Most travelers are willing to go that extra mile to see something remarkable. But art and architecture enthusiasts are in their own league. Just for them: four of-the-moment, if rarefied, cultural destinations well worth the legwork.
WHAT: The James Turrell Museum
WHERE: Colomé, Argentina
In an isolated corner of northern Argentina, the James Turrell Museum opened last April at Colomé, a winery owned by Swiss master vintner Donald Hess. It's one of three private museums across the globe that the inveterate collector has masterminded. Here, Hess invites visitors to experience the mind-altering illuminations of the celebrated California artist whose medium is simply light (both natural and artificial) and space.
From Buenos Aires (airfare from U.S. hubs starts at around $700), Aerolineas Argentinas offers daily two-hour flights to the provincial capital of Salta, nearly 1,000 miles north (aerolineas.com, from $379). From Salta, it's another four hours across a spectacular high-desert plateau to Colomé. The most convenient base is the winery's nine-room boutique hotel, Estancia Colomé (estanciacolome.com, from $296, shuttle from Salta $145). But if you're driving and looking for a more affordable option, consider the 18th-century, 18-room Hacienda de Molinos, 15 minutes away and once home to Salta's governor (haciendademolinos.com.ar, from $100).
You've Made It!
Hess couldn't have picked a more dazzling location for the first site devoted entirely to Turrell. In the sparse, open foothills of the Andes, spare yet monumental installations frame the desert sky to sublime effect. An 18,000-square-foot stone-colored cement structure, built to the artist's specs, holds pieces that represent five decades of his career.
estanciacolome.com, museum open daily 2 p.m.–6 p.m., but space is limited, so reservations are recommended, free.
WHAT: 21st-century architecture
Residents of China's second-most-populous metropolis joke that living near the Great Wall has altered their sense of scale. With increasingly supersize—and daringly designed—structures shooting up all over the skyline, Beijing has solidified its spot as the world's hub of avant-garde architecture.
Air China has daily nonstop flights from the U.S. that get to Beijing in 12 to 13 hours (airchina.com, from $828). Stay at the groovy new 110-room Hotel G—decked out with mod jewel-colored windows (hotel-g.com, from $159). Taxis (plentiful and inexpensive) are best for building-hopping. Crucial: Ask at your hotel to have directions written out in Chinese characters.
You've Made It!
Sure, Beijing is hardly in the middle of nowhere, but the city's of-the-moment buildings are uncharted territory. Just-emerged highlights include the China Central Television Tower by Rem Koolhaas's Office for Metropolitan Architecture; Paul Andreu's National Centre for the Performing Arts; the Art Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts by Arata Isozaki; and the Bumps residential complex by up-and-coming Japanese architect Keiichiro Sako, an ecofriendly, four-tower setup that bursts out of the skyscraper box like a 26-story game of black-and-white Jenga.
WHAT: A Le Corbusier model community
WHERE: Firminy-Vert, France
In 1954, followers of renegade architect and urban planner Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris—known as Le Corbusier—started a renewal project for the industrial town of Firminy, an hour southwest of Lyon. The result? Firminy-Vert, a shockingly fresh-looking planned community, and one of the world's first to tag itself "green." The design sought to bring sunlight, space, and fresh air into workers' quarters. Still a living village, it consists of an Unité d'Habitation (one of five iconic apartment complexes Le Corbusier constructed in France and Germany), a partially canopied sports stadium, a church with a 108-foot-high ceiling, and a cultural center shaped like an inverted arch. Le Corbusier jumped into the project the year it began, and each building bears his imprint.
Firminy-Vert is easy to get to via Lyon, 46 miles southwest in the Loire Valley. Fly Delta direct to Lyon from major U.S. hubs or take the two-hour TGV from Paris (raileurope.com, from $130 round trip). Stay near Lyon's TGV station, in the beaux arts Mercure Lyon Centre Grand Hôtel Château Perrache (12 cours de Verdun-Rambaud, mercure.com, from $128). From there, hop on the regional TER express train for a 72-minute ride to Gare de Firminy.
You've Made It!
Le Corbusier's masterpiece, the concrete Church of Saint-Pierre, with a towering truncated roof outfitted with three light cannons, wasn't completed until 2006, some four decades after his death. The section designed for parish activities is now a Le Corbusier mini museum. Nonprofit group Le Corbusier de Firminy leads visitors on guided tours of key sites (including a look at the private Unité d'Habitation roof garden).
sitelecorbusier.com, guided tours from $7.
WHAT: Instituto Inhotim
WHERE: Brumadinho, Brazil
A 3,000-acre park in southeastern Brazil's mining country, Inhotim is leading Latin American collector Bernardo Paz's quasi-utopian experiment in art appreciation. Located nearly 300 miles inland from Rio, the complex is half museum, half green space, filled with botanical gardens, eucalyptus forests, and 15 pavilions showcasing Paz's extraordinary post-1960s holdings.
Fly from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo to Belo Horizonte (the capital of Minas Gerais), a one-hour flight via Tam Airlines (tam.com.br, from $153 round trip). From there, catch a bus (Saturday and Sunday only, saritur.com.br, $15) or arrange for private transport via Pampulha Turismo (011-55/31-3057-1111, pampulhaturismo.com.br, $110) for the 75-minute ride to Inhotim, in the town of Brumadinho. Stay nearby at the 16-suite Pousada Fazenda Nova Estância, which has $11 daily van rides to the park (pousadafazendanovaestancia.com.br, from $103).
You've Made It!
Rare tropical plants and five ornamental lakes provide the setting for large-scale installations by Chris Burden, Olafur Eliasson, Jorge Macchi, and Hélio Oiticica. The grounds are meant to give meaningful context to—and call into question—art's relationship with its environment. But the backdrop isn't just for looks: A team of on-site scientists and conservationists also works to preserve rare plants like elephant foot trees and cycad palms from Brazil's Atlantic Forest and tropical savanna.
inhotim.org.br, open Thursday–Sunday, admission $6.