arthisto May 7th, 2012
The term “cultural immersion” is an important one, but like so many great “tags,” they become overused sound bites and lose their strength. Nonetheless, it is what Art History Alive achieves trip after trip, and why prospective clients ask me my definition. We can achieve a sense of immersion into a place in several key ways:
- Slow Pace
- Historic Accommodations
- Sites in, Under, and Above
- Off the Beaten Track
- Family-Run Restaurants
- Meeting and Greeting Interesting Locals
Slow Pace. Similar to the slow food movement, in order to savor a place, we hold back on pace. AHA meanders, soaking in the culture.
Accommodations. The place that you sleep on an AHA tour will be small, located in the historic center of wherever we are, and often run by a family that we now call friends. These are the people whom each of you will get to know, and they will go above and beyond to make you feel at home in the city or area they are immensely proud of. Whether we are in Tuscany, Florence, Rome, Paris, or California, our friends welcome us back with the warmest of reunions. Needless to say, locating and building these trusted friendships has been a 15-year labor of love that you, our guests, will enjoy.
In, Under, and Above a Place. For example: AHA will wander with you into tiny colorful towns, under a city through tunnels dating back before Christ, and above the Pacific Ocean perched on a high cliff. We will take you down into a valley only to look up at an enormous and majestic rushing waterfall.
We Will Go Off The Beaten Track. In Italy, everyone goes to the beautiful Chianti region for wine tasting. We, on the other hand, have sought out tucked away wineries so as to avoid the slick marketing of the “Italian Wine Country.” Instead, AHA enjoys visiting a large typical wine estate overlooking, for example, Orvieto. We taste the wines with complementary foods under a frescoed ceiling. At other times, we might visit a village wine co-op. Here, everyone in the village pools their small private vineyard grape crop to make a wine that they divide up and will drink every day for the next year. The same is true in California. We will go wine tasting in the lesser known wine producing areas of Paso Robles, on the Central Coast, and Murphy’s in the foothills of the mighty Sierra Mountains.
Restaurant Choices Are Key. In Italy, we will eat in family- owned trattorie. These are the restaurants where wonderful smells waft as you walk in the door. They’re where Mama and Grandma are in the kitchen, Papa is at the fireplace roaster, Grandpa is making the coffee and tending the cash register, and the kids are busing tables and taking orders. This is where they approach your table, not with a menu, but with a list of what was cooked today, always fresh, and only seasonal. They will take great pride in their homemade pastas, which will melt in your mouth, and their house wines which were probably made at the co-op mentioned above. This is too much fun! However, if American travelers discover one of our favs, we move on. There is no cultural immersion if the table next to you is talking about their last trip to Vegas.
In California, Paris, and NYC, we will take you to places we know and trust—eateries that reflect the personality of the place we are visiting. From Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch steak house in Carmel, CA, to the best French fries in the world at L’Entrecote in Paris, where we enjoy our meals is an important piece of the immersion process.
You, Our Guests, Will Have The Opportunity To Meet and Greet Our Wonderful Friends. This is something NO other tour group, large or small, can boast. As mentioned above, through years of returning to these places, we have met, and had the pleasure of getting to know, grocers in small towns, tiny hotel owners, restaurant owners, and vintners, all of whom are genuinely happy to see us again. We really enjoy our reunions and introducing our guests to them. This is so key in getting beyond the ordinary in a country. Now you are not simply an observer in a culture, but you are interacting with it. This is a huge difference and uniquely Art History Alive.
I am sure you will agree that when you add these experiences together, you will feel that you have been immersed in a wonderful culture. And so do we!