in the Galleria Esplanad mall) to pick up a bargain in the factory shop and stop for a bargain lunch in their canteen. Or warm up in the architecturally inspiring Loyly spa and sauna – brave souls can take a dip on the Baltic after sweating in the sauna. (loylyhelsinki.fi)

Where to stay:

Replete with Ai Weiwei artworks and a scandalously minimalist aesthetic, the most noticeable trick about the St George is actually the pastel-coloured rooms, a look that does not turn up every day. Architecturally transformed from an old office building in central Helsinki by Arkval Architech Oy and with those insouciant interiors by Swedes Stylt Trampoli, the hotel also boasts a hipster cafe where you can pick up a flat white and take out sando (Japanese-style sandwich) in lieu of a gross breakfast buffet plus a shop run by magazine Monocle in the basement. www.stgeorgehelsinki.com

TIRANA

Behind the Iron Curtain until 1990, Albania’s capital is an intriguing affair with Communist oddities rubbing shoulders with exotic architecture from Ottoman times. The derelict pyramid in the centre, a folly by the dictator Hoxha, is going to be resurrected as a new cultural centre. The city’s main square has recently been remodelled and traffic reduced. All over the city new design elements are coming in under a master plan by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, to green and clean this sprawling and creaking metropolis. A city to wander around, rug up and stroll the streets, taking in the buildings painted in primary colours as well as the squares and gardens including Parku Rinia, home to the famous ‘I Love Tirana’ sign. For art and history head to Bunk Art and Bunk Art2, concrete bunkers that have been transformed into exhibition and event spaces (bunkart.al). The National History Museum is the country’s largest museum, filled with archaeological treasures, some dating back to ancient Greek and Roman times, as well as those about the country’s more recent history. 

Where to stay:

Standing out against the mountainous background that encircles Tirana, the heft of The Plaza – a true skyscraper in a city with few – is offset by a lightness of touch in the design by Brussels architects 51N4E, who have also left their mark with other modern buildings in the Albanian capital. Angles are played with as slabs twist-off centre and the whole building has an asymmetric form. Its massing could have been badly handled like – sadly – much post-communist ‘capitalist architecture’, but here the trick is pulled off. Luxurious autumnal interiors have an Italian touch – Mauro Margheri, Alessandro Dolci, Camilla Lapucci and Lapo Bianchi Luci were all involved in their creation. www.plazatirana.com