7 Great Travel Tours For People Who Want to Learn Something New

You don’t necessarily need to know how to wield a paintbrush to participate in these seven art-filled tours.

A graffiti artist painting a wall mural

Viewing and participating in a destination’s art scene can be an exciting fast track to better understanding its culture.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz/Unsplash

“Through art, through travel, you experience a different way of living or a different philosophy,” says international art curator David Elliott, who has headed museums in Tokyo, Stockholm, and Istanbul. By exploring another country’s art—and making it yourself—you learn directly from local people about their passions, traditions, and ways of life.

Here are seven trips that use art to help you get inside cultures around the world.

A man walking past a mural in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Graffiti rose in popularity in Buenos Aires during the 1950s and ‘60s when it became a form of political expression.

Photo by Eduardo Sánchez/Unsplash

1. Graffitimundo

  • Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Three-hour tour from $20. Book now.

Highlights: Create your own graffiti artwork under the guidance of a street artist (at an additional cost). Pick out a street-style painting to bring home. Chat with local artists at Hollywood in Cambodia, a graffiti gallery and bar.

What you’ll do: Visit five studios, plus showrooms, public spaces, and galleries that feature the original works of street artists; talk with such artists as Tec, Jaz, and the “rundontwalk” stencil collective about their latest works, painting techniques, and the city’s graffiti history.

A new generation of street artists, many with backgrounds in graphic design, emerged in Buenos Aires after Argentina’s economic crash in 2001. They have covered buildings in the city with stenciled slogans and vivid, cartoon-like characters—some political, some purely aesthetic—that are generally viewed as art, not vandalism. Graffitimundo’s walking tour introduces travelers to these artists in the hip Palermo neighborhood.

Women wearing kimono in Tokyo's Taito City neighborhood.

Tokyo is considered to be capital of contemporary culture and style in Japan, but the country’s smaller towns and municipalities have plenty to offer as well.

Photo by Ozgu Ozden/Unsplash

2. The Contemporary Art of Japan

  • Location: Tokyo, Kyushu, Hokkaido, and Kyoto, Japan
  • Private 13-day trips from $21,5665, including lodging and some meals. Book now.

Highlights: Spend three nights at Benesse House, an art museum and boutique hotel on Naoshima island. Walk beneath cherry trees in Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Garden.

What you’ll do: Learn how to embroider a kimono, apply gold leaf, dye silk, and arrange flowers (ikebana); discuss current trends with curators of modern art museums; shop the galleries in Tokyo’s Ginza district.

The “Contemporary Art of Japan” tour with Artisans of Leisure takes visitors to six centers of modern Japanese art and architecture. The trip includes a personal guide, who arranges meetings with curators and gallery owners, and with Japanese artisans, who teach you about their craft and, upon request, provide hands-on instruction.

A man carrying a basket of mussels in Brittany, France.

Brittany is France’s northwestern most region and juts out into the Atlantic Ocean—its culinary scene is best known for its obsession with seafood.

Photo by Pedro Lastra/Unsplash

3. Learn to cook in Brittany

  • Location: Brittany, France
  • Seven-day trip for two for $8,890, including lodging and some meals. Book now.

Highlights: Tour an oyster farm with the owner as your guide; then, with the help of a local wine expert, pair mollusks and muscadet. Taste homemade goat cheese, cider, and regional pastries at a Brittany farm. Stay in an 18th-century manor overlooking the pink granite coast.

What you’ll make: Dishes include Breton-style clams with garlic; tomatoes, artichokes, and goat cheese with marjoram; Breton galettes, which are savory pancakes made with buckwheat flour, filled with ham, cheese, and a fried egg; far Breton, a custardlike cake containing brandy-soaked prunes.

The Brittany region on France’s northwest coast is known for its oysters, cotriade (a fish and potato stew), hard ciders, crepes, and galettes. During private, customized trips with Paris-based Purple Truffle, local chefs welcome you into their kitchens to learn how to prepare the region’s specialties.

Four fish on a plate in Crete, Greece.

Since Crete is an island, there’s always plenty of fish and seafood on the menu.

Photo by Janesca/Unsplash

4. Experience Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries

Highlights: Sample varieties of organic olive oil at a farm and factory. Identify poppies, sage, iris, and chamomile during a guided botanical hike to the coast. Sip a glass of local wine in the garden next to your private, restored 19th-century stone cottage.

