Great Getaways: Become A Culture Vulture

Become a culture vulture! The best culture getaways selected by the editors of Zoomer magazine.

GUADALAJARA, MEXICO

Why: Where creativity meets history. It’s a five hour luxury bus ride from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city (1.6 million citizens). And who knew there were so many shoe stores in Guadalajara? The city has a big footwear industry – but don’t miss shopping in the burbs at Tlaquepaque. There’s tourista junk, but there’s good stuff, too, like sublime jewelry, surreal sculptures and have-to-have handbags by Sergio Bustamante.

After you’re shopped out, take in some art. See the frescoes painted by José Clemente Orozco in Guadalajara’s Instituto Cultural Cabañas where the main chapel of the former orphanage is known as the Sistine Chapel of the Americas. After, dine at La Fonda de San Miguel. Beautiful arches and pillars evoke the convent it once was. It’s said to be haunted, but delicious food, clusters of tin-star lamps, cages of macaws, and easy-going musicians make it a heavenly scene.

 

ASHEVILLE, N. C.

Why: ’Cause even a snowbird needs a stopover. If you’re en route to more southerly climes and have time for a detour, this is well worth it. The Biltmore Estate, owned by the famous Vanderbilt clan, is an 8,000-acre domain on which sits the Biltmore House, said to be the one of the largest homes in America. On Christmas Eve 1895, original owner George Vanderbilt opened Biltmore’s doors for the first time to friends and family, a nod to the yuletide season. As a tribute to this history and time-forgotten grandeur, the halls are splendidly decked for the Candlelight Christmas Evenings event every year, through the first week of January. You can stay on the property (it also functions as a hotel) or opt for the Grove Park Inn, overlooking the art-deco resplendence of Asheville’s city centre, tucked neatly in the Blue Ridge Mountain range.

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.

Why: For beyond the beach in the sunny south. Long an enclave for sun-and-sand seekers as well as baseball fans (the Toronto Blue Jays make their winter home in nearby Dunedin), the St. Petersburg-Clearwater (www.floridasbeach.com) area has riches for cultural vultures. Filled with gifts of a Cleveland couple who collected his works, the Salvador Dalì Museum rotates its 2,000-piece collection of the surrealist artist’s visionary works, most owned by the city of St. Petersburg. If you’re a fan of Mediterranean food, head to Tarpon Springs, the city that claims the largest Greek-American population in the U.S. and has many restaurants imbued with the healthy cuisine. And birders? Visit Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, the largest bird hospital in the U.S.

 

ORLANDO, FLA

Why: Because there’s still magic left in the world. We love Walt Disney World for its annual and inspiring Food & Wine and Garden Festivals, but the interactive minds at Disney Parks are at it again with the experience, “Let the Memories Begin,” where you can be the star of the show. Selected images of the day’s adventures taken by roving Disney photographers are projected nightly on the walls of Cinderella’s Castle. You can also submit past moments to the virtual scrapbook at Disney Parks’ website. Look at it as a new way to get your whole family’s 15 minutes of fame.

 

NEW ORLEANS, LA.

Why: Because if music be the food of love … To arrive in New Orlean’s French Quarter at midday is akin to arriving at an allages frat party at 10 p.m. Unlike less-fortunate historic neighbourhoods – take Treme (pronounced Truh-may), for example, now immortalized by the HBO series – the Quarter was fairly unscathed by the devastating trail left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The streets are alive with people of all shapes, colours and sizes; all-day breakfast is on every menu and tall, colourful cocktails are flowing, literally, out onto Bourbon Street. Yet, at 3 in the afternoon, people are lining up at Café du Monde for coffee, and the famed beignets – French “doughnuts” doused in white powdery sugar – are just as hot and fresh as they were at 9 a.m.

They make for messy eating but, trust me, skip lunch because these calories are worth it (even the locals line up!). In the Crescent City, a moniker arising from the curved shape the city takes as it hugs the banks of the Mississippi, it’s always a good time to pull out your guitar or your banjo and sing. Jazz, blues, rock ’n’ roll, bluegrass and southern-tinged strains of zydeco float through the storied streets all day and all night long. A local children’s marching band is playing Jackson Square, named for Andrew Jackson, the Battle of New Orleans war hero and seventh president of the United States. It’s a plaza-cum-artist’s marketcum- meeting place that’s crowned by the majestic St. Louis Cathedral at its top end. Turn the corner and a 70-something gent sits on his milk carton crooning Louis Armstrong. What a wonderful world.

 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.

Why: For Old West with a Spanish flair. In the centre of Albuquerque’s tony Edo neighbourhood, the Hotel Parq Central has opened its historic doors – the doors are believed to be restored originals to the site, the Santa Fe Hospital, built in 1926. Founded by the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad to provide health care for its staff, the spot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The designers of the new hotel mixed elements such as original clay tiles and 1920s-era windows with today’s techno polish. In a nod to the hotel’s past, the rooftop Apothecary Lounge serves up Roaring Twenties-themed cocktails. It’s also the perfect launch point to explore more of the Old West: the nearby Albuquerque Museum of Art and History has exhibits on the city’s origins as a Spanish colonial village and includes artworks in all traditions, from the works of indigenous peoples to Spanish colonial art to cutting-edge modern installations.

 

(September 2011)