Wed, Oct 10, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Hot deals for cool vacations

The summer tourist season is over and the harvest is just beginning, a time when Europe is less expensive, crowded and hot, but still has many cultural events

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Part of the Prado Museum in Madrid

PHOTOS: AGENCIES

Berlin: a harvest of art

A cold rain might have soaked Berlin for much of the summer, but art insiders know that the city doesn't really heat up until the fall, anyway.

During August, many of the city's white-hot galleries, like Galerie Max Hetzler (www.maxhetzler.com), close, leaving the much-hyped art quarters feeling like cultural wastelands. But come fall, the art scene reboots with a heady buzz of new shows and galleries.

The season kicked off last week with Art Forum Berlin (www.art-forum-berlin.com), a contemporary art fair during which a raft of new galleries was unveiled around the city to gain the attention of acquisitive visitors. Among them was Rakete Berlin (www.raketeberlin.de), an artist-run space that is pushing the trendy art scene further north within the Mitte district.

An impressive new space is Nordenhake (www.nordenhake.com), where the Swedish dealer Claes Nordenhake gutted a former department store and hired the architect team of Pierre Jorge Gonzalez and Judith Haase to carve out eight galleries. Around the corner is the year-old Jablonka (www.jablonkagalerie.com), a highbrow gallery where the American artist Mike Kelley is showing his provocative installations and sculptures through Nov. 24.

While you're sniffing out the ever-growing art scene, hop over to the desolate strip north of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof train station where the Haunch of Venison just opened a gargantuan outpost (www.haunchofvenison.com). On view (for now, at least) is a monumental Buddha sculpture made of incense ash by the Chinese artist Zhang Huan (張奐).

Champagne: a place to celebrate

Winston Churchill was so fond of the drink from this region, that he once declared, "It's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne." Just one of many reasons to visit.

The cathedral city of Reims is the capital of Champagne the region, but nearby Epernay considers itself the capital of champagne the drink. Unlike Reims, Epernay is a jewel of graceful streets and centuries-old mansions.

Among the latter are the headquarters of major champagne producers, conveniently situated along the town's famed Avenue de Champagne. So are hotels like the stylish Villa Eugene, with rates from US$142 to US$355 , and Parva Domus US$95 and up.

Most champagne houses have public tours on weekdays (and often weekends, depending on the season), costing around US$7. Each offers something different - Castellane features a museum of traditional winemaking instruments, Mercier a giant oak barrel - and all show you how champagne is made. After 45 minutes in the chalk-walled cellars where the wine is stored, you emerge to sample a glass or three.

No surprise, there are bottles to buy, many of them bargains.

For real deals, rent a car and head for the nearby hills, home to hundreds of small champagne makers. (The tourist office has brochures.) You can meet producers and sample their wares gratis, but it's wise to make a reservation and appropriate to buy at least one bottle as a courtesy.

If time is short, you can sample - and purchase - bubbly from 50 independent producers right in Epernay at C. Comme Champagne. With prices starting at US$17 a bottle, you can get an early start on your holiday partying.

London: a culture club

Standing in front of the South Bank Center on the banks of the Thames, it is hard to imagine there could possibly be more activity going on inside the arts complex than on the walkways outside, where street performers entertain an endless parade of pedestrians.

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