52 Dream Destinations: Culture

See Cornwall's take on the Tate, Abu Dhabi's adaptation of the Louvre or Egypt's long-awaited billion-dollar archaeological museum - or stay in a coal-crane turned industrial-luxe retreat in Copenhagen: a round-up of the latest inspo-rich locations.



European Capital of Culture 2018

THE EXPERIENCE: This baroque city sits on an impregnable peninsula high above the seas. As European Capital of Culture for 2018, it has a program that includes open-air opera in a theatre left as a ruin since World War II, poetry, and live music in a vaulted cellar dubbed the Beer Cave – one of Valletta's many underground spaces. 

Forgotten architectural treasures are also being regenerated for the festivities, including the covered market Is-Suq l-Antik tal-Belt (the name reveals Malta's Arab history) and the old civil abattoir (il-Biccerija), a home for the Valletta Design Cluster. Narrow Strait Street, once rammed with rollicking sailors, is now a hipster hangout, and there are some splendid restaurants in the alleys around the 16th-century Grand Master's Palace. 

Just outside the city gates, the five-star Phoenicia – Valletta's grande dame hotel – has been refurbished. Its deco-ish lines have been spruced up but there is still the elegant, circular Palm Court, harbour views and the only heated outdoor hotel pool in the area. 

IDEAL FOR: Rocky Malta is short on beaches – the best are an hour or so away across the island – so it's a better for a romantic affair than a family holiday.

PRICE: Rooms at the Phoenicia hotel are priced from €300; campbellgrayhotels.com. See visitmalta.com and valletta2018.org for more about the city.


LIKE THIS? Try the Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art in Belgium.


Fondation Carmignac 


THE EXPERIENCE: One of the French Mediterranean's aptly nicknamed Golden Islands, Porquerolles is home to the villa and sculpture gardens of collector Edouard Carmignac, who had an eye for postwar American artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein.  

This private estate and 300 artworks opens to the public in June, though is limited to 50 people every half-hour, so make a reservation. The seven-kilometrelong pine-scented island is a national park just a 15-minute boat ride from the Riviera resort of Hyeres. It boasts secluded coves and plenty of seafood restaurants: try Le Pelagos or the Michelin-starred L'Olivier.

IDEAL FOR: Beach bums, foodies, yachties and art aficionados.

PRICE: Rooms at La Mas du Langoustier cost from €193; langoustier.com.


LIKE THIS? Lamu island off the Kenyan coast hosts a painters' festival every other year. Artists such as Anish Kapoor and Marina Abramovic head to the artists' retreat at the Factory.

The Krane.

The Krane. Photo: Rasmus Hjortsh


The Krane

THE EXPERIENCE: A tremendous design ethos permeates everyday life in Denmark. Epitomising this is the Krane, a luxurious one-bedroom, two-person retreat housed in a decommissioned 1944 coal crane on Copenhagen's northern harbour, Nordharvn. 

Architect Mads Moller and developer Klaus Kastbjerg have created high-end industrial luxury that engages with the harbour, sky and expansive views, which extend as far as Sweden on clear days.

The black-stained Dinesen timber-clad interior is complemented with bespoke pieces of furniture: the leathercovered daybed, in what was once the operating cabin, for example.

The Krane is just a short drive from The Design Museum in the city centre, and from there it's a 20-minute stroll to contemporary Danish design store Normann Copenhagen.

IDEAL FOR: Design-conscious couples who don't mind expensive, unusual digs.

PRICE: €2500; thekrane.dk.


LIKE THIS? Try Big Ski, Copenhagen. ARC, the city's new waste-converting power plant, will not just be the world's most efficient, it will feature a ski slope on the roof and a climbing wall, with even more leisure facilities surrounding it. Opening in the northern summer; a-r-c.dk.

Tate St Ives in Cornwall.

Tate St Ives in Cornwall. Photo: supplied


Tate St Ives

THE EXPERIENCE: One of the country's prettiest fishing villages, St Ives has been an artists' colony for more than a century, attracting the greats of English modernism and the Bloomsbury set. Sculptor Barbara Hepworth's garden and studio are an art-packed oasis and potter Bernard Leach's atmospheric studio is also a must. 

Tate St Ives, the Cornish outpost of the London gallery, reopened last year after an expansion that allows for more local artists to be shown, as well as an elegant concrete bunker built into the cliff for contemporary shows. 

Sandy beaches and trinket shopping make St Ives a tourist all-rounder, but if you want nightlife head to Newquay, just up the coast. Beware massive seagulls that steal chips from your hand and might, perhaps, make off with a small child.

IDEAL FOR: Literary travellers and art enthusiasts.

PRICE: £10.50/£9.40; tate.org.uk/visit/tate-st-ives.


