At its core, the reason we travel is to experience other cultures. The staggering diversity of landscapes, climates, wildlife, and human migration and interaction have combined to create an endless array of cultures across the globe, all of which have their particular characteristics. And one of the most diverse and fascinating outputs of culture is art.
While most of our 55+ small-group tours touch on local art in some way, the five tours below offer multiple opportunities to take in the local artwork, whether painting, sculpture, architecture, or something more. Read on, art lovers!
It’s only appropriate that we start in France, land of Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, and countless other masters. And our tour to the Provence region, in all its storied beauty, shows where some of France’s most famed artists got their inspiration.
On Day 4 of “Discovering Provence,” the art-loving travelers among us will particularly enjoy our visit to Atelier Cezanne. Provence’s unique natural light (the sun shines 233 days a year here, the most in France) is thought to have influenced Cezanne’s paintings greatly, and visitors will notice the studio’s large window through which an abundance of natural light pours on sunny days.
And Cezanne wasn’t the only famed French painter to take inspiration from this region; Van Gogh spent more than a year painting in the town of Arles, which we visit on Day 5 of our tour.
Van Gogh famously painted “The Starry Night” in 1889 while living in Arles.
Last, but certainly not least, we must mention the visit we make to St.-Paul-de-Vence, the small town which served as a hub for artists from all over the world throughout much of the 20th century. While here, we visit the gravesite of Marc Chagall, the town’s most well-known artist.
On our Ancient Greece tour, we have the opportunity to appreciate art made several millennia ago. On our first full day in Greece, we visit the National Archaeological Museum, considered one of the world’s greatest museums. Here we see sculptures, ceramics, jewelry, frescoes, and much more, dating from Neolithic prehistory up through present day. Here, we also encounter the famed “Boxing Boys” fresco from Akrotiri. Owing to its burial after an earthquake and volcanic eruption, this colorful piece has been remarkably well preserved for nearly 4,000 years.
The remarkably well-preserved “Boxing Boys” fresco, originally found in Akrotiri under layers of volcanic ash
If sculpture is more to your liking, we encounter one of antiquity’s greatest examples at Delphi: the Charioteer of Delphi. This life-sized bronze is notable for its incredibly well-detailed facial features, lifelike hands, and near perfect condition despite being nearly 2,500 years old.
We visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum on Day 9 of our tour, which houses artifacts from some 5,500 years of history on the island of Crete.
The museum is especially renowned for its Minoan collection, much of which was excavated from the palace of Knossos, where we also visit. The political center of Minoan civilization and legendary home of King Minos, the Labyrinth, and the Minotaur, ancient Knossos is considered Europe’s “oldest city” and the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, and its remnants showcase the vibrant artistic culture that thrived here some three millennia ago.
On this tour, we have a chance to see (and experience) the breadth of Japan’s art. First, we visit the Tokyo gallery of preeminent calligrapher Koshun Masunaga, where we learn about this ancient art of artistic writing and browse the collection. We also get to try our hand at the craft:
Before leaving Tokyo, we also visit the Tokyo National Museum, housing an extensive collection of art and antiquities from all across Asia. In Kanazawa, we call on the acclaimed Hakukokan Gold Leaf Center, a museum that celebrates the art and craft of gold leaf technology and houses a collection dating to the late 16th century. The museum is a center of gold leaf craft, and we are shown how to apply real gold leaf. After this demonstration, we can try our hands at decorating a plate with our own gold leaf patterns:
We also visit Unrakugama Pottery, a family-owned pottery house producing fine handmade ceramics and earthenware. Here, we get an up-close view of how these master potters craft a variety of pieces using only their hands, clay, and the potter’s wheel.
The major artistic achievements we view on this tour of four northern European nations reside in Russia, but our first brush with beauty comes in Latvia. We travel through gentle countryside to the restored 18th-century Baroque palace of Rundale. Designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, who also designed St. Petersburg’s Hermitage, Rundale’s construction took more than 30 years and 1,500 workers. We tour some of the castle’s 138 rooms and view the marvelous paintings and frescoes here.
Our art-infused touring of St. Petersburg includes a visit to awe-inspiring St. Isaac’s Cathedral, whose construction took more than 40 years; the Peter & Paul Fortress; the Bronze Horseman statue of city founder Peter the Great; and a guided tour of the world-renowned Hermitage Museum founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and housing one of the world’s greatest fine arts collections.
And finally, of course, we visit Peterhof, one of the many royal “summer” palaces built by the Romanovs during the last two centuries of their rule. Most of these palaces were virtually destroyed by retreating Germans during World War II and later rebuilt to their original designs, complete with gilding. Known for its elaborate fountains with gold statues and 142 jets, Peterhof sits in a huge park with a formal 18th-century garden. Our tour includes both the Grand Royal Palace and the Upper and Lower gardens.
Fans of both studio and architectural arts will enjoy this tour of Portugal and northern Spain. In León, we encounter the city’s impressive historical and architectural heritage as we visit the 12th-century León Cathedral, one of Spain’s most beautiful with its sculpture-covered façade and impressive stained glass windows; and Casa Botines, a Modernist structure by architect Antoni Gaudí.
The artistic crown jewel on any tour of northern Spain is the Guggenheim, the famed modern art museum where we take a guided tour. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the jaw-dropping structure of limestone, titanium, and glass has drawn acclaim, attention, and visitors to this popular, revitalized city.
In our last stop in Barcelona, we visit a number of architectural treasures, including the landmark Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s surreal – and unfinished – cathedral. It’s an all-around view of Spain’s vibrant artistic history.
So if you’re an art lover and want to experience the artistic stylings of another culture, consider one of these small group tours!