Belfast, Lyon, Rotterdam: Europe's Sexy Second Cities
From gorgeous green countryside featured in 'Game of Thrones' to multiple Michelin-starred restaurants, these off-the-beaten-path locales offer the kind of intimacy you can't find in more popular alternatives.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
When in Northern Ireland's capital, stay at the Europa (up to $1,550 a night), "the most bombed hotel in the world" thanks to the Catholic-Protestant conflicts at the end of the past century. Nowadays, the only shots are being poured at the Piano Bar Restaurant, where Bill Clinton and other dignitaries have raised a glass. Ask for the unadvertised Clinton Suite to sleep where the 42nd president (and the 45th?) slept. Or try the Titanic Suite, a luxe hideaway with dark paneling, leather sofas and Ralph Lauren fabrics. The Titanic Belfast museum, which opened in 2012, provides an in-depth look at the doomed craft. "It is a magnificent building, [showing] Belfast's part in the creation of the ship," James Cameron has said. If you like your disasters with dragons, a Game of Thrones tour will take you to 11 filming locations, from Riverrun to Dragonstone. Then pull up to the Crown Liquor Saloon for a pub crawl to the city's best watering holes, including the haunted Front Page. Gillian Anderson, who starred in the Netflix series The Fall in Belfast, can't stop raving about the city: "I have just had the most extraordinary experience working there."
An alternative to Paris (which, let's face it, even the French complain about), Lyon — home to some of the world's finest cuisine — is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cuisine and landmarks, including buildings by Pritzker winners Renzo Piano and Jean Nouvel. For a luxurious home base, try Sofitel Lyon Bellecour (up to $600 a night), featuring 26 contemporary and traditional-French suites. On the eighth floor, chef Christian Lherm serves nouveau French dishes like his Summer Scampi Pie at the Michelin-starred Les Trois Domes, which boasts views of the Rhone. Just a walk away are the city's best boutiques and cultural attractions. The newly opened Musee des Confluences is an eye-catching modernist structure by Austrian firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, with a natural history museum and outstanding brasserie. The Chauvet Cave museum in Ardeche, open since April and a few hours' drive north, is a replica of the nearby 1994 find of sophisticated cave paintings dating to when Homo sapiens and Neanderthals co-existed. Werner Herzog, who made the 2010 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, called it "one of the greatest discoveries in the history of human culture."
A room in Rotterdam’s Mainport Hotel
Spa junkies can live it up in the Spa Suite ($554 a night) at the city's ultrachic new modern Mainport Hotel. This 732-square-foot urban aerie features an extra-large jacuzzi, stunning port views, a Finnish panorama sauna and Hamam scrubs on a heated marble table. Prepare for dinner at two-Michelin-starred FG Restaurant, where chef Francois Geurds serves Anjou pigeon, cherry sorbet and benzaldehyde (an aromatic). This Holland city is an edgy architectural flash point, home to Rem Koolhaas' design gallery, DeKunsthal, as well as his recently opened hotel, nHow, which dominates the waterfront. But the most talked about room in Rotterdam is Escape010, ground zero for "The Exit Game." Started in 2007 in Japan, it's a craze that requires two to five players to solve puzzles in a one-hour time frame in order to escape. Few have managed it, but here's a hint: The larger your group, the better your chances.