LIKE THIS? Check out Scotland's V&A opening in Dundee in September; vandadundee.org.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo: Alamy



Louvre Abu Dhabi

THE EXPERIENCE: You could wander through the Louvre Abu Dhabi's collection simply admiring the masterpieces. But if you're up for more than that, this museum, which opened late last year, challenges with intriguing juxtapositions across civilisations and cultures. The United Arab Emirates paid €400 million to lease the Louvre name for 30 years. 

While the collection features few nudes – modest behaviour and dress is part of life in the UAE – there are major drawcards such as Ai Weiwei's spiralling Fountain of Light and Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci. The latter cost $US450 million and is the world's most expensive painting. 

For many, the Abu Dhabi Louvre's architecture, by the Pritzker Prize-winner Jean Nouvel, almost outshines the collection. A highlight for visitors is emerging from the final gallery to stand beneath the eight-layered dome, absorbing its dappled "rain of light" effect. 

IDEAL FOR: Art lovers.

PRICE: Louvre admission is AED60 for those 23 and over; AED30 for those 13-22, and free for those under 12; louvreabudhabi.ae


LIKE THIS?  Visit the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital for a fascinating peek into Arabic falconry; falconhospital.com.

Qatar's cultural crown jewel, the Museum of Islamic Art.

Qatar's cultural crown jewel, the Museum of Islamic Art. Photo: Shutterstock


Museum of Islamic Art

THE EXPERIENCE: Qatar's cultural crown jewel, this world-class collection charts the flowering of Islamic art and culture from three continents over 1400 years. 

Designed by I.M. Pei and set on an artificial island, this cubist museum evokes Middle Eastern and Islamic architectural forms from pyramid to mountain fortress. It is crowned with two almond-eye vents in a nod to the slits in the women's niqab, still common on the streets of the Qatari capital. Inside is a grand atrium which draws the eye upwards to a faceted modernist muqarna, the honeycomb vault perfected by Islamic architects, and on the far side an immense window frames the Doha skyline. 

In contrast to the soaring atrium, the galleries radiating from it are intimate and accented with glowing light. Paintings, jewellery, ceramics, manuscripts, textiles and weaponry are sparingly arrayed in glass cabinets. Among the highlights are a necklace that belonged to Shah Jahan, who built India's Taj Mahal, and a circle of diamonds that makes the Crown Jewels pale in comparison. 

As a counterpoint to this display, visit nearby Souq Waqif – where locals buy spices and honey from – followed by mezzes at the open-air restaurants and a puff on the sheeshah pipe.

IDEAL FOR: Families and stopovers.

PRICE: Free; mia.org.qa.


LIKE THIS? Katara Cultural Village is Doha's centre for the arts; katara.net.

The Rice Field
by Ilya & Emilia
Kabukov at the

"The Rice Field" by Ilya & Emilia Kabukov at the Echigo-Tsumani Triennale. 


JAPAN (various venues between Tokyo and Niigata)

7th Echigo-Tsumari Triennale

THE EXPERIENCE: From July 29 to September 17, the mountainous regions between Tokyo and Niigata will be hosting the most spacious contemporary art show in the world, with more than 160 artworks across 760 square kilometres. Visitors should choose a highlights tour, which includes new works and the most important permanent installations from previous Triennales. 

The event was conceived in 2000 as a way of using art to revitalise an area that was rapidly depopulating. Abandoned houses, barns, schools and other buildings have since been transformed into installations by leading international artists such as Christian Boltanski and James Turrell. The installations are cared for by villagers. 

Australia has its own "Australia House" for visiting artists. The quality of the art and the intense community involvement makes this a unique, touching experience. 

IDEAL FOR: All comers, but be warned: there is a lot of distance to cover, and it's hot and humid at that time of the year. 

PRICE: A ticket, with a special "passport", costs ¥3500 for adults, ¥3000 for students; children under 15 are free. Book early; echigo-tsumari.jp.


LIKE THIS? Try Point Leo Estate sculpture park on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula; ptleoestate.com.au.

walk through
Vocabulary of
Solitude by Ugo
Rondinone at
the 2017 Miami
Art Week.

Onlookers walk through part of Ugo Rondinone's installation, "Vocabulary of Solitude", at Miami Beach's Bass Museum.



Art Basel Miami Beach

THE EXPERIENCE: From December 6 to 9, the international art crowd descends on Florida for one of the world's largest displays of contemporary and modern art. It's an intensely commercial affair, but for those who prefer to look rather than buy, there's an extensive program of free displays, talks, performances and films. Every year sees a greater range of satellite shows encompassing the galleries that didn't manage to be included in the 250 that make up the main exhibition, held at the Miami Beach Convention Centre. 

