Hidden Culture Capitals of the World

local traditional dancers in unique culture

Experience One Of These Cultural Gems On Your Next Trip

Masterful artistry and architecture that have withstood the tests of time beckon to be revisited. Cultural hubs encourage visitors to experience their vibrant rituals and history by engaging all their senses. Touch the stone walls of ancient temples, taste the spices on dishes passed down generations, and partake in celebrations that have been held for millennia. Jubel has an extensive list of destinations for Culturists— those ready to travel back in time and breathe life into the past.

Here a few of our favorite:

Uzès, France

scenic shot of uzes, france

Take in the picturesque rolling hills and olive trees of the Gard from this quaint riverside town. The original 16th century merchant buildings from when Uzès was a textile hub still prevail in the area— providing plenty of historic charm.

On Wednesdays and Fridays, the market sets up on the town’s narrow cobblestone streets with offerings like wine from local vineyards and prized French pastries. Not too far from the market square is The Bishop Tower Garden. This replica of a medieval garden has shaded patio seating and hosts theater and visual arts events throughout the year.

The intriguing castle, Le Duche, is found in Uzès town center. Le Duche’s unique history and unorthodox use has led the castle to contain design elements from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the 17th century. The Bermonde tower of Le Duche was built in 1170, but in 1572 was modified to fit the Renaissance era. In the 17th century, the castle was remodeled again, now to have a stronger baroque influence. Due to financial struggles in the mid 19th and early 20th centuries, the castle was converted into a school not once, but twice.

Luckily for visitors today, the present Duke of Uzès has taken to restoring the castle to its former glory, and each of its rooms are now fully furnished. Climbing to the top of Le Duche’s towers offers a full view of Uzès and the verdant south of France beyond city limits.

Jeonju, South Korea

charming street in jeonju, south korea

What better way to understand a place’s culture than through its food? Jeonju is a foodie capital of South Korea that has yet to reach heightened international popularity. Jeonju is the home of bibimbap, a dish which translates to ‘mixed rice’ that is often topped with fried egg and wild greens. The careful use of local ingredients like pine kernels and fern bracken in an otherwise quick and simple dish reflects Jeonju’s mix of both urban and rural life.

The city is rich in history with its fill of shrines and museums. Visitors can stay inHanokguest houses, historic upper class homes designed in the 14th century with tiled roofs. The masterfully constructed Sori Arts Center hosts frequent art shows and performance events highlighting traditional music. The Jeondong Catholic Church resides in the heart of the city and is considered one of the most beautiful in all of South Korea.

To explore the area’s more rural side, Maisan mountain is a short bus ride away from central Jeonju. About 2 kilometers up the mountain lies Tapsa Temple, surrounded by cherry blossoms in the spring. Over 80 of 120 original stone pagodas built entirely by scholar Yi Gap-yong in the late 1800’s still stand— unstirred by centuries of strong winds.

Leh, Ladakh, India

mountainous landscape with contrasting colors in leh, ladakh, india

Leh, a vast town found between the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges, holds strong ties to its 7th century Buddhist roots. Many stone walls engraved with Sanskrit mantras are placed by Leh’s many Gompa (monasteries), each boasting unique construction. Zongkhul monastery, humbly nestles within rocky mountains and utilizes the rugged terrain for cave wall murals. Alchi Gompa’s woodwork columns and clay paintings reflect the Kashmiri influence in its design.

As the highest plateau region in India (3,000-7,000 meters - 10,000-23,000 ft), it takes some time to acclimate to the high altitude, but with proper preparation, the once-in-a-lifetime views from Leh’s peaks are attainable and worth the effort.

In 2019, visitors will gather on July 11th and July 12th to partake in the Buddhist Hemis Festival. The Hemis Festival originated in honor of Guru Padmasambhava, who brought Tantric Buddhist practice to Tibet. The festivities occur at the Hemis Gompa, where incense sticks, cooked dough, and cups of holy water are brought to the monastery as offerings. Hemis Festival has gained much of its traction because of the vivacity it provides Ladakh. Lamas and monks adorn vibrant hand-painted masks and perform a sacred dance form that represents the triumph of good over evil. Loud drums and long brass trumpets fill the town with music as crowds contribute to the festival’s energy with dance and cheer.

Goree Island, Senegal

colorful houses in goree island, senegal

Goree Island sits to the right of Senegal’s capital, Dakar, and was one of the largest slave trading centers from the 15th to 19th centuries. While the extent of Goree Island’s role in the transatlantic slave trade is debated, the island remains an important historical reminder of the atrocities of slavery and has been named a UNESCO World heritage site.

The island remained under the control of the French from 1817 until 1960, when Senegal gained independence. Maison de Esclaves was built by the Dutch in the 18th century, and currently functions as a museum to remember the lives of the men and women who were once held in its quarters. A now famous image at the house depicts Barack and Michelle Obama standing within ‘The Door of No Return’ on their visit to the island.

Another important site on the island is Fort d’Estrees. Built by the French in 1852, the original cannons still remain perched at the top of the fort. Presently, the fort is a museum devoted to the island’s history and contains important slave artifacts. A humbling destination, Goree Island provides an opportunity for reflection to visitors from all walks of life.

