Aarhus, and Pafos in Cyprus, are the two European Capital of Culture hosts for 2017. More: aarhus2017.dk; pafos2017.eu. The four-star Comwell Aarhus features stylish contemporary interiors by Copenhagen designers HAY and excellent facilities. More: comwell.dk. Restaurant Substans features Michelin-starred cutting-edge Scandinavian cuisine. More: restaurantsubstans.dk. Haervaerk is a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant serving wildly experimental Nordic food. There is no menu; you eat whatever is being cooked that day. More: restauranthaervaerk.dk. Nordiske Spisehus collaborates with Michelin-starred restaurants from across the world to reproduce their signature dishes in Aarhus; it’s fine dining as a world tour, and it changes each season. More: nordiskspisehus.dk. • visitaarhus.com
Not everything is contemporary in Aarhus. I wander into the medieval quarter, a grid of cobbled alleys and half-timbered houses, lined with jolly cafes and up-market shops. On a corner is Hotel Royal, from 1838, with a pillared facade and marbled foyer. Down a side street is the classic Mefisto Restaurant, where families graze traditional meals of fish soup and roast veal. In the centre is the cathedral, built in 1200 above the grave of the son of King Canute V.
You can go back further in Aarhus. About a kilometre or so along the shore is Moesgaard, a new museum of ancient things, including splendid Viking swords and ancient bodies dug up from nearby bogs.
Here you can gaze into the face of Grauballe Man, a sacrificial victim from 200BC, one of many found in northern Europe. This one inspired a famous poem by Seamus Heaney about political violence in modern Ireland and the common identity of the North Sea peoples. With a nod to such connections, the museum’s big exhibition for 2017, called The First Immigrants, is about ancient migrations across Europe.
Moesgaard is another museum with a walkway on its roof. But this one leads to the future as well as the past. You can stand up there and watch the silver waters of northern Europe, ponder the tides of time and place that link all these things together, and wonder where we’re going. Perhaps Aarhus 2017 will show us.
In Matthews’s words: “Culture has never been more important than it is now ... It’s the biggest connector we have — and we need to keep using it.”
Jonathan Lorie was a guest of Visit Aarhus. TELEGRAPH MEDIA GROUP