The best trips for culture vultures – an art lover’s guide
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Beirut: broken but undaunted
Beirut was left on its knees by the explosion on 4 August, which was only shortly before Lebanese collectors Nabil and Zoe Debs were slated to open the first of their new micro-chain of Arthaus hotels, in the capital’s buzzing Gemmayze district. The 17th-century property sustained considerable damage, delaying its debut by a couple of months. But it’s an address, and a concept, worth keeping an eye on and eventually supporting: Beirut, a city with no real official architectural-heritage preservation laws, relies almost entirely on private interests and individuals to restore and protect its remarkable built environment – a need that, post Lebanon’s challenging 2020, is clearly more pressing than ever. Guests of Arthaus Beirut will enjoy the fruits of the Debses’ efforts, along with their art collection – and the knowledge that their stay makes a difference for one of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful, fragile cities. From $220 a night, arthaus.international
The first time I met Filippo Cosmelli was 3m off the ground – balanced on scaffolding, him expounding on frescoes in a just-excavated chapel inside the Basilica dei Santi XII Apostoli in Rome. From after-hours tours of the Baths of Diocletian to lunch at the ultra-exclusive Villa Albani Torlonia, IF Experience – the company Cosmelli, an art historian, and his wife Daniela Bianco founded in 2006 – delivers this kind of private Italy like almost no one else can. Historically, IF’s customers are benefactors, multinationals and grand luxury marques (who turn to Cosmelli and Bianco to deliver itineraries with unmatched wow factor for their VIP clients). This week, the rest of us get lucky: IF has just launched private experiences that can be booked directly via its website. These range from an über-insider’s treasure hunt in Venice (featuring deconsecrated churches and an 18th-century gambling house) to curator-led archive visits touring Rome’s oldest libraries (featuring minutes from the trials of Caravaggio). Each itinerary can be built upon with extra encounters, ateliers, chef’s tables and more. Thought-provoking, immersive, culturally impactful: the way we want to travel now. POA; ifexperience.it
A West Sussex art powerhouse
Petworth, in West Sussex, seems to be emerging as a new Bruton, the Somerset village-turned-art and hospitality hive. Long known for its eponymous stately home, which holds the National Trust’s most important art cache, these days it attracts contemporary aficionados to Newlands House Gallery, the landmark Georgian townhouse-turned-exhibition space programmed by Simon de Pury. The first show, featuring 100 photos by Helmut Newton to mark the centenary of his birth, opened just before lockdown; this month sees a Ron Arad retrospective. The place to stay? Ryde House, a Grade II-listed late-Georgian country house in the nearby South Downs National Park. With three bedrooms, several living-lounging spaces and a large and lovely kitchen, it’s managed by the team behind The Angel Inn in Petworth town. From £475 a night for full-house rental, angelinnpetworth.co.uk
French art chez San Francisco
There’s an intriguing new Franco-American alliance in California, in the Gallic tradition of art patronage in foreign countries: Villa San Francisco, which is dedicated to facilitating transatlantic cultural dialogue in the radically creative surrounds of the Bay Area. Sponsored by the French Embassy to the United States, with the contribution of the Institut Français and the Arts + Design department of UC Berkeley, the “villa” – actually a sprawling apartment owned by the French Consulate – has been designed by Studio Mortazavi (whose principal, Amir Mortazavi, moonlights as CEO of the shared-workspace company Canopy). It showcases French and Bay Area artist-designers ranging from Agnès Varda to lighting master Jay Nelson. The two-month tenures of the first French artists-in-residence are delayed to early 2021; this autumn, local artists can apply for “micro-residences” lasting from a few days to a few weeks. They’ll engage with the Bay Area community via a calendar of online talks and performances, including a panel on the future of cities co-presented with the California Humanities foundation. villasanfrancisco.org
A wizard of Aus
And way down in Byron Bay, Raes on Wategos, the groovy beach villa-turned-destination hotel, has its own residency programme, inaugurated last year by its 30-year-old dynamo GM Francesca Webster. Each year a local artist-maker is invited to come, stay and create art or designs inspired by the place itself, in all its local-legend, elemental elegance. Last year saw Aus-based French painter Stanislas Piechaczek execute several large-format canvases over the course of a week, one of which now hangs in Raes’ dining room (the rest all sold to hotel clients, among whom have numbered Keith Richards, Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman). This year, it’s the turn of Richard Jarman, creative director and principal at sustainable resortwear brand Commas, whose unisex capsule collection for Raes is now available online. For next year, Webster is thinking about fragrance, jewellery, even a musical composition: whatever best reflects the ethos of this sui generis little corner of Down Under. From £355 a night, raes.com.au; collection there and commas.cc, from £100.