Setting off to a new destination can be daunting, especially if you venture away from the beaten track. How do you know where to seek out your cultural fix? The Bachtrack team has put together their favourite places, giving a flavour of what you can expect there and how best to enjoy it.

Clara: Set in a bucolic landscape, Ascona lies upon the shores of Lake Maggiore and is surrounded by the majestic Swiss Alps. This little town has attracted intellectuals and celebrities from all around Europe, especially after the foundation of a proto-hippy community at the beginning of the 20th century. Ascona is where nature meets culture: you can take a stroll along the lake and contemplate a picturesque Alpine landscape, visit an underground exhibition at the Museo Castello San Materno and Museo d’Arte Moderna, or just enjoy the countless contemporary sculptures around the town. Despite its tiny size, this radiant town hosts international music festivals. During the last week of June you can sip a glass of wine in the Borgo, the historic centre, while listening to internationally acclaimed performers at the annual jazz festival. If you are more the classical music type, Ascona Music Festival and Settimane Musicali di Ascona are strictly dedicated to this genre.

Ascona, on Lake Maggiore © Alessio Pizzicannella | Ascona Locarno Tourism
Ascona, on Lake Maggiore
© Alessio Pizzicannella | Ascona Locarno Tourism

Alexandra: If you’re passionate about opera or a sucker for the French lifestyle, chances are you’ve already been to Aix-en-Provence. You know of the Archevéché’s unique setting, of the Pavillon Noir’s imposing yet graceful design and you most certainly remember the vivid colours of Cezanne’s favourite landscapes. But you might not know one of Aix’s best kept secrets, tucked away in the sun drenched fields en route to the Lubéron’s picturesque hillsides. Chateau La Coste is a gem, an elegant retreat where savoir faire and savoir vivre live in perfect harmony. In my experience, it’s the cultural equivalent to a luxurious spa break. Some of today’s most prominent artists (from Louise Bourgeois to Andy Goldsworthy and Alexander Calder, to name but a few) have accepted Chateau La Coste’s invitation and created contemporary artworks in the domain’s stunning park. It takes 2 to 3 hours to complete the suggested art walk, and each sculpture – or composition – invites meditation. Seen in different seasons or at different times of the day, the relationship between the installation and the natural surroundings evolves, altering the viewer’s experience and interpretation of the art. My favourite (no surprise there) is Frank Gehry’s Pavillon de la Musique (2008), which as well as being a wonder of modern architecture, lends its distinctive acoustic to an open air summer concert series. Wine tasting is a must, and tours in English are offered. There are exceptional restaurants on site (the gourmet offering is an experience in itself), exhibitions, a summer cinema season and, of course, Provence’s magnificent light.

Frank O. Gehry, Pavillon de Musique, 2008 © Gehry Partners et Château La Coste 2015. Photograph © Andrew Pattman 2016
Frank O. Gehry, Pavillon de Musique, 2008
© Gehry Partners et Château La Coste 2015. Photograph © Andrew Pattman 2016

Elisabeth: Only an hour away from Vienna lies the picturesque Danube valley Wachau. It’s known for its little villages and hidden streets, the apricot blossom in spring and the golden vineyards in autumn. Having grown up in one of those little villages, I might be biased, but it is hard to find a better place to enjoy a glass of wine (or, in fact, to find a better glass of wine). You are spoilt for choice not only when it comes to peaceful spots, but on the music front too.

Each year during Whitsun, Melk Abbey is the home of the Barocktage. Its artistic director is the renowned tenor Michael Schade, whose guests have included Anna Lucia Richter, Florian Boesch and Concerto Copenhagen. Dürnstein, famous for its blue church spire and holding Richard the Lionheart captive, hosts the yearly Schubertiade, a festival with another famous artistic director, the Dutch bass-baritone Robert Holl. And if you are looking for a bigger orchestra concert, both Grafenegg with its world-class summer festival and the Festspielhaus St Pölten, home of the Tonkünstler Orchestra, are only half an hour away.

Spitz an der Donau © Donau Niederösterreich | Lachlan Blair
Spitz an der Donau
© Donau Niederösterreich | Lachlan Blair

Mark: On the Suffolk coast, Snape is a wonderful getaway from the bustle of city life. Benjamin Britten established a concert hall here, in a converted maltings house, now home to the Aldeburgh Festival each June. An early morning walk, accompanied by the cries of various waterfowl, is a fine way to start the day, past the Barbara Hepworth sculpture and along the Sailors’ Path a few miles to Aldeburgh. 

