Travel Muse: 5 Destinations That Inspired Famous Works of Art

If you’re an art buff, or even just the sort to enjoy a beautiful painting, you may have stared into the brush strokes of a Gogh or Monet piece and wished you could actually go there. Well, surprise! Maybe you can. A number of the most famous works of art have been based on real settings, meaning that your next vacation could take you somewhere acrylic or oil based — except perhaps somewhat less messy. So instead of wandering through an art museum on your next vacation, buy a ticket and wander through the painting itself — or as close as you can get.

cafe terrace

1. Vincent Van Gogh’s “Cafe Terrace”

Though Van Gogh was of Dutch origins, he spent a great deal of time in France, and this specific painting was made in Arles at the Place du Forum in 1888. You can still go there and wander through the area, and even stop in at the cafe the painting was based on. Of course, there’s more to Arles than just this patch of coffee shops, and if you’re interested in continuing the art experience, you can head to the Musee Reattu, a modern art museum that houses two Picasso paintings and many other worthwhile works. You can also rent a bike and cycle through vineyards and countryside, some of which, according to Lonely Planet, was featured in other landscape paintings from Van Gogh.

Recommended activity and food to complete the experience: Have a cup of coffee at the terrace and take in the local corn fields and scenery. Later, eat hefty amounts of toxic paint and stop in at a nearby psychiatric hospital — or just cut off an ear if you want to go the classic route.



2. Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies”

The subject of over 200 paintings from Monet is nothing if not a beautiful destination. If it was worth pounds of paint and miles of canvas, it’s certainly worth a visit for your own eyes — and once again, visiting the real life pond of his water lily fascination is an option. The landscape paintings were done at his home in Giverny, a commune in northern France on the River Seine.

The trip also has the advantage of being only 80 kilometers from Paris, so you can take in some of the other French sights while there. His home and gardens are open to visitors, and the Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny is also located in the area, and hiking there is said to be beautiful if you’re feeling up for a walk in what Monet saw so many years ago through a train window — eventually helping him decide to move there. ”He looked out the window and saw this charming village. So he just got off the train,” said Normandy tour guide Brigitte Mueller to NPR. ”He walked until the first pub, sat down, had a big jug of cider and talked to the local people.”

Recommended activity and food to complete the experience: Want to see those water lilies like the man himself? Take off your glasses. Or put on someone else’s. Better yet, develop a case of cataracts for the day if you’re able. There are some theories that Monet’s later renditions of the scenery might be a bit more abstract due to this very problem with his eyesight. On the other hand, it could just be the way his artistic style matured — many famous artists grow more abstract as they develop. As for food, clearly Ms. Mueller has the right idea with that jug of cider. It might even help with the vision bit.



3. Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon On the Island of La Grande Jatte”

Seurat’s painting of “A Sunday Afternoon” is based on a park on the Grande Jatte island in the Seine River, close by Paris, France. The park itself is now just that — a park. Obviously, you can’t expect everything to be the 1880s pixilated version the moment you step onto the site — however, it affords a nice view of the water, perfect for a walk in the sun if weather allows.

There’s also various sites around the island with information on various Impressionist painters, including but not limited to Seurat. Reproductions of Van Gogh, Sisley, Gleizes, and Nozal would be visible as well on your walk. Once again, it’s very close to Paris, meaning you can get your fill of museums and other French culture while in the neighborhood.

Recommended activity and food to complete the experience: Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Seurat was a rather practical man, so there’s few snarky suggestions to be had — unless you’re really committed — in which case, having a child out of wedlock with a model would fit the bill. Other than that, best to settle back, smoke a pipe, and read a book instead of eating.


4. Salvador Dali’s “Landscape at Port Lligat” and “Port Lligat Landscape”

Not many of Dali’s paintings are of this world, and most seem to be based on something internal rather than external. His paintings involving Port Lligat, such as ”The Madonna of Port Lligat” and “Port Lligat Landscape,” are actually based on a real location, though; even if they feature angels and a trumpeting horse rider. The landscape of the region also had a potentially strong influence on his other works, even if the area was not directly featured in them.

Port Lligat also has the advantage of being Dali and his wife Gala’s only home for many years, between 1930 and 1982, when Gala died there. Port Lligat is located in Spain on the Costa Brava of the Mediterranean, a beautiful place to visit itself, but also an opportunity to see the house museum of their old place for curious fans.

Recommended activity and food to complete the experience: Since this is Salvador Dali — known for melted clocks and warped landscapes — there’s a pretty obvious item one should partake in to get the full experience. I’m talking about fish, of course. Well, that and drugs. In all seriousness though, Port Lligat is a fishing village, so tasting the local fair is an ideal way to spend a meal. Finally, grow out a nice mustache — if you can — and give it a few twists in preparation. Don’t forget to wear your most ridiculously eccentric outfit. Maybe something in velvet or snakeskin.

view of toledo

5. El Greco’s “View of Toledo”

El Greco’s “View of Toledo” is one of only two landscapes still around from El Greco, and depicts Toledo, Spain, though the buildings apart from the castle aren’t accurately represented. Going back today, you’ll see not only the same church and landscape, but a museum dedicated to Greco.

The church didn’t pay [El Greco] for two years; he had no money,” Mannuela Carrasco, a guide, told the New York Times. “If El Greco were to wake up from his tomb and see this museum, see this gift shop, I have no idea what he might say.” The city, much like in the painting, is full of beautiful architecture, parks, and right along the side of the Tagus River.

Recommended activity and food to complete the experience: El Greco, translated, means “the Greek,” as El Greco was born on the island of Crete. So perhaps don yourself in garb appropriate to the 1500s in Greece and snack on some olives, while maybe flipping through a Bible for good measure — El Greco certainly did. You could also just take in the delicious Spanish food to be had in Toledo. Either should work fine.

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