Artists have a long track record of cultivating an energy that often transforms a place into an evolving and genuine experience, creating an innovative atmosphere that locals and visitors can enjoy. These cities, picked at random and listed alphabetically, have benefited from such a thriving eco-system and are teeming with art and cultural ambience.
Barcelona, Spain From a Roman colony to a medieval trading powerhouse, from the trauma of the Spanish civil war to the euphoria of the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona, the proud capital of Catalonia, is one of Europe's most dynamic metropolises. Lying between the glittering Mediterranean to the east and the Collserola Mountains to the west, residents in cosmopolitan Barcelona enjoy the city's spectacular cuisine, inimitable style and contemporary culture year round.
Ever since the 1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona has become one of the world's most visited cities for its architectural icons and culinary and cultural bona fides. The city's grand 19th-century boulevards studded with Art Nouveau buildings, including Antoni Gaudi's La Pedrera, run straight as arrows, pointing to the heart of the Ciutat Vella (Old Town) and the narrow, tangled streets of the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), which hides dusty plazas and Moorish eight-pointed fountains.
The city has successfully preserved its historic buildings and streets, bolstered its cultural institutions such as the Picasso Museum and MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art). The Ciutat Vella, which includes the neighborhoods and pedestrian streets of El Raval and Born-Ribera, are very popular with young couples and expats. Further out from the centre, the Zona Alta area is popular with families, and Diagonal Mar, a beachfront neighborhood, is popular with Russian and Scandinavian buyers. Northeast of Barcelona lies the whitewashed town of Cadaques, home to Salvador Dali's house and studio, which clings to the cliffs of the Cap de Creus peninsula and is reached by a hair-raising drive over the steep hills.
Basel, Switzerland Home to Art Basel, the most important contemporary art fair in the world, this northern Switzerland city on the border with France and Germany has a cultural impact that far outweighs Basel's actual size. The city comprises a large number of theatres and many museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, (Kunstmuseum Basel) the world's oldest art collection accessible to the public. The Kunstmuseum Basel houses European masterworks that span from Holbein to Picasso, and Schauleger, a museum and institute designed by hometown duo Herzog & de Meuron, (best known as the architects of Tate Modern in London) contains the stupendous Emmanuel Hoffman Foundation collection of more than 400 modern masterpieces from the likes of Cindy Sherman and Richard Tuttle.
The red sandstone Münster, one of the foremost late-Romanesque/early Gothic buildings in the Upper Rhine, has a memorial to Erasmus, the Dutch Renaissance humanist and classical scholar. The City Hall from the 16th century is located on the Market Square and is decorated with fine murals on the outer walls and on the walls of the inner court. Basel is also host to an array of buildings by internationally renowned architects. These include the Beyeler Foundation by Renzo Piano, or the Vitra complex in nearby Weil am Rhein, composed of buildings by architects such as Zaha Hadid (fire station), Frank Gehry (design museum), Alvaro Siza Vieira (factory building) and Tadao Ando (conference centre).
Berlin, Germany As the third most-visited European capital after London and Paris, Berlin is still a place where artists come to create their dreams. Berlin's gallery scene is volatile and tremendously dynamic; trying to round up this sprawling mass is a near-impossible task. After the Cold War ended in 1989, artists colonized neighborhoods such as Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg in eastern Berlin, drawn by the inexpensive rent and enormous, high-ceilinged apartments found in 19th-century buildings and unused department stores. Galleries soon followed and then so did the collectors.
In Mitte, a former Jewish girls school and deportation centre during WWII is now a complex of galleries and cafes ¬– including the Michael Fuchs Galerie and EIGEN + ART – that fully encompasses its history while creating the present. However in the past five or six years, high costs in these previously unused spaces have led many galleries to migrate to Potsdamer Strasse in western Berlin, a street lined with antiques and art dealers before World War II. Chert, a Kreuzberg institution since its opening in 2008, due to its multinational aspect, has always something of interest on show, from points right across the globe. Contemporary Fine Arts burst into life back in 1992, in the then achingly hip environs of Charlottenburg. Migrating east in 1996, the gallery currently occupies an impressive site on the Kupfergraben canal, near Museum Island. Tending towards the more down and dirty, punkier end of things, CFA nevertheless features some of the most exciting, younger artists in Berlin at the moment.
Hong Kong, China Hong Kong's flowering art scene and the recent boom of the Chinese and Asian art market has attracted major international galleries to the city, such as Gagosian, Pearl Lam, White Cube and soon Lehmann Maupin, all in the Central neighborhood. Art Basel also held its first Asian fair here from 23 to 26 May, taking over for the local ART HK fair.
And across the harbor, construction of the West Kowloon Cultural District is set to begin this year with the first phase completed by 2020. The district will cover an area of 100 acres (the master plan was designed by Foster + Partners) and contain 17 cultural and performing arts venues, including the Xiqu Centre, designed specifically for Chinese opera, and M+, a museum of visual culture. In addition, a high-speed rail to Shanghai and Beijing will depart from the district.
Neighborhoods such as hip Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun, west of Central, and industrial Wong Chuk Hang on the south side of Hong Kong Island have seen an influx of gallerists, artists and chefs. New buildings, such as Centre Stage in Sheung Wan and Island Crest in Sai Ying Pun, have proved extremely popular with residents who want to be near the new restaurants, cafes and shops in these areas, but still have easy access to Central.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico San Miguel, a city and municipality located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico is about 275km from Mexico City and around 100km from the state capital of Guanajuato. Over the years the city has attracted US retirees, hippies, snowbirds, artists, painters and sculptors to its spicy-colored, 17th- and 18thcentury Colonial architecture and temperate climate. While the outlying areas of the town and municipality have changed over time, the historic center remains much as it was 250 years ago.
In the historic center, there are an estimated two thousand doors, behind which there are at least two thousand courtyards of various sizes. Many of these have been restored to their former colonial state, with facades of ochre, orange and yellow, windows and doors framed by handcrafted ironwork and made of hewn wood The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; has a number of art schools, including the Instituto Allende which was founded by American Stirling Dickinson in the 1940s; and numerous galleries clustered along the historic town centre's cobblestone streets showcase everything from traditional Mexican folk art to contemporary photography and sculpture. With a lively arts scene, plus film and music festivals and a vital international community the real estate market has rebounded in the past six months after the US and Mexico national elections and increased Mexican investment.
The Historic Centro, with its colonial houses, is the most desirable area to be in, but also the most expensive, so nearby neighborhoods such as popular Guadiana, neighboring Ojo de Agua, colonial San Antonio and quiet Guadalupe are also very sought after.