Miami Beach is one of the three major fairs run by the Art Basel group, along with Hong Kong (March 29-31) and Basel (June 14-17). The diehard collectors go to all three, as each fair has a different character, reflecting its geographical location. Miami, as might be expected, has the greatest range from the United States and Latin America. 

On average, the fair includes works by more than 4000 artists, from established to emerging stars.

IDEAL FOR: Well-heeled collectors who want to sample the very latest the galleries have to offer.

PRICE: There will be a nominal entrance fee; artbasel.com/miami-beach.


LIKE THIS? Before Miami Beach the leading American art fair was Expo Chicago, which is still held every year, attracting international exhibitors. This year's show runs from September 27-30 at Chicago's Navy Pier.

The Royal
Mansour hotel in

The Royal Mansour hotel in Marrakesh. Photo: supplied



Musée Yves Saint Laurent

THE EXPERIENCE: Marrakesh was the bolt-hole to which Yves Saint Laurent retreated for peace and inspiration. The fashion designer and his partner rescued the exotic Majorelle Garden from oblivion and now a new museum has been built adjacent to it, celebrating his life and work as well as operating as a cultural centre. 

Opened around the same time as a smaller YSL museum in Paris, the Marrakesh branch is infinitely superior and housed in a bristling brick building by architects Studio KO. The street outside is the location for some of the city's most stylish contemporary craft stores. 

There are more than 1000 riads (courtyard houses) in the city where you can stay, ranging from the stonkingly expensive Royal Mansour to stylish budget hostels with dorm rooms. Somewhere in between is Le Riad Berbere, a 17th-century pile in the medina, restored by a Belgian architect. It has a plant-filled courtyard with a pool.

IDEAL FOR: Fashionistas and those who feel the need for a break from the mayhem and touts of the Medina souks.

PRICE: It costs about $14 for admission to the YSL museum; museeyslmarrakech.com. Rooms at Le Riad Berbere are available from $135 with breakfast; leriadberbere.com.


LIKE THIS? Try Fez, Morocco's cultural capital, where the eighth-century Fez el-Bali medina has undergone extensive restoration. Alternatively, Les Rhumbs, on France's Normandy coast at Granville, is a mansion that was the childhood home of Christian Dior. It's now a museum, with a fragrant garden celebrating the couture house's perfumes; musee-dior-granville.com.


Grand Egyptian Museum

THE EXPERIENCE: A decade and a half after Egypt announced its intention to create the world's largest archaeological museum, the $US1 billion Grand Egyptian Museum is fi nally set to open, partially, by the end of this year. Located on the Giza plateau near the pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, the eye-catching design by Irish architects Heneghan Peng includes a translucent facade made of alabaster, soaring stone walls inspired by ancient Egyptian temples, and panoramic views of the pyramids. And that's before you even get to the exhibits, which will include all 5000 pieces from the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, displayed together for the first time. 

It's not all about Tut, however. The museum will exhibit a total of 50,000 objects, 30,000 of which have never been displayed before. Among the most impressive installations will be the Grand Staircase, where all of the kings of Egypt will be represented chronologically, either in relief or by a statue.  

In a country overloaded with ancient artefacts, the museum will fi nally allow some of Egypt's ancient treasures the chance to shine. Central Cairo's notoriously overcrowded Egyptian Museum, where some of Tutankhamun's treasure is currently on show, will also benefit from the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum, as it will have more room to display its many priceless objects.

IDEAL FOR: Ancient history and archaeology buffs.

PRICE: Not yet announced; gem.gov.eg.


LIKE THIS? Consider Scenic's 11-day Treasures of Egypt tour at $8995 a person; scenic.com.au.

Josephine Ridge.

Josephine Ridge. Photo: Katherine Holland


JOSEPHINE RIDGE, artistic director, Luminato Festival, Toronto

Favourite holiday activity? One of my greatest luxuries is to read for hours and for there to be no agenda attached to which book I choose. The other luxury is not having to set the alarm to wake up in the morning.

Preferred reading material? I like printed books and prefer a hardback with nice paper, so it feels good to hold. This creates a considerable space dilemma in my suitcase!

Cook in or dine out? I love cooking and some of my favourite holidays have been in a house with a good kitchen. It's even better if you are in a place with great markets. However, if I am staying in a hotel, I will always want to explore the restaurants nearby to experience more of what the destination has to offer. I never order room service.

Favourite travel gadget? My only gadget is my phone. I'm always operating in multiple time zones, so the world clock is essential.

On the plane: to drink or not to drink? My time in the air is down time and that means a glass of wine with my meals.

Worst holiday? I can't remember one.

Favourite travel hack? I hate ironing and my years working with touring companies taught me a trick: pack your clothes on hangers in dry-cleaning bags.


This article 52 Dream Destinations: Culture was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.