One of 2017’s European Capitals of Culture, Aarhus - Denmark’s second city - has art, gastronomy, and hygge, all sewn up, finds Stylist’s Laura Millar...
A former Viking settlement on the windswept, fog-bound east coast of the Jutland peninsula, Aarhus didn’t immediately have me thinking, ‘this sounds like the perfect place for a winter weekend away’. However, as its come under the spotlight this year, thanks to being crowned as a hotbed of culture, I was keen to see exactly what that entailed.
It’s Copenhagen, after all, which gets all the attention, abounding with palaces, a picture-perfect harbour, churches and museums. But this compact university city – its population is only 320,000 - packs a significant artistic punch, and its high volume of students translates into a big creative scene, with startups, food trucks and galleries galore.
Checking into our hotel, the charming Villa Provence, its retro French interiors offer a stark contrast to the usual Scandi style, which has made it endlessly popular with well-travelled visitors (including singer-turned-photographer Bryan Adams). I love the chalky, pastel walls, vintage film posters, and free-standing bath – but I was keen to see Denmark’s more, shall we say, minimalist side.
And a short walk away – and this is a fabulously walkable city – you’ll find Aarhus Ø, its rejuvenated port area. It used to be a desolate wasteland, and is now home to jaw-dropping modern structures such as The Iceberg, a series of jagged, white apartment blocks, and a quirky, angular observation point. However, Aarhus has plenty of impressive old buildings, too, from its extraordinary Town Hall, complete with functionalist clock tower (designed by Arne Jacobsen in the late 1930s), to the elegant Art Nouveau theatre, with its hand-painted façade and stained glass windows.
The latter is in the so-called Latin Quarter, the most historic part of the city; this is where my friend and I end up spending most of our time, as its warren of cobbled streets is lined with cosy cafés, cool cocktail bars, hip restaurants, and stylish independent and designer stores, from Isabel Marant to homegrown Danish labels, such as Maku.
That evening, after a couple of faultless whisky sours at Pustervig, a chic, low-lit bar with a copper countertop on Rosensgade, we head further up the street for dinner at acclaimed seafood joint Mefisto (Aarhus’ foodie scene is no slouch; it’s got three Michelin starred restaurants already). Lobster soup, beef tartare, pan-fried flounder and Danish cheese warm us up nicely, as it’s currently only 2oC outside.
The next morning, we head to organic eatery Langhoff & Juul on Guldsmegade, for a brunch which couldn’t be more Scandanavian: baskets of thick, rye bread; open-topped sandwiches with raw cauliflower, sage and mushroom; and portions of salmon salad. Every other customer sports a well-groomed beard, while the women clearly got the memo about wearing stripy tops on a Sunday.
Afterwards, it’s a short walk to one of Aarhus most fascinating cultural venues, the ARoS contemporary art museum, with its Guggenheim-like interior, where collections include works from the likes of Gilbert & George and Warhol. Six years ago, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson produced Your Rainbow Panorama, a beautiful multi-coloured, glass-paned circular walkway, which sits on top of the building. It’s possibly the most Instagrammable thing I’ve ever seen. So take that, Copenhagen – there’s a new contender for your crown
Fly London Stansted to Aarhus with Ryanair, from £19.99 one way; ryanair.com. Double rooms with breakfast at the Villa Provence start at £160 per night; villaprovence.dk. For more info, see visitaarhus.com.