For those looking to cross new travel destinations off the bucket list, here’s a look at three Western European destinations. They may be slightly off the beaten path, but offer exceptional experiences.
With media and television as some of the city’s biggest industries, Cologne, Germany, should not be overlooked by its larger siblings (Berlin, Hamburg and Munich) as a creative hub. Italian perfumer Johann Maria Farina made the city world-famous when he named his new fragrance Eau de Cologne (or “Kölnisch Wasser”) after his new hometown in 1709. His statue still stands in the Town Hall today.
With remnants of a storied past literally paved into the city, the culture of Cologne takes pride in both its history and its newer developments. The old parts of the city that survived World War II — one of the most heavily bombed cities in Europe — stand alongside younger establishments, including fashionable coffee outposts, modern museums and concept retail stores.
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, the Kolumba Museum is unique among the city’s many noteworthy galleries. Housing art and artifacts whose origins span more than 1000 years, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese collection presents an interesting mix of both contemporary and ancient items. The site is built upon the ruins of a late Gothic church; it’s just one of many cultural hubs this oft-overlooked city has to offer.
In a city where it once rained for 85 days straight, Bergen’s lush and misty landscape is no surprise. However, Norway’s second largest city is well worth getting a little damp for. Seated on the southwestern edge of the country’s jagged coastline, Bergen is considered to be “the gateway to the fjords.” While parts of the city are familiarly Nordic, its maritime air and dramatic backdrop of the Seven Mountains sets it apart. And even though it’s a small and rather quiet harborfront city, Bergen has more than enough to keep you culturally occupied.
The Bergen Kunsthall houses rotating exhibitions of both large solo shows and extensive group collaborations of modern art. The museum was designed in the 1930s by Norwegian architect Ole Landmark, who was born in Bergen. Its clean lines and the open space highlights artists’ work throughout the gallery.
Next door in a corner unit overlooking Lille Lungegårdsvannet, a natural five-acre lake in the middle of the city center, Lysverket offers contemporary dining. Its doors opened in 2013 under executive chef Christopher Haatuft — whose resume includes New York’s Per Se and Blue Hill at Stone Barns — the Norwegian chef was determined to elevate his hometown’s culinary scene. With an approachable atmosphere, Lysverket offers “neo-fjordic” cuisine that is as impressive as its stylish Scandinavian interiors.
Venture to the UK if quaint towns are more your thing. When it comes to smaller English countryside towns, Bruton may not be a familiar name. Deeply set in the southwest county of Somerset, it’s one of the better kept secrets of the region. The drive through the West Country alone is breathtaking, with the rolling knolls of green and the occasional spired manor. But with every new independent business established Bruton welcomes the uninitiated.
Run by Swiss gallerists, Manuela Hauser and Iwan Wirth, the pioneering world-class gallery and multi-purpose arts center Hauser & Wirth Somerset (shown above) opened its doors in July 2014. In a renovated and once-derelict Durslade Farmhouse, the sister gallery to locations in Zurich, London, New York and Los Angeles (with partner Paul Schimmel) is drawing throngs of visitors from the region and beyond.
Running parallel to the River Brue on Quaperlake Street, Caro is a charming shop, cafe and beautiful one-room inn. With an in-house baker (the Bakemonger) creating edible artworks in small cake and pastry form, coffee from regional coffee experts like Round Hill Roastery, and stocked goods that range from household to personal grooming needs, Caro is a must-visit one stop shop.
A little ways down the road, where Quaperlake turns into High Street, At The Chapel hotel is a little haven for the design-minded guest. Once a Victorian Congregational church, it is now an expansive light-filled restaurant, an intoxicating bakery, and breathtaking inn of contemporary and mid-century modern rooms. Before enjoying a wood-fired Neapolitan with locally-sourced toppings, take a gander at the art on display in the upstairs mezzanine. You’ll find there’s much more to this charming town than initially meets the eye.
Written by Sheila Lam
Headline photo of Cologne, Germany, by Robert Andersson