Some museums require more than a plane and a taxi ride to be reached, but repay you with memories lasting a lifetime. CNN Style has picked some of the best, all nestled off the beaten track, offering stunning natural beauty and artistic value.
Swiss mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth has experience in building museums in unlikely locations: In 2014, it opened a successful, multi-purpose arts center in Bruton, a very quiet village in England’s Somerset countryside, which reportedly attracted more than 110,000 visitors in 2019.
In 2021 they did it again, this time leasing a portion of an 18th century naval hospital on tiny Illa del Rei, an islet near Menorca in Spain. Just under 1,000 feet long, the island is a 15-minute boat ride from Menorca’s capital Mahon and offers a stunning natural setting for a 16,000 square foot center combining art, education and conservation.
Highlights include an outdoor sculpture trail featuring works by prominent 20th century European artists, including Joan Miró and Franz West, and a garden designed by Piet Oudolf, of the High Line fame, which runs alongside the gallery buildings showcasing Mediterranean fauna. Those looking for Mediterranean cuisine instead can find some prominent examples at on-site restaurant Cantina.
Messner Mountain Museum (Italy)
Mountaineer Reinhold Messner, the first climber to ever ascend all 14 peaks over 8,000 meters, started a museum project in his native South Tyrol, Italy’s northernmost province, in 2006. It now consists of six different locations, all dedicated to mountain culture and set in breathtaking locations. The last one to open, however, is something special.
Designed by Zaha Hadid, the Messner Mountain Museum Corones — after the Italian name of the mountain atop which it sits, Kronplatz in the Dolomites — is partially buried in the mountaintop and offers unbeatable views of the Alps, from the Lienz Dolomites in the east to the Ortler in the west, from the Marmolada in the south to the Zillertal Alps in the north.
Inside, the concrete structure contains exhibits devoted to traditional alpinism, and is meant to give the mountain a lease of life in the summer months, when tourism drops from the peaks of the winter skiing season.
The Chinati Foundation (United States)
A three-hour drive from the nearest airport, the Chinati foundation occupies the 340-acre site of a former military base, and opened in 1986 to host works adhering to the principles of its founder, American minimalist artist Donald Judd.
Some of these are displayed outdoors — such as Judd’s “15 untitled works in concrete,” each measuring 8 by 8 by 16 feet and made of 10-inch thick slabs — while others are housed inside repurposed buildings such as barracks or hangars, and dedicated to a single artist in perpetuity.
Among the artists represented are John Chamberlain, Dan Flavin and Carl Andre. There are also temporary exhibition spaces usually reserved for large scale contemporary works.
The foundation is roughly a 36-mile drive from the Prada Marfa, a fake Prada storefront in the middle of the desert that is actually an art installation by duo Elmgreen & Dragset, which became an internet sensation in 2012 when Beyoncé posted a photograph of herself jumping in front of it on her Tumblr.
Steilneset Memorial (Norway)
Designed by French-American artist Louise Bourgeois, famous for her spiders, and Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, who won the Pritzker prize, architecture’s most prestigious award, in 2009, this memorial is located in Norway’s easternmost town, Vardø.
It commemorates the trial and execution of 91 people accused of witchcraft in the 17th century, and consists of two structures. The first, by Zumthor, is a 400-foot-long wooden building containing 91 small windows, representing those who were executed, with a single light bulb hanging next to each window. A plaque narrates the story of each victim.
The other structure, by Bourgeois, is a square smoked glass room containing a metal chair that spits flames. The flames are reflected in seven oval mirrors placed around it like judges. Both installations are accessible 24 hours a day.
South Georgia Museum (South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands)
Located in the old whaling station of Grytviken, in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands — a British overseas territory that is also claimed by Argentina — the South Georgia Museum is truly remote, located about 800 miles east of the Falkland Islands and only accessible by sea.
There is also no visitor accommodation anywhere here, so most people arrive on a cruise ship — although the most intrepid can charter a yacht from the Falkland Islands or somewhere in South America.
The island gets about 120 vessels visiting each year, carrying around 10,000 tourists.
The surrounding Antarctic environment is home to about five million seals and 65 million breeding birds. Credit: Sarah Lurcock
After whaling ceased in 1964, the building that hosts the museum remained unused for more than 20 years, until it was converted and opened to the public in 1992.
The exhibits are dedicated to whaling, the early maritime history of the island and its natural and social history. If that doesn’t sound too enticing, the surrounding pristine Antarctic environment, home to about five million seals of four different species, as well as 65 million breeding birds, should do the trick.
Nestled among 3,000 islands, many of which are uninhabited, in the Seto Inland Sea, and nearly two hours from the nearest city on the mainland, Okayama, Naoshima is colloquially known as “Japan’s art island.”
