Since it opened this September, having drawn 100,000 visitors in less than three weeks, the Victoria & Albert Museum has electrified the small coastal town of Dundee. As beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside, it has become the key attraction in a region that more than merits being explored
In the 19th century, the Dundee waterfront saw many a whale: In that era, most of the city’s revenue came from cetacean fishing and burlap production. Not one of these marine behemoths, however, was as imposing as the building that has now docked here. After three and a half years of construction and a budget of one billion pounds, the V&A just opened to the public. A design museum that is an ode to creativity in structure alone.
The genius behind the aesthetics is Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who says he was “inspired by the high cliffs of Scotland’s northeast coast” in designing his building. The museum, set on the banks of the River Tay, just a stone’s throw from the mouth of the North Sea, is at once imposingly massive and eerily ethereal. The geometrics of the long, rocky slabs enveloping the building ceaselessly evolve as you walk around the outside. Every place you stand offers a new way to see the structure.
“It’s as if the earth and water had a long conversation and finally created this stunning shape”
This is where the Tatha Bar and Kitchen is located. No, the name is not Tahitian – it is the Gaelic version of Tay, the river that the establishment overlooks, offering an absolutely magical view. Through immense picture windows, you can drink in the Scottish countryside, with the green hills of Dundee’s trendy suburb, Newport, on the other side. At the foot of the restaurant is where the RRS Discovery is moored, the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain, the vessel that took Scott and Schackelton on their expedition to Antarctica. Naturally, you can take a tour of the ship.
The V&A in Dundee will regularly host major exhibits (with an admission fee). The first of these, Speed and Style, organized in collaboration with the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, is a journey through the design stories of the world’s greatest ocean liners. Be sure to see the huge panel covered in gold leaf by French lacquer artist Jean Dunand for the SS Normandie and the door fragment from the First Class Lounge on the RMS Titanic, a moving sight. Before you go, remember to stop at the souvenir shop for a jar of Dundee marmalade. Legend has it that this bitter-orange jam was first concocted in this very city in 1797.
Today, the museum sells it in striped packaging that is an obvious nod to the building’s exterior. Lastly, though the V&A closes early (10 a.m. - 5 p.m.), it is certainly worth coming here for an evening stroll. Creatively illuminated by spotlights, the singular architecture reveals many new facets by night.
For those wanting to explore the surrounding area and all its beautiful scenery, try the Kinloch House Hotel northwest of the city. This spacious country house is a 45-minute drive from Dundee. Built in 1840 and owned by the Allen family, Kinloch House has been a member of Relais & Châteaux since 2004. The hunting-lodge décor is no accident, as those who enjoy shooting pheasant and fishing for salmon often meet here. The hotel has fifteen spacious, colorful guest rooms and suites for their comfort and yours.
Pictures: © Francis Hammond