Fewer travelers these days seem content to visit destinations just as "tourists." The demand for "authentic" cultural travel—travel that puts you directly in touch with a people and their arts and history—has created a boom of cultural tours, learning vacations, and living-history programs.
From cooking vacations and folk arts classes to language-immersion programs and visits with indigenous tribes, there are now more ways than ever to get in touch with new cultures or reconnect with your own heritage. Because learning and people-to-people interactions are at the center of most cultural tours, these experiences can be quite affordable.
To get an idea of the possibilities, here's a look at 10 vacations that deliver authentic culture and are a good value for the money.
Learn to cook gourmet Italian meals at a Tuscan winery
Provider: Badia a Coltibuono
Price: from $212 to $3,418
Let's face it, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings are inspiring and Puccini's operas can move one to tears, but it's the handiwork of nameless Italian chefs—the texture of homemade pasta, the subtle flavor of extra virgin olive oil, the taste of vegetables so fresh they're still warm with the afternoon's sun—that often stands out foremost in the memories of visitors home from a trip to Italy. To prepare dishes so simple yet flavorful and exquisite in presentation, all paired with the perfect wines, now that is cultural expression worthy of more advanced study.
Cooking schools and tours are cropping up all over Italy, but if you really want to learn in style, you can book a cooking lesson or multi-day course at Badia a Coltibuono organic winery and estate in the Chianti region of Tuscany. A 1,000-year-old former abbey on the property serves as a B&B and cooking school where you can stay and take cooking lessons with Chef Guido Stucchi-Prinetti. Over the course of one, three, or five days, you'll learn how to prepare and pair wine with full four-course meals.
"We prepare all sorts of regional Italian dishes according to the season and the availability of fresh ingredients, always keeping an eye out for well-balanced meals," says Stucchi-Prinetti. "In each lesson students learn to prepare a whole menu with hands-on experience. A sample menu might include Tuscan flat bread with rosemary, spinach and Ricotta gnocchi, roast loin of pork with crackling and roasted sweet peppers, and pears cooked in spiced wine and served with a light crema pasticcera." Dishes are made from historic recipes but designed to translate into meals you can modify and cook at home.
One-day courses feature a cooking lesson, lunch with wine, tastings, and a guided tour of the estate. Multi-day courses include accommodations in the abbey, tastings of Coltibuono wines and olive oils, guided excursions to nearby medieval towns, dinner at private villas owned by prominent local families, breakfast and lunch with wine at the estate, and transfers from Florence.
Day courses can be arranged on Wednesdays and Fridays between May and October. Three- and five-night courses are scheduled on select dates from April through October. Badia a Coltibuono is about an hour's drive from Florence. Late-summer and fall round-trip flights from New York to Florence are priced at $350, excluding taxes, on Alitalia.