For good reason: It’s home to several museums and permanent art installations, as well as one of Japan’s most widely photographed artworks — a six-foot-tall, eight-foot-wide pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, which was sadly swept out to sea by a typhoon in 2021.
(The damaged pumpkin was recovered, but it’s not clear if and when it will be reinstalled).
The island is the brainchild of billionaire Soichiro Fukutake, who commissioned Pritzker winning architect Tadao Ando to become its creative director.
Among other things, he designed Benesse House, the island’s main attraction that is part museum and part hotel, set in a beautiful park and containing art by Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Another highlight is the Chichu Art Museum, which houses five Monet paintings from Fukutake’s personal collection. On the eastern edge of the island sits the Art House Project, a series of abandoned houses and workshops turned into art installations by artists from all over the world.
Most tourists try to cram a visit to the island in one day, but it’s worth an overnight stay.
Eromanga Natural History Museum (Australia)
Nestled in the Outback, in Australia’s furthest town from the ocean, Eromanga, is the eponymous Natural History Museum. It’s a 660-mile drive from Brisbane (or an 870-mile drive from Sydney) along seriously scenic routes, but there’s also an airstrip used by charter and private flights just five minutes from the museum.
It’s home to the most impressive dinosaur fossil collection in Australia, and hosts the country’s largest dinosaur: A Titanosaur called Cooper, believed to be roughly 95 million years old. It’s named after Cooper Creek and the Cooper Basin, not far from the museum, where it was found. In 2021 it was categorized as a whole new genus and species of Titanosaur, Australotitan cooperensis.
The museum’s exhibits also include some of the world’s largest megafauna, thought to be 50,000 to 100,000 years old, and a variety of microfauna. Even though the town itself only has about 120 residents, the museum is equipped with lodging for visitors, so you can plan an overnight stay.
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Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park (Grenada)
Sculptor and environmentalist Jason deCaires Taylor, of English and Guyanese descent, is famous for his permanent, site-specific sculptural works set in submerged and tidal marine environments. The very first of his “sculpture parks” was created in 2006 off the coast of Grenada, in the West Indies’.
Called the Molinere Bay Underwater Sculpture Park, it hosts 75 works across an area spanning more than 8,000 square feet, at depths of up to 26 feet, which makes them accessible by scuba diving or snorkeling, as well as glass-bottomed boats.
The works, which are meant to encourage and inspire environmental awareness, are built with sensitive materials that are pH neutral, to facilitate natural growth.
Among the highlights is a sculpture titled “Vicissitudes,” featuring a ring of children of diverse backgrounds holding hands, and meant as a symbol of unity and resilience.
Since 2006, deCaires Taylor has created parks or installations in several other countries, including Mexico, Spain, Indonesia, Norway, the Maldives, France and Australia.
James Turrell Museum (Argentina)
The James Turrell Museum has nine installations spread over a 5,500-foot space. Credit: Eilon Paz/Bloomberg/Getty Images
This unique museum dedicated to the spectacular light installations of American artist James Turrell is located at an altitude of about 9,000 feet in the town of Colomé, in the remote Argentine region of Salta.
Enviably enclosed within the family vineyard of Swiss magnate and art collector Donald Hess, the site includes nine installations spread over a 5,500-foot space.
Highlights include “Unseen Blue,” a chamber with an aperture in the ceiling that is also Turrell’s most celebrated type of work, called a “Skyspace.” This is the largest in the world and it offers a stunning light show starting every day at sunset, and lasting about an hour.
Also exhibited are works on paper by Turrell, who has a pilot’s license and studied perceptual psychology — both things likely influencing the way he manipulates light, color and space to create his stunning site-specific installations, which can be found in more than two dozen countries.
Instituto Cultural Inhotim (Brazil)
Founded in 2004 by former mining tycoon Bernardo Paz to house his art collection, this is now one of the largest outdoor art centers in Latin America.
Located in Brumadinho, about 40 miles from Belo Horizonte, the complex is set on 140 hectares of Atlantic forest and tropical savanna.
The not-for-profit entity houses about 700 works by more than 60 artists from nearly 40 different countries — including Hélio Oiticica, Yayoi Kusama, Anish Kapoor and Steve McQueen — displayed both outdoors and within multiple galleries. There is also a botanical garden with thousands of rare botanic species from all continents.
Among the works is an installation by American artist Matthew Barney titled “De Lama Lâmina” (“From Mud, a Blade”), which is housed in a geodesic dome nestled within an eucalyptus forest, and contains a gigantic white tree being uprooted by a large agricultural vehicle.