Museums, art galleries, the world's great buildings and fantastic archaeogical sites – they can all be inspirational reasons to travel. But they can also be hard to make sense of, and a visit is invariably enhanced by a really knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide who can bring a painting or sculpture, a ruin or a palace to life in a way that no history or audio book can.
1. The Genius of Monet
A recent exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse (January 30 – April 20), examined the role of gardens in the paintings of Claude Monet and his contemporaries. Brightwater Holiday’s new four-day Genius of Monet itinerary brings the artist’s work to life with a visit to the painter’s garden in Giverny and the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, home to a selection of his water lily paintings, including the remarkable Les Nymphéas. Led by an expert guide, this trip also takes in the market town of Senlis and Château de Chantilly and its fine art collection and gardens designed by French landscape architect Le Nôtre.
2. Georgia O’Keeffe’s New Mexico
Tate Modern will present a major retrospective of the American modernist artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s work this summer (July 6 – 30 October), a century after her New York debut. The rugged terrain of New Mexico – which the artist later called home – inspired many of O’Keeffe’s greatest work such as Lawrence Tree and Summer Days. Ahead of the exhibition, Tauck is offering for the first time an eight-day New Mexico: Land of Enchantment tour which provides special insight into O’Keeffe’s life and art. The tour includes an exclusive pre-opening welcome at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe and a private visit to a secluded area of Ghost Ranch, where O’Keeffe lived and worked, with time to marvel at the landscapes that she recorded on canvas, guided by Karen Butts, manager of tours and education at Ghost Ranch.
3. A Portrait of Matisse with Alastair Sooke
Alastair Sooke, The Telegraph’s deputy art critic and one of Britain’s leading arts journalists and broadcasters heads this “A Portrait of Matisse” tour which explores the work and lives of the many artists – such as Matisse, Picasso and Chagall – who chose to live in the South of France. This four-day itinerary takes in Nice, Antibes, Vallauris, St Paul de Vence, Vence and the Marc Chagall Museum, which houses the largest collection of the artist’s work, notably the 17 canvases of the Biblical Message, all set in a serene garden. Other highlights include the Musée Matisse in Nice, the Picasso Museum in Antibes and the Chapel of the Rosary, designed and decorated by Matisse towards the end of his life when, wracked by ill health, he was persuaded by a former model-turned-nun to decorate it.
4. Secrets of Crete
This new Crete itinerary from Cox & Kings in partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts explores the influence of the Minoans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians and Ottomans on the Greek island of Crete. Led by Dr Konstantine Politis, a Greek archaeologist and scholar, the nine-day tour includes special access to the INSTAP study centre at the Minoan town of Gournia, a private tour of the archaeological site of Eleftherna which is still under excavation and closed to the public, and an exclusive visit to Villa Ariadne at Knossos, once home to British archaeologists. Other highlights include visits to the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, the Minoan palace of Phaestos and the convent of Agia Irini where you will enjoy a private guided tour with a nun.
5. Botticelli in Florence
Inspired by Victoria & Albert Museum’s upcoming exhibition Botticelli Reimagined (March 5 – July 3), this new six-day tour traces the footsteps of this fascinating Florentine painter who was largely forgotten after his death but was posthumously rediscovered in the 19th century. It is led by Dr Paula Nuttall, a specialist in Italian and Netherlandish Renaissance art and the director of the Medieval and Renaissance year course at the V&A. Based in Hotel Berchielli near the Ponte Vecchio, the tour takes in the city’s churches, museums and gardens: highlights include Museo Civico, Ospedale delgi Innocenti, Palazzo Strozzi and the Uffizi, which houses Botticelli’s greatest masterpieces: the painted poems of Primavera, the Birth of Venus, the Pallas and the Centaur and the Calumny of Apelles.