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This year’s bumper cultural crop of mega-shows includes artistic aces aplenty, from Tate Modern’s Sonia Delaunay retrospective in London to a double whammy of skin-revealing sensuality courtesy of Botticelli and Mario Testino in Berlin. But here are a few unsung spring must-sees that should also be on your hit-list…


V&A's McQueen exhibition, 'Savage Beauty'

From left: Duck-feather dress; Butterfly headdress, made of hand-painted turkey feathers, by Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen; Crystal-encrusted dress in the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’. Photography: firstVIEW; © Victoria and Albert Museum. Main image: Installation view of ‘Romantic Nationalism’ © Victoria and Albert Museum

SEE ‘Savage Beauty‘ at the V&A, until 2 August: the awe-inspiring Alexander McQueen retrospective is the biggest, most ambitious presentation yet of the late fashion designer’s work. Staged with the impact of a runway show in a specially designed, fully immersive space, the dramatic creations – spanning a decade’s work – are backdropped by emotive soundscapes and installations from the shows. Get tickets while you still can.

STAY …at The Kensington Hotel. Just a short hop from the museum-lined streets of South Ken, and with Christie’s-sourced antiques, Waterford crystal chandeliers and pencil-post beds hand-made just round the corner, it’s a suitably stylish retreat for fashion fans.

DO …book in for a Fashion-Forward High Tea at the Kensington. This multi-tiered treat features McQueen-themed confectionary and savoury snacks, including red velvet and rosewater cupcakes topped with a nod to Philip Treacy’s Butterfly Hat; gilded quail’s eggs paying homage to McQueen’s A/W06 Bird’s Nest headdress; and hand-decorated marzipan sablé inspired by the Horn of Plenty collection.


Pompeii's Villa of Mysteries

Restored fresco at La Villa dei Misteri just outside Pompeii

SEE The Villa of Mysteries – one of Pompeii’s crowning glories has reopened after a two-year restoration project. The walls of the lava-flooded ancient country estate are covered in frescoes depicting Dionysian revels and initiation rites, with all that that entails: nymphs, satyrs, flagellation and phalluses.

STAY Naples is a great spot to kick off a summer of sun-soaked culture. Check into art-packed Romeo Hotel and you’ll have views of Vesuvius to ponder over a restorative drink. Rooms are decked out almost as decadently as the Villa of Mysteries, with Caprai fabrics, Poltrona Frau chairs and locally made Tramontano leather goods.

DO Extend your trip beyond Pompeii to the stunning Sorrentine Peninsula and further along the Amalfi Coast up to Ravello. On the way, stop off at Antica Osteria Nonna Rosa in Vico Equense for a Michelin-starred meal that celebrates traditional dishes.


Paris 2015 exhibitions: Tattoos

From left: Algerian woman, from the collection of Marc Garanger; tattooed torso by Philip Leu; Yantra: Muay Thai boxer. Photography: © Marc Garanger; © Musée du Quai Branly/Thomas Duval; © Cedric Arnold, courtesy Galerie Olivier Waltman

SEE ‘Tatoueurs, Tatoués‘, until 18 October 2015 – an examination of inking past and present at the Musée du Quai Branly, a short trot from the Eiffel Tower. Highlights include historic photos, specially commissioned tattoo designs, and life-size silicone body parts ‘tattooed’ by modern masters of the art.

STAY Colourful contemporary hideaway Hotel Sezz is perfect for artistic flâneurs: it’s just a 15-minute stroll from Quai Branly or the Eiffel Tower. Minimal decor à la mode and a basement hammam complete the picture.

DO …check out the incredible stash of indigenous art from Oceania, Asia, Africa and the Americas – and Patrick Blanc’s vertical garden – while you’re at the museum. Next, get an eyeful of the Spanish Golden Age through the eyes of a genius: Velázquez at the Grand Palais is on until 13 July.


Whitney Museum, Meatpacking District, New York

The new Whitney Museum: photograph © Nic Lehoux

SEE America is Hard to See’, from 1 May to 27 September – the inaugural exhibition at the brand-spanking-new Meatpacking home of the Whitney museum (designed by Pitzker Prize-winner Renzo Piano). The opening show features an American ‘hall of fame’ that’ll delight fans of late 20th-century and modern art.

STAY …at up-and-coming nearby neighbourhood HuSq’s newest lodgings, Hugo Hotel: a salty maritime air, striking Hudson views and a rooftop bar make it quite the place to debate contemporary aesthetics from a superior position.

DO …sign up for one of NYC’s best anti-tourist-train look-sees with Big Onion Walking Tours (peeling away the historical layers of the city, natch). The High Line and Chelsea tour will take you along the city’s now-iconic aerial walkway and show you how Chelsea developed from farmland to boho village via industry, architecture and Janis Joplin.

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