The Five Best Cities For A Weekend Break In Spring 2019
Look beyond the obvious for the other cool places to end (or start) your week
COMO The Treasury, Perth. Photograph courtesy of www.slh.com
The greatest cities can come to feel like prisons of asphalt and dirty snow after a long, cold winter. Escape means long flights to sultrier climes. But, come spring, when the sun begins to lift, sleeves get shorter, blooms part the wet grass, and kind temperatures and seasonal optimism make it the best time for urban exploration.
And it is our nimbler, more compact second cities that are emerging as cooler rivals to the New Yorks and Parises of the world, luring the more innovative hoteliers and creative spirits from the tourist-trap hegemony of bigger metropolises. Think less pollution, less time in traffic or worn-out shoe leather, but easier access to attractions beyond city limits.
Here, MR PORTER takes a tour of five cities of varying size that can be done in a weekend (well, depending on how long your travel time is), where a buzzing optimism and creative energy are, arguably, best enjoyed at this time of year.
The Battery, San Francisco. Photograph by Mr Douglas Friedman, courtesy of The Battery
In a good year, the hills and hiking trails that surround the Bay Area burst into a riotous bloom in spring, lending a floral wreath to one of the world’s most photogenic cities. Not many metropolises boast such easy access to parkland. A hop across the Golden Gate Bridge leads to the national recreation area of the same name, a semi-wild headland of wild flowers that is perhaps best explored in spring. Further north lie the redwood groves and peaks of Mount Tamalpais State Park, where the hiking and riding gets more rugged and the views more breathtaking.
On the city side of the bridge, with views of the cluster of skyscrapers that make up the financial district, The Battery has established itself as San Francisco’s chicest hotel. Built for – and by – the city’s creative and Silicon Valley elite, the former marble-cutting factory’s stylish rooms sit above a private members’ club (guests are members during their stay). It opened in 2013 when British founders Mr Michael Birch and Ms Xochi Birch, investors who made it big in the 2000s with the social network Bebo, took on the Soho House model. Tellingly, in all but the library, the club’s public areas have a ban on devices, offering vintage phone boxes as shelters for those who can’t resist their screens. The opulent Musto Bar is the place for a single malt.
Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel, Athens. Photo by Mr Richard Waite, courtesy of Four Seasons
It seems mad to talk about a city with thousands of years of history as resurgent, but the Greek capital has emerged in the past decade as one of Europe’s most vibrant cultural destinations, dusting itself off after its recent economic sagas. Tourism has recovered faster than the mercury rises in August, and the canniest among visitors come in spring or autumn, taking advantage of a thriving contemporary art scene as well as the city’s more ancient attractions.
Cheap rent following the collapse of the economy drew an international art crowd to a city that has grown increasingly rich in politically-inspired creativity. The Breeder gallery, originally founded at the turn of the century, and housed in a former ice-cream factory for the past 10 years, remains the scene’s beating heart and the place to start.
Hotels, too, have responded to the rising demand and, this spring, Four Seasons is due to roll into the city with a landmark property on the Athens Riviera, an easy 30-minute ride out of town. Perched on a pine-wooded peninsula just south of Vouliagmeni, Athens’ smart seaside suburb, the hotel occupies the old Astir Palace, a 1960s hotspot of faded glories where world leaders and Hollywood stars once rubbed bare shoulders. It is a sprawling pile, now refreshed with eight restaurants, a vast spa and a private beach, where Ms Brigitte Bardot once posed in a bikini.
Wm. Mulherin’s Sons, Philadelphia. Photograph by Mr Matthew Williams, courtesy of Wm. Mulherin’s Sons
The former “workshop of the world” has taken its time to find a new place in the American Eastern Seaboard since its industrial heyday. Last year, Philadelphia made a statement of intent by reviving the first section of a railroad that once carried steel and coal from the city’s factories. When complete, the three-mile Philadelphia Rail Park will be more than twice the length of the High Line, the much-copied attraction up the interstate in New York.
The first elevated length, part of the Reading Viaduct, includes swing benches made from giant girders and rusty sheet metal alongside wild grasses and boardwalks. The park starts close to Chinatown and runs through a former industrial area that was already being buoyed by a familiar gentrifying tide (think brewpubs and the scent of sourdough).
Continue the post-industrial theme two miles north at Wm Mulherin’s Sons, a hotel that opened to much fanfare in 2017 inside the 19th-century whisky blending and bottling plant after which it is named. Tastefully restored with exposed brick and steel along with a mid-century interior – a welding of eras that stops short of try-hard – the handsome redbrick building now houses just four rooms above one of the city’s best restaurants and cocktail bars.
COMO The Treasury, Perth. Photograph courtesy of www.slh.com
Not so long ago, anyone suggesting that the capital of Western Australia would one day emerge as a hip destination might have been laughed out of town all the way to Uluru. But Perth, traditionally one of those pizazz-free second cities of grey office blocks and greyer suits, is now officially one of the coolest conurbations in the southern hemisphere.
Qantas cemented that revival last year with direct flights to London, turning Perth from a stopover to a destination, and drawing ever more visitors to its year-round sun and beaches, as well as its revived waterfront at the recently developed Elizabeth Quay. A block behind the water, COMO The Treasury occupies grand former government offices on Cathedral Square, rising to a top-floor indoor swimming pool with full-height windows and sweeping city views. At its rooftop Wildflower restaurant, also housed in a contemporary glass-and-steel addition, the tasting menu changes with the six Aboriginal seasons and the tables offer views over Kings Park, much of which is given over to native bush. April and May is Djeran, a time for feasting before Australian winter arrives.
The Treasury could not be more centrally located for Perth’s traditional attractions, including Kings Park, but is also at the heart of the city’s revival with its multiple bars and restaurants in Elizabeth Quay as well as nearby Northbridge, a cluster of boutiques, bars and galleries.
The Detroit Foundation Hotel, Detroit. Photograph courtesy of The Detroit Foundation Hotel
Denizens of Detroit have long since tired of its reputation as a post-industrial sinkhole, where the American Dream went to die in the rusting carcasses of car factories latterly populated by “ruin porn” tourists with Instagram accounts. Sure, Motown went through a disastrous patch, but the recovery cycle, in which Detroit marketed itself as an urban comeback kid, is now complete, and the city has become a sophisticated destination to rival Chicago, which lies a couple of hundred miles west.
A thriving artistic and cultural scene has replaced memories of decline, violence and bankruptcy, declared city-wide in 2013, adding to must-see attractions such as the Motown Museum, the Detroit Institute of the Arts, where Mr Diego Rivera’s 1930s murals celebrate the city’s industrial heyday, and the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, where old Model Ts gleam in the place they were built well over a century ago.
Enterprising hoteliers and restaurateurs have surfed the wave of revival, breathing new life into old landmarks. The Detroit Foundation Hotel occupies a 1920s fire station in the heart of the newly buzzing downtown, surrounded by boutiques and bars. The Apparatus Room, an all-day restaurant, takes advantage of the towering arches and red doors on the ground floor, where the ceramic white tiles on the walls are also original. A shop and gallery give space to the independent creatives who have helped spearhead Detroit’s remarkable turnaround.