Take your holiday to the next level with these cultural immersion adventures.
When it's time to plan your next vacation, consider booking a trip that lets you dig into your chosen destination like a true local. Becoming immersed in the culture, sights and sounds of your next vacation spot is such a hot topic that many hotels are creating dreamy programs that let you do just that with ease. So if you don't have time to do the research, no worries -- your hotel hosts will lead the way. I've selected getaways from South Beach to fair Verona, Italy where enjoying the authenticity of the area is half the fun of jetting off on the vacation of your dreams.
Spray Paint South Beach
Spend some time walking around Miami's Wynwood Arts District and I promise you, you'll be in for a real treat. The area, which is world-renowned for its art galleries and larger-than-life murals, is the perfect place to explore. After perusing the bustling streets, head to Stanton South Beach for some peace and quiet, and a unique chance to test your own artistic talents without having to leave the property again. It is here that guests are able to take Graffiti-Art Street Cred lessons from Atomik, one of the city's most celebrated street artists whose toothy Orange character brings a healthy dose of Vitamin C to the vibrant community. Expect to learn spray-painting techniques -- you'll draw the hotel's beach views -- as Atomik walks you through the basics. The best part? You can take home a photo of your one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
Palazzo Victoria's In-Suite Serenade
Romeo wasn't the only one to get swept up in the romance of Verona -- which has inspired artists of all kinds for centuries. So see for yourself when you check into the 14th century charmer Palazzo Victoria. Located near the Roman amphitheater, the Arena, and Juliet's storied balcony, the classic hotel (think original Italian décor and frescos) offers its guests a 30-minute serenata to be savored in the confines of your comfy suite. Performed by a local operatic tenor, fall in love with the sounds of his beautiful base-alto voice while sipping on a Bellini. An experience like this is made for Verona -- home of the opera and one of the most enchanting cities in the world.
Stay Fit at The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth
What I absolutely love about Westin properties is their commitment to fitness and the outdoors. The brand does a nice job of getting its guests involved with its Well-Being Movement -- and no more so than in Mammoth Lakes, where sport is king. Not only is The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth part of the New Balance program that will lend you socks (you don't have to return these), New Balance shoes and clothing for a $5 fee, but that's just the beginning. From there, you can try the RunWESTIN program where the hotel's Run Concierge will take a group of guests out on a three-mile run (or walk) in town, where you'll wave hi to the friendly locals who run the mountains at those high altitudes with ease. Mammoth Lakes -- one of my favorite places to escape to for a California weekend getaway -- really is an outdoor sports mecca. Olympic marathon medalist Deena Kastor is the very embodiment of this, training (and she's not the only marathoner to do so) at the 8,050-foot altitude. And the Chix on Stix women's sports camp with Olympian skier Stacey Cook is coming back to Mammoth Lakes for another year in a row. There's no shortage of calorie-burning activities to get involved with while you're in town -- and the concierge at the Westin will help you jump right in, no matter your fitness level.
Textile Weaving Wonders (top of page)
Become one with the region's abundant culture and history when you book a room at JW Marriott El Convento Cusco. The Peruvian property, once a former 16th century convent, still has its original Inca and colonial walls, in addition to several archeological ruins, which have been maintained throughout the years. Now guests can get up close and personal with the ancient tradition of textile weaving in the hotel's courtyard (outfitted with original columns and arches of the San Agustin Convent). For two weeks at a time, the property allows local weavers to come in and give textile demonstrations to passersby. Like what you see? Guests may purchase woven wares to take home.
Receive Your Blessing Today
Just because you weren't in Washington, D.C. with Pope Francis when he delivered a mass and sanctified the masses, doesn't mean you'll never be blessed. Plan a trip to Casa Palopo (named one of the world's best culinary hotels) in Guatemala and you'll have a chance to receive an extra special blessing from a Mayan Shaman. The nine-room luxury hotel, which overlooks Lake Atitlan, has teamed with Tomás, a third-generation Shaman from San Marcos, to offer you a purifying ritual based on your own wishes. You'll head to the property's helipad where several lit candles, plus, candies and cookies (offered to the gods) await. It is here that Tomás will perform the blessing, and your life will forever be changed.