May/June 2009FEATURE
2009 Tours of a Lifetime: Cultural
Photo: Palmyra in Syria
Archaeology buffs will love the historical tour of Syria by Andante Travels.
By Margaret Loftus
Photo Massimo Pizzotti/Getty Images

Snug Harbors, Newfoundland
Out in the Atlantic, Canada’s unspoiled easternmost island proves the ideal venue for a self-guided tour. CapeRace offers exclusive use of three fully renovated, self-catering, three-bedroom homes along the east coast of Newfoundland, with full-sized car or van. Included is a detailed guidebook written specifically for the CapeRace tour. Explore remote areas with dramatic scenery, meet hospitable local people, enjoy local music, see whales, icebergs, seabird rookery. CapeRace Cultural Adventures: 10 days self-guided tour; $1,495 per person based on four-person occupancy. Children under 16 free. April-October.

Digging Syria
Largely untouched by tourism, Syria is a feast for archaeology buffs. This tour follows its history from the earliest cities to the Crusades. You'll visit Mari—founded around 3,000 B.C. on the banks of the Euphrates—and explore Krak des Chevaliers, one of the best examples of Crusader castles. Along the way, you'll tour ancient Palmyra, known as the Bride of the Desert, and take a ride by steam engine on the antique Hejaz Railway (famously attacked by Lawrence of Arabia) through the desert to the basalt city of Bosra. Andante Travels: "Syria—From the Hauran to the Euphrates," 11 days; $2,630 (includes airfare from London).

Savoring Tuscany
With more than 20 years of experience guiding cycling trips through Tuscany, the outfitter has tapped its local connections to craft a new style of bicycle touring that goes easy on the quadriceps and heavier on the region's Etruscan and medieval history, bella cucina, and of course, Sangiovese and Vernaccia wines. Backroads: "Tuscany & Umbria Insider, Italy," 6 days; from $3,498.

Three Faces of Buddha
From the raked rock gardens of Kyoto to the temple architecture of Laos to the traditional paintings of Bhutan, explore how Buddhism informs three different cultures in this ambitious journey inspired by a longstanding interest of the operator's founder. Highlights include an overnight in a shukubo (traditional Japanese temple lodgings) and a hike to the cliffside Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan. The outfitter has knocked off $400 from last year's rate. Asia Transpacific Journeys: "The Cultures of Buddhist Asia—Japan, Laos, and Bhutan," 17 days; $9,995.

The Complete Kingdom
Intent on debunking stereotypes of both Westerners and those who live in the Mideast, company founder Rita Zawaideh has built flexibility into her Saudi Arabia itinerary for spontaneous visits and meals with friends and family. Nonetheless, it hits all the hot spots, from the capital Riyadh to the camel market in Najran to the Red Sea port of Jeddah, where you'll soak in the Arabian and Islamic architecture of the old city and shop Alawi Souq for jewelry, fabric, and incense. Caravan Serai Tours: "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," 16 days; $6,080.

The New Voluntourism
In this increasingly popular voluntourism model of work and play, get your bearings with two weeks of volunteering at one of Swaziland's Ezulwini Valley day centers for children affected by the country's widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic. The rest of the itinerary is reserved for exploring: four days camping and game drives in South Africa's Kruger National Park; five days on the coast of Mozambique, where you can swim with whale sharks. I to I: "The Kruger to Mozambique Volunteer Adventure," 29 days; $3,145.

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