Aldeburgh is a picturesque old town, well worth a visit, boasting the finest fish and chips I’ve ever tasted. The skies along the coast can be incredible. Maggi Hambling’s “Scallop” rises above the beach, bearing an inscription from Peter Grimes. In 2013, I saw an open air production of “Grimes on the Beach” as part of the Britten centenary – an unforgettable experience. The memory of the “Moonlight” interlude, played in complete darkness during which the only other sound was the gentle breaking of the waves on the shingle, still brings a tingle to my spine.

Barbara Hepworth's sculpture © Mark Pullinger
Barbara Hepworth's sculpture
© Mark Pullinger

Nicolas: Does the Mont Saint-Michel lie in Normandy or Brittany? If you ask the locals, you’ll probably get a different answer depending on where they live in the wider Bay of the Mont Saint-Michel, which spans from Carolles in Normandy down to Cancale, located just on the outskirt of Saint-Malo in Brittany. Nevermind the administrative partition: it’s better to think of the Bay as a whole and it offers plenty of hidden gems where visitors can wonder at the biggest tides in Europe, far from the crowd. You’ll get stunning views from the Roche Torin in Courtils, or from the Gué de l’Epine in Val-Saint-Père (both located on the hiking track GR 223). A visit to the Mont Saint-Michel is of course a must, but go there by foot during low tide from the Bec d’Andaine (you must be accompanied by a guide, as the tide can take you by surprise). In Avranches, don’t miss the Scriptorial Museum which exhibits medieval manuscripts from the Mont Saint-Michel. In September, you can listen to sacred music in different villages of the bay during the Via Aeterna festival, whose first edition in 2017 was a huge success.

View of the Mont Saint-Michel © OTMSM | Alexandre Lamoureux
View of the Mont Saint-Michel
© OTMSM | Alexandre Lamoureux

Danny: Nestled amidst the rolling hills of south Devon, UK, the market town of Totnes is a must-visit for the alternative culture-seeker. Though once declared the capital of “New Age chic” by Time magazine, its alternative credentials go deeper than just selling crystals and holistic medicine. Even after the relocation of the local Dartington Arts College to Falmouth in 2010, arts and music are still a strong part of the local fabric. Go into any one of the charity shops and you’re likely to unearth a forgotten acid folk LP; head up to the top of the hill and you can pluck strings at the Devon Harp Centre; follow it further and you’ll find Drift, one of the most excellently-curated record shops in the UK which has organised the renowned Sea Change Festival for the past two years. Meanwhile, if you’re of a more classical disposition, the Totnes Early Music Society regularly puts on concerts in the local church. Totnes was even the first town in the UK to have its own currency – it’s just that alternative.

Boats in Totnes © Totnes Town Council
Boats in Totnes
© Totnes Town Council

Katia: I instantly fell in love with the Natural Park of Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas when I went on a trip there many years ago. Sat in the province of Jaén (Andalucía), it is an immense territory that offers a magic combination of luminous blue skies, white-topped mountains, green woods, and tiny villages dotted around. It holds an exceptional variety of flora and fauna and traces of history are still visible: from Arab watchtowers to Civil War hideouts for the Maquis. For those like me who love trekking, this place is a must: routes and tracks take you through mountains and valleys, rivers, cliffs and canyons, and you’ll get astonishing views from the top of a mountain or enchanting lakes surrounded by dense woods.

When you’ve had enough of heady nature, the lovely city of Úbeda will await you outside the Natural Park. Having reached the height of splendour during the 16th century, Úbeda is an authentic example of Renaissance architecture in Spain. Among its numerous palaces and churches, you can satisfy your urge for music with two interesting albeit very different options: Festival de Úbeda, in spring, features recitals, chamber and orchestral music, and early music fans will sure enjoy the exquisite Festival de Música Antigua de Úbeda y Baeza in autumn.

The village of Cazorla © Natural Park Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas
The village of Cazorla
© Natural Park Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas

David: My friends know virtually nothing about Brno, but they’re missing out. With more theatres per square kilometre than London’s West End, Czechs know the Moravian capital as the arts hub of their country (it’s also a major university town, with 80,000 students in the city's population of 400,000). The theatres include the Reduta, where Mozart played on his European Grand Tour, the Mahen (Europe’s first electrically lit theatre) and the modern Janáček Theatre: the composer was born near here and the Janáček Festival is the highlight of a rich musical offering through the year.

Lovers of history and architecture have many treats, from the atmospheric Špilberk Castle, set high on a wooded hill overlooking the city, which is stunning in autumn, to the Villa Tugendhat, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s functionalist masterpiece whose onyx wall is worth the visit in itself. Nor has the city been short of scientific talent: you can visit the museum dedicated to Gregor Mendel, the Brno abbot who founded modern genetics, or you can see the statue of František Ondřej Poupě, the Brno brewer who invented what became Pilsner beer (Brno is actually a wine city, with wonderful vineyards nearby).

Mahen Theatre at night © David Karlin
Mahen Theatre at night
© David Karlin

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