What you’ll make: Seafood and seasonal dishes such as grilled octopus; sardines cooked in grape-leaf packets; dolmades made with zucchini flowers; horta (braised wild greens); fava bean puree topped with onions and olive oil; yogurt served with wild-thyme honey.

About 40 small-business owners are part of Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries, an organization that aims to preserve the island’s natural and cultural heritage while presenting educational programs to travelers. In May, join the “Magnificent West” seminar, based in the small village of Vamos, to practice Greek cooking and spend time with the area’s chefs, organic farmers, bakers, and vintners.

A woman making tortillas by hand in Mexico.

Learn to cook traditional Mexican recipes that have been passed down through the generations with Mexican Home Cooking in Tlaxcala.

Photos by Fotografías con Limón/Unsplash

6. Learn the basics of home cooking in Mexico

  • Location: Tlaxcala, Mexico
  • Seven-day trips from $1,250, including meals and lodging. Book now.

Highlights: See the pyramids and murals at the nearby Mayan ruins of Xochitecatl and Cacaxtla. Hike to the 14,646-foot summit of La Malinche, a dormant volcano. Relax by the fireplace at Silva’s bed-and-breakfast.

What you’ll make: Mole poblano, a sauce with flavors of dried chili peppers, cinnamon, chocolate, and ground nuts; soup made with huitlacoche, a fungus that grows seasonally on corn and is considered a delicacy; gaznates, pastry tubes filled with cream and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Chef Estela Salas Silva’s maternal great-great-grandmother came from France to Mexico in the 1860s to cook for wealthy families in the city of Puebla. Today, in the nearby town of Tlaxcala, Silva passes on her ancestors’ recipes, which mix French, Spanish, and indigenous cuisines.

The Palatino ceiling mosaic in Palermo, Italy.

Mosaics offer vivid insight into what life was like in Ancient Rome.

Photo by Dimitry B/Unsplash

5. Attend Mosaic Art School in Italy

  • Location: Ravenna, Italy
  • Five-day workshop from $1,079, not including lodging or meals. Book now.

Highlights: Choose your mosaic pieces from 3,000 possible colors. Visit Ravenna’s 5th-century Galla Placidia mausoleum to gaze at mosaics of starry skies, doves, and saints. Dine on the region’s tagliatelle alla Bolognese.

What you’ll do: Create a traditional Roman mosaic and a modern mosaic, using both the double-reverse and direct techniques; cut Venetian smalti glass and marble; attend an art history lecture; view Byzantine and contemporary mosaic exhibits.

Once the capital of the western Roman Empire, Ravenna, in northeastern Italy, is home to eight basilicas, churches, and mausoleums dating from the 5th to 8th centuries that are recognized by the United Nations for the “supreme artistry” of their mosaics. At the city’s Mosaic Art School, Italian artists Luciana Notturni and Brunetta Zavatti teach the techniques of the ancient Roman and Byzantine mosaic masters through intensive weeklong workshops.

A herd of reindeer in Sweden.

Sweden is home to a population of around 250,000 semiodomesticated reindeer.

Photo by Joe Green/Unsplash

6. Sledding in Sweden

  • Location: Sámpi, Sweden
  • 10-day trips for $4,995 plus internal airfare (about $500), including lodging and meals. Book now.

Highlights: View the northern lights. Warm in the sauna after sledding. Spend one night in a traditional Saami laavu (tent) and another in the Ice Hotel, sleeping on reindeer pelts in a suite decorated with ice sculptures.

What you’ll do: Lasso a reindeer for your sled; harness and command a team of four sled dogs; spend time with the Saami people, who share meals of Arctic char and reindeer.

To navigate the snowy wilderness of Sápmi (Lapland) in northern Sweden, the indigenous Saami people have long relied on sleds pulled by reindeer or dogs. Travelers with Mountain Travel Sobek will learn from locals how to steer a reindeer sled and drive their own team of huskies about 75 miles from the Saami village of Övre Soppero to Jukkasjärvi. The trip ends with a stay at the Ice Hotel, made entirely from ice and snow.

This appeared in the December/January 2010 issue.

Jennica is a writer and editor who reports on innovative people, interesting cultures, and faraway places.
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