Lienz, Austria

vibtrant street in picturesque lienz, austria

Whether you are more captivated by expressionist art or medieval history, travelers will find themselves transported back in time by the quaint Austrian town of Lienz. Don’t underestimate this town because of its smaller size (with a population of 11,000): Lienz has been witnessing the ebbs and flows of Western civilization for over 2,000 years, when Celtic miners first settled the area in 300 B.C.

The town feels frozen in an acutely medieval universe amidst its cobbled streets and landmarks like the Bruck Castle, a stone fortress whose imposing stature hasn’t diminished with time; as if gazing warily upon the horizon for Gallic intruders. Inside, however, the fortress pays homage to its ancient legacy while also considering how Lienz has changed over time. In fact, the fortress doubles as an art museum, with five centuries worth of paintings housed inside.

For continued exploration of art, Egger-Lienz Gallery, located downtown, contains the largest public collection of the eponymous expressionist painter, renowned for his haunting depictions of 20th century battlefields.

Perfect to visit all year round, Lienz boasts a Mediterranean climate. Mild winters and sunny summers probably don’t immediately jump to mind when thinking of verdant alpine vistas in a mountainous Austrian setting, but hey, that’s likely why Lienz is known as the Pearl of the Dolomites!

Cebu, Philippines

unique temples in cebu, philippines

For Westerners, Cebu might not have the same renown as its big brother Manila, but that doesn’t mean travelers should underestimate the offerings of this province in the Philippines.

Cozily nestled between the tropical mountains of the South Pacific in Southeast Asia, its landscape varies between rugged territory in the highlands to coral atolls along the coasts. No matter where you are on the island, tropical biodiversity abounds. For example, the whale sharks in the remote town of Oslob greet foreigners who come from all over the world to swim with these gentle giants.

Beyond the sheer natural beauty of the locale, Cebu City, the second largest metropolitan area in the Philippines, has an immersive history and culture. The Sinulog Festival, so named for the swaying, water-like dance which joyously accompanies the festivities, is the largest such undertaking in the country. Between January 6th and February 2nd in 2019, millions of citizens will make the pilgrimage to the state to partake in the commemoration of Santo Nino de Cebu, the holy image of Baby Christ. This sacred relic was gifted by Ferdinand Magellan to an early Cebu king, and it symbolizes a pivotal moment in indigenous acceptance of Roman Catholicism Christianity. An appropriate analogue for the festival might be Mardi Gras, another gleeful Roman Catholic tradition full of loud music, colorful costumes, and communal celebration.

Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

festive scene in salvador, bahia, brazil

Right on the water in northeastern Brazil, Salvador is an affordable destination for travelers looking to immerse themselves into local culture in South America. Join Salvador’s surfers at beaches such as Praia do Corsario, where snacks like plantains and “acaraje”, a spicy fried-bean dish, are offered at kiosks nearby.

Between the pastel colored buildings of the historic town center Pelourinho, men practice capoeira; this intricate dance style requires serious contortion as performers move along the cobblestone streets. On Tuesday nights, drummers fill Pelourinho’s streets for Terça da Benção, guiding dancing passersby to bustling bars.

Visit In late February or early March for a week-long Carnival where you’re encouraged to be a part of the festivities. March 1st of this upcoming year, millions will gather for this free street party. If you prefer to avoid the large crowds, you can also experience the Carnival parades from above by purchasing an abadá pass. An abadá provides access to protected balcony areas throughout the city with room for dancing and free drinks. Central to Salvador Carnival are the Afros-Bloco and Afoxé groups, who pridefully celebrate their Afro-Brazilian heritage with powerful drum beats and detailed costumery.

Taos Pueblo, Taos, New Mexico

special place in taos, new mexico

Just one mile north of Taos city proper, Taos Pueblo sends you back in time with its buildings constructed of adobe sun dried brick. The Taos tribe has lived in the Sangre de Cristo mountains for over 1,000 years and remain true to many of their original traditions. Taos was the only tribe to have their Peyote religion accepted by Spaniards following colonization. Presently, 90% of Taos natives practice a form of Catholicism that incorporates traditional Peyote rites.

The Taos welcome visitors and offer guided tours of the Pueblo throughout the year. Guides are clear regarding the regulations travelers must be conscious of to respect the Taos while visiting their home. For instance, to ensure religious privacy, some Peyote rituals and sacred lands are accessible only to Pueblo residents.  

Still, visitors can marvel at the Rio Grande Gorge bridge constructed in 1965 and spanning 1,300 feet. The flowing river backed by arid desert land and red clay mountains makes for Ansel Adams styled views. Artisans from the village have wares including handmade silver jewelry, glazed earthenware, and moccasins on view and ready for purchase.

If you’re feeling eager to engage with rich histories and customs from around the world, you might just be a Culturist in the waiting. As our world grows increasingly interconnected, there’s no better way to truly understand a place than to visit. Invaluable experiences like practicing a new language, tasting new foods, and even getting to know a stranger, offer us insight regarding not only others, but ourselves.

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