Winning tip: museum off the grid, Warsaw
A former tram power station in the Wola district of Warsaw now provides a home for the Warsaw Uprising Museum. What could have been a bleak, industrial setting for the history of a city betrayed and crushed during the second world war actually pulses with strength and hope. Clever use of lighting and sound draws you into the exhibits and you will lose yourself in the uplifting stories running through the tragedies.
• Admission £5, 1944.pl
Tout recycler, Paris
The La Recyclerie restaurant/bar in the 18th arrondissement is in a former railway station, sitting across the disused Petite Ceinture railway lines. It serves vegetarian and vegan food, making use of vegetables grown along the sides of the railway tracks, and food that would have gone to waste elsewhere. It’s a lively but unpretentious place, with good portions from a fixed menu, including non-alcoholic drink top-ups, all for €13 at lunchtime. There is also a workshop for fixing broken items, and it offers classes on repairs, and evening events including film screenings on the disused tracks.
Seamless transition, Cardiff
The Coal and Shipping Exchange was built in 1888 as the market floor and office building for trading in coal. During this period, Cardiff docks were the hub of the global coal trade and the Exchange saw upwards of 10,000 traders a day passing through its doors. The beautiful, cream limestone, Renaissance-style edifice – once the haunt of Roald Dahl’s Oslo-born father Harald – eventually fell into disrepair. Fast forward to 2017 when it opened as a sympathetically restored, luxury (but unstuffy) hotel. In pride of place in the main hall, with its wood panels and balcony, stands the original dragon clock. We felt part of the Exchange’s grandeur and history having afternoon tea there.
• Doubles from £80 room-only, exchangehotelcardiff.co.uk
Luxury detention, The Netherlands
Het Arresthuis is a smart hotel in Roermond, a charming town south-east of Eindhoven near the border with Germany. The 19th-century building was a working prison until 2007. A 2011 makeover repurposed cells into minimalist chic rooms and suites, with iron balconies overlooking low-lit corridors, and lounge spaces worthy of the hotel’s five stars. Scrawling graffiti artwork is a nod to the hotel’s past life (actual copies of convicts’ scrawls, we were told) but nowadays it’s closer to luxury than detention here, with spa treatments and a fine-dining restaurant, Damianz.
• Rooms from €106, hetarresthuis.nl
Staircases to book heaven, Lisbon
The LX Factory, built in 1864 in Lisbon’s Alcântara district, was used to manufacture thread and fabric. Along with arty shops and restaurants, the Ler Devagar (Portuguese for “read slowly”) bookshop now occupies part of that industrial space. Dotted with sculptures (including a flying bicycle), housing two bars and a display of antique printing machines, it’s a magical, social place that hosts concerts and exhibitions. The original metal walkways and staircases allow full access to the thousands of books.
Venue with traction, London
Chalk Farm’s Roundhouse has been repurposed and recycled a few times. It started life in 1847 as a railway engine shed with turntable to serve the London and North Western Railway, but was converted into a warehouse in 1871. After a period in disuse it reopened as a concert venue in 1964 and hosted the Stones, Bowie, Hendrix, Pink Floyd and The Doors until closing when a lack of cash seemed to doom it. But again it survived and a sympathetic restoration meant it rose, phoenix-like, opening in 2006 and becoming probably London’s best small-to-medium venue. It provides a fantastic setting, superb acoustics and a great experience for showgoers and diners alike.
Ministerial monster, Berlin
The Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus in Berlin was, for a period, the largest office building in Europe. It was built, in classic totalitarian style, to house the Nazi regime’s Ministry of Aviation in the mid-1930s. Surprisingly, it survived the destruction meted out to most of the city in the second world war and became the Haus der Ministerien (House of the Ministries). To show its new communist purpose, a huge tile mosaic was created on the north side of the building, depicting the idealistic dream of life in East Germany. Nowadays, the building is the home of the German finance ministry. So much history. It is just off Leipziger Strasse and worth a visit to gawk at the sparkling mosaic – and contemplate how much has changed. Guided tours of the building are available by prior arrangement.
Baltic birds, Gateshead
It was originally a flour mill and now it’s a contemporary art gallery – but for wildlife enthusiasts, the best thing about Gateshead’s Baltic is the nesting kittiwakes. Usually these gulls prefer sea cliffs, such as the rock faces on the Farne Islands, up the Northumberland coast. But every year, hundreds of plump pairs come inland to take advantage of a narrow ledge on the Baltic’s facade. Admission is free: see them up close from the viewing terrace and then stroll along the river bank to spot more of these seabirds among the steel struts of the Tyne Bridge.
Shop under Arkwright’s roof, Derbyshire
On the serene banks of the River Derwent in Matlock Bath is Masson Mills, an array of shops that also features a play area, a working cotton mill museum and afternoon tea. It’s all under one roof – the roof of one of Arkwright’s greatest mills, built in the 18th century. The railway station (the timeless Grade II-listed Cromford, which adorned the cover of Some Might Say by Oasis) is just down the road, and if afternoon tea doesn’t float your boat, the local chippy on the main road is great. Combine your day with great walks in the area – including the lovely riverside stroll to Matlock Bath – so you can use that as your excuse for cake.
Swimming in art-deco glory, Roubaix, France
An art deco former swimming pool 10 minutes from Lille by train is the beautiful setting for the André Diligent Art and Industrial Museum. Although the exhibitions are great, it is worth going just for the building, in particular the rising and setting sun stained-glass window at the end of the gallery that lights up the room.
• Admission €9/€11, roubaix-lapiscine.com
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