Travel

Venture into the Apocalypse at This Bunker-Turned-Museum in Europe

Pretend to be a secret agent, 1980s style.

Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest
Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest
Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest

During a nuclear catastrophe, only one thing separates the queen of Denmark from the plebians: a private bathroom. In the underground bunker where the Danes would take cover in this nightmarish scenario, her royal tush would get a place of honor in the government-designated area, while everyone else would have to use the public bathroom. But that’s where the queen’s luck runs out. She’d have to share everything else, from dining tables next to an unconvincing woodland mural and taped birdsong on a retro boombox to the same creaky storage lockers you’d find in a drab high school hallway.

Of course, this is only in theory. REGAN Vest, the secret Cold War bunker built for the Danish government in 1968, was never actually used for end-of-the-world housing. It was ready and waiting, though-and as of February 13, now no longer a secret, it will be the newest museum in Denmark, 200 feet below the surface of the Rold Skov Forest in North Jutland. Now you can visit and imagine a not-so-implausible past-or would that be future? Here’s what to know about this venture into the apocalypse.

Nordjyske Museer
Nordjyske Museer
Nordjyske Museer

Experience the real Blast from the Past

Sadly, a charmingly naïve Brendan Fraser isn’t going to rise up through the floor on your visit to REGAN Vest. But remember his adorable underground house? Put that above ground, give it a Scandinavian sensibility, stock it full of 1980s props, and you’ve got the secret entrance to the bunker.

The original entrance was concealed in a simple single-family home, where the bunker’s engineer and his family lived at the time. That home has been restored and outfitted with fashionable ‘80s decorations. Visitors can tour the home and basically pretend they live in it-you can sit on the couch and flip through old magazines or watch television. Then, virtually meet the family that lived there through digital screens. For a true throwback, there’s a stash of ‘80s clothing that you can dress up in for a photo. It’s hardly James Bond, but you’ll feel like a real secret government agent, just like Mr. Engineer and the fam.

REGAN Vest was built in secret and kept a secret while it was operational-until 1996 for Cold War bunker usage and then again until 2012 for general emergency use. The secrecy of this bunker was no joke. The tunnel to get into it is about 985-feet long. REGAN Vest itself is built in a circular pattern to help it withstand detection and nuclear destruction.

Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest
Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest
Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest

As for the bunker museum, it’s been restored and revitalized to the bunker’s original status-meaning it’s outfitted exactly as it was when it was in use, from the retro handset phones down to the vintage desk lamps and outdated NATO stamps. Visitors will be able to tour the entire facility, including the communications room, the government’s living quarters, the queen’s private toilet sanctuary, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ meeting room (peep the roll-in overhead projector in one of the meeting rooms), the medical ward, the dining hall, and more.

Along with the restoration of the bunker and the engineer’s house, there’s a new reception and museum building on the grounds, shaped like four black boxes. The exhibits have two main focuses. First, they take a close look at what it was like to be a Danish citizen living during the Cold War. Visitors will learn about all the precipitating events and technology that led to the war, how Denmark was forced to choose a side, how the country as a whole handled the nuclear risk, and how the situation was reflected in pop culture at the time. The second portion of the museum focuses on the 1945 Hiroshima bombing, with artifacts to show from the disaster.

Hiking trails will cover the grounds of the museum, running for 8.7 miles around REGAN Vest. They’ll connect to places like the Rebild Hills and Thingbæk Chalk Mines when they’re complete-so there’s plenty of places to run for (probably unsuccessful) cover if the air raid sirens go off.

Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest
Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest
Photo by Lars Horn and Nordjyske Museer courtesy of Regan Vest

Visit the bottom bunk

Once the museum officially opens, you’ll be able to choose from two types of tours: a guided bunker tour with a tour of the above-ground museum for $35, or a guided bunker tour with a tour of the above-ground museum and a smørrebrød lunch in the bunker’s dining hall for $69.

It’s not possible to walk around the bunker on your own-you’ll always need a guided tour. And if a real duck-and-cover moment happens while you’re down there, sorry to say, but you probably won’t make it. REGAN Vest is now pretty useless in the event of a new nuclear disaster. None of the equipment would work because it’s so outdated, and it’s obviously not hidden or blast-proof anymore.

The full tour of the facility takes an hour and a half. Reservations are required, and you can already make them on the website. The museum will be open for tours from 10 am to 5 pm, and you should budget four hours for your visit.

Enjoy Nordjylland
Enjoy Nordjylland
Enjoy Nordjylland

See fjords, architecture, and treehouses beyond the bunker

After you’ve had your fill of bunker history, head about 30 minutes away to Aalborg, the nearest city to REGAN Vest. Architecture fans will have a lot to see in town-particularly Alvar Aalto’s Kunsten (the modern art museum); Jørn Utzon’s Utzon Center, which is the last building he ever designed; and the angular House of Music designed by Austrian architecture firm Coop Himmelb(l)au.

For hikers, you’ll find a new 7-mile trail, 30 minutes in the opposite direction from REGAN Vest, at Mariager Fiord. The fjord flows into Kattegat (Vikings fans, this one’s for you), through a relatively flat landscape surrounded by fields and forests. The trail launched in September 2022 and hits the best scenery along the fjord.

And after your trip below ground at the bunker, stay the night high above ground at one of Løvtag‘s three treehouse cabins. They’re designed with Scandinavian minimalism and get you as close to nature as possible-there’s a live tree running right through the middle of each. It’s a 45-minute drive from REGAN Vest.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Jennifer Billock is a freelance writer and author, usually focusing on some combination of culinary travel, culture, sex, and history. Check her out at JenniferBillock.com and follow her on Twitter.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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