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The curious guide to Europe

Francesca Syz
04 January 2013

You're thirsty for discovery. You're keen to immerse yourself in someone else's world for a while. You are the curious traveller. Francesca Syz discovers Europe's most curious island, city and restaurants

The curious island
So you've heard of pop-up shops and pop-up restaurants. But pop-up islands? How very Russian oligarch. Just a 20-minute walk from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, the 19-acre New Holland Island was built in the 1730s as, among other things, a timber store for Peter the Great's shipbuilding programme. Today, after a major investment from Roman Abramovich's asset management company Millhouse LLC in conjunction with his girlfriend Dasha Zhukova's Iris Foundation, this disused naval base is reinventing itself as a world-class arts space, due to open officially in 2017. Three warehouses, the foundry, a ring-shaped former naval prison and the commandant's building are currently being transformed into museums, galleries, a theatre space, shops, offices and a boutique hotel.For the past two years, the island has hosted Summer in New Holland, a pop-up recreation space with restaurants, a sculpture trail, a bakery and farmers' market with allotment space. It's yet to be confirmed whether there will be a third Summer in New Holland in 2013, but it has set the tone for a new chapter in the city.

newhollandsp.ru. BA flies to St Petersburg. Visit ba.com.


The curious holiday lets 
Unless you're lucky enough to live in an extraordinary building, interesting architecture tends to be something one experiences fleetingly — hurtling past it on the way to work, for example. Consequently, many people go through life without considering the impact of the architectural landscape that surrounds them. Step forward Living Architecture, a not-for-profit organisation commissioning the world's best architects to design modern holiday homes around the UK. There are currently four in circulation: the Long House in north Norfolk (sleeps ten) by British pioneers of Modernism, Sir Michael and Lady Patty Hopkins; the Balancing Barn in Suffolk (sleeps eight) by Dutch firm MVRDV; the Shingle House in Kent by Scottish practice NORD; and the nautical-inspired Dune House in Suffolk by Norwegian design giants Jarmund/Vigsnaes Architects. Due for completion in 2014 are the hilltop Secular Retreat in south Devon (sleeps ten) by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and the folly-like House for Essex (sleeps four) in the north Essex countryside — a collaboration between London architects FAT and artist Grayson Perry.

Prices start from £20pppn. living-architecture.co.uk

The curious coastline
The Algarve may have been the birthplace of the 'fly and flop' package tour in the 1970s but there's so much more to it and the further west you go, the wilder and more authentic it feels. The best way to explore this western stretch, largely populated by wizened fishermen and surfer dudes, is the new Rota Vicentina — a coastal path running southwest from Santiago do Cacém in the Alentejo to Cape of St Vincent in the Algarve (the most southwesterly town in Europe). There are two route options — the 235km Historical Way, an inland path running parallel to the coast, and the 110km Fisherman's Trail, a more challenging but breathtakingly beautiful path, which hugs the coast, taking you through untamed wilderness, past tiny villages and down onto hidden beaches along the way. Part of the Algarve's attraction has always been its wonderfully mild climate — it just doesn't get very cold during the winter, making the months outside June, July and August ideal for hiking. Expect miles of craggy cliffs, deserted stretches of sand and tucked-away coves, all lashed by the Atlantic Ocean. Base yourself at the cliff-top hotel Memmo Baleeira on the edge of Sagres. Overlooking the town's harbour and long beach, it's a stylish and airy retreat — the perfect base for hiking.

For more information go to rotavicentina.com. Doubles at Memmo Baleeira from £72 (+351 282 624 212, memmohotels.com). BA flies to Faro. Visit ba.com.


The curious city
It is an interesting time to visit Georgia, the former Soviet republic where a shock election result in October saw Bidzina Ivanishvili triumphing over President Mikheil Saakashvili, who had served since 2003. It's the first time in modern Georgian history that a change of government has come about via a peaceful election, rather than a revolution. The capital, Tbilisi, was founded in the fifth century on the banks of the Mtkvari River. Located at the crossroads of East-West trading routes, Tbilisi has been fought over by rival powers for centuries. Consequently, the old town is a fantastic jumble of Byzantine, Neoclassical and Middle Eastern architecture and European Art Nouveau. The city's collection of religious buildings tell of a long standing tolerance for different religions, with mosques, synagogues and Eastern and Oriental orthodox churches all close to each other. Then there are the bathhouses that tap the sulphur springs around the city. A whole street in the Old Town is dedicated to them and the loveliest is the blue mosaic-tiled Orbeliani. There's also the wild Botanic Gardens, the bric-a-brac market on the Iron Bridge and world-class wine. The oldest wine region in the world, Georgia is said to be the birthplace of winemaking. Head to Vinotheca on Leselidze Street to sample the best.

BA flies to Tbilisi. Visit ba.com


The curious restaurant
Admit it. Think Poland and gourmet food does not automatically spring to mind. Potatoes and cabbage, maybe. One man on a mission to change all that is chef Wojciech Amaro, whose modern Polish Warsaw restaurant Atelier Amaro has just been given Michelin's Rising Star Award. Amaro spent 20 years doing time in some of the world's finest kitchens, including Le Meurice in Paris and el Bulli in Catalonia. On returning to Warsaw, he took to the road for 18 months looking for inspiration, researching ingredients in their natural setting (he loves wild game, mushrooms and edible acacia flowers) and tracking down dusty out-of-print cookbooks to study 16th- and 17th-century recipes. Finally, he opened his own 30-seat restaurant on the edge of a park close to Warsaw's Museum of Modern Art. And it was worth the wait. The Amaro culinary experience lasts three to four hours and the only choice you get to make is whether you'd like three, five or eight courses, each accompanied by vodkas, meads and liqueurs. A classic Amaro dish? Perch with crayfish and calamus oil. 'The dish is served with a few drops of duck's blood,' adds Amaro, 'because in nature, the perch is a predator that hunts for small ducks.'

Agrykola 1, Warsaw (+48 22 628 57 47, atelieramaro.pl). BA flies to Warsaw. Visit ba.com.


The curious hotels
Amsterdam has had a long and sparkly relationship with diamonds, dating back to the 16th century, when Sephardic Jews first established the diamond cutting industry there. And the city's newest hotel, the Sir Albert, has just opened in the old Van Moppes diamond factory in the Quartier Latin. Natural light was essential to the diamond grinding process, which is why the windows of the Sir Albert are so gloriously big. There's a library filled with art and design books and the super-stylish IZAKAYA Asian Kitchen & Bar, run by ex-Nobu chef Hariprasad Shetty. Due to open in Berlin this month in a dramatic 1930s building that once housed the Danish Embassy is Das Stue. It's close to the Neue Nationalgalerie and Potsdamer Platz, but also by the Tiergarten and Berlin Zoo. This sophisticated urban retreat mixes grand staircases and parquet floors with huge modern beds and freestanding tubs. There's also 5 — Culinary Art by Paco Pérez and a bar with zoo views.

Doubles at Sir Albert from £160 (siralberthotel.com) and at Das Stue from £200 (designhotels.com). BA flies to Amsterdam and Berlin. Visit ba.com.

For more curious travel... 'Our journeys should be the midwives of new and better selves,' says Alain de Botton.

Map and share your Perfect Day in Berlin, Amsterdam, St Petersburg or Faro on British Airways' Perfect Days Facebook page.