Cultural Immersion: Cnoc Suain, Galway, Ireland
A beautifully restored hill village that literally sits on layers of Irish history, Cnoc Suain offers a thorough immersion in local culture. Bog walks and classes on Irish language, music, and storytelling combine with picturesque surroundings and centuries-old stone cottages to form a microcosm of traditional Ireland that’s devoid of pretension or Lucky Charms kitsch. Thanks in part to its ecology program for local students, Cnoc Suain has also made environmental stewardship a key element of its heritage preservation efforts. Its exemplary approach to cultural tourism operates on the assumption that you can’t have one without the other.
Take the Trip: Cnoc Suain’s two-night Spirit of Ireland Gaelic immersion includes language classes and music sessions (Aug. 26–28, Sept. 16–18, and Oct. 7–9; from $500 per person).
Artisan Revival: The Haciendas, Yucatán, Mexico
When development company Grupo Plan began a painstaking restoration of colonial estates that once anchored the Yucatán’s sisal industry, it had little idea that its five beautiful hotels (from the jungle-shaded Hacienda San José to the stately and manicured Hacienda Temozon) would end up revitalizing entire areas of rural Mexico. The properties inspired a wave of community-focused tourism. Today, folk art collectives sell handicrafts both to the hotels and directly to the wave of visitors they are now attracting. Meanwhile, a cultural center and hotel-sponsored initiatives promoting health and literacy are allowing these once-depressed communities to take a larger role in determining their own future.
Take the Trip: Each of the Haciendas has an on-site boutique selling local handmade goods such as carved horn necklaces and Mayan cotton hammocks.
Heritage Site: Linden Centre, Yunnan, China
The product of an unprecedented initiative by two American antiquities experts, this 14-room luxury hotel in Yunnan province serves as a museum, learning center, and meeting place for visitors and local artisans alike. Guests at the restored historic mansion can participate in 10-day to three-week-long painting, writing, and culinary-arts programs, attend a local wedding, or even help carry sedan chairs during a temple celebration. The Linden Centre has helped persuade skeptical officials of the importance of preserving the heritage of China’s rural areas, and the owners are now adapting their model for two more historic buildings in Yunnan.
Take the Trip: Traditional Chinese dance programs are held in the hotel’s restored central courtyard, set high in the Himalayan foothills (doubles from $125).
Cultural Restoration: Cambodian Living Arts, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
During its brief but devastating reign, the Khmer Rouge eliminated an estimated 90 percent of Cambodia’s performing artists. More than three decades later, the aftereffects of this horrific purge are still evident; thanks to Cambodian Living Arts, however, so, too, are signs of recovery. The organization provides space, equipment, and a living wage to master practitioners of Cambodian folk dance, smot chanting, and other endangered art forms and enlists them to teach younger generations—giving the country’s cultural traditions a chance to thrive.
Take the Trip: See the organization’s Children of Bassac dance troupe perform classic and folk dance styles during weekly shows at the National Museum in Phnom Penh’s newly renovated garden theater. For more, go to cambodianlivingarts.org.
Historic Preservation: Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust, Nepal
In a country short on homegrown preservation efforts, KVPT has established itself as a steward of some of Nepal’s most fantastic monuments. Most of its efforts have revolved around the stunning Patan Darbar royal complex, which comprises mainly 17th-century Buddhist and Hindu structures and remains a key part of religious life in Kathmandu today. (As Nepal’s most popular tourist attraction, it is also an important source of revenue.) KVPT recently restored 18 of Patan’s temples, and the trust continues to perform restoration work in the hope of one day opening the entire complex to the public.
Take the Trip: The restoration of Patan Darbar’s Sundari Chowk courtyard—the organization’s most ambitious effort—will be completed next year and open to tours.