eremito celluzze

Sleep in celluzze (rooms) inspired by ancient monks quarters. (Photo: Marriott International)

Culture + Style

Immersive Travel: Ways to Experience Local Traditions and Rituals

Ticking off must-see attractions when you travel to a destination for the first time is pretty much part and parcel of the experience. But that doesn’t mean you can’t practice immersive travel and dig below the surface to tap into local traditions and rituals, even in countries like Italy, Iceland and Turkey, which attract millions of visitors every year.

Here are a few ways to seek an authentic travel experience and dive deep into each of these three destinations, which could not be more physically and culturally diverse — from hiking in South Iceland to hot springs in Umbria and progressive art in Istanbul.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Turkey: Hammam Time, Cutting-Edge Art and a Bohemian ‘Hood

Refresh at a Turkish Hammam

Spanning two continents, Istanbul is a mesmerizing cultural mosaic of the East and West, but don’t skip out of town before treating yourself to a proper Turkish hammam ritual.

Gezi Hotel Bosphorus, a Member of Design Hotels™, near lively Taksim Square, not only boasts sweeping views of the strategic waterway after which it is named, but also serves as a peaceful haven after a busy day of exploring historical sites, museums and bazaars.

Rest up those weary calves and book a hammam ritual at the hotel’s Silver Spa, which features a contemporary take on Turkish-style baths. Let your therapist rub down tired muscles and slough your skin to dewy perfection.

Progressive Art in Istanbul

SALT is an innovative cultural institution that delves into critical and timely issues, with two locations in Istanbul: Beyoğlu and Galata. Focusing on art, architecture and design, both locations host a diverse program of research-based exhibitions, workshops, screenings and events.

At SALT Galata, housed in the former headquarters of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, which blends Orientalist and neoclassical architecture, lose yourself in a labyrinth of rooms and vaults where evidence of the Ottoman Empire’s economic wealth is on display at no cost. While there, be sure to check out the rooftop restaurant.

Hang Out in Chic Cihangir

Take a stroll through the slim alleyways of the elegant Beyoğlu neighborhood of Cihangir, whose melting pot of Greeks, Armenians, Jews and Levantines created a colorful architectural and cultural blend back in the 19th century.

Today the neighborhood is home to intellectuals, actors and artists, explaining why the streets buzz with cool cafés, restaurants, jazz bars, antique dealers and galleries. Make sure to pop into the mosque that Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent built in memory of his young son for views of the Golden Horn, one of the world’s largest natural harbors.

Iceland: Horses, Hiking and Hot Dogs

Go Horseback Riding

horseback riding in Iceland
Roam the land on horseback. (Photo: Getty Images)

Teetering on pillars that jut out across the lava layers of volcanic Mount Hengill 28 miles east of Reykjavik in Nesjavellir, ION Adventure Hotel, a Member of Design Hotels™ could be considered a modern-day icon of this small Nordic nation. Guests staying at the hotel can get to know the country’s stocky little horses, which descend from a hardy ancient breed and are famed for their speed and sure-footedness.

Book a two-hour horseback ride departing from the hotel through fog-shrouded lava fields, across rolling slopes reminiscent of fairy tales and alongside Lake Thingvallavatn, the country’s largest natural lake.

Hike Thingvellir National Park

UNESCO World Heritage–listed Thingvellir National Park, a 45-minutes drive from the capital, is the country’s most significant cultural heritage site, as it has revealed detailed clues on how a Viking Age people structured and developed their community into what it is today.

Almannagja Rift Thingvellir National Park
Explore Thingvellir National Park. (Photo: Getty Images)

Stretch your legs with an easy trek across grassy plains and breathe in that crisp Icelandic air. Hiking trails lead to the site where Iceland’s general assembly was established in 930. See the faults and fissures of the Thingvellir rift, a global geological wonder, and the remains of abandoned farms.

Bite Into a Local Tradition

Icelanders are extremely proud of their hot dog tradition. The sausage mostly contains local lamb, along with some pork and beef, and the traditional hot dog, or pylsur, is wrapped in a warm bun with raw white onion, crisp fried onion, sweet brown mustard, ketchup and a remoulade made with mayonnaise, capers, mustard and herbs.

Pylsuvagninn, situated beside the Ölfusá River bridge in Selfoss, is arguably one of the country’s best hot dog stands.

Italy: Monk Life, Hot Springs and a Glass Museum

Tune Into the Ascetic Aesthetic

Umbria, dubbed the green heart of Italy, is where Italians go to revive soul and spirit. Traditional mazelike towns, museums and monasteries sit amid national parks, rivers and lakes.

Eremito, a Member of Design Hotels™, an atmospheric, 21-room hideaway with an ascetic aesthetic in the village of Parrano, allows you to roll back to the basics, whether you’re traveling as a couple or going solo. Hotelier Marcello Murzilli traipsed around distant lands for years before returning to his native Italy to design this eco-conscious retreat.

Built with 130,000 stones, the hotel is crafted in the style of the 14th-century monastery that once stood there. Its sober yet sophisticated celluzze (rooms), for one person or two, are inspired by ancient monks quarters and look out onto lush valleys.

Soft candlelight illuminates quiet corners ideal for reading and contemplation. Best of all, rooms are free of TVs, phones and Wi-Fi — perfect for an immersive travel experience.

Take a Dip in Ancient Thermal Springs

For the ancient Romans, hot springs served as locations for social gatherings, treatment of health issues and relaxation. Italy is blessed with an abundance of thermal springs, or terme, some of which are incorporated into spa hotels or facilities, while others remain in their natural state, as they have for centuries.

In western Umbria, seek out an authentic travel experience at the little-known Bagno del Diavolo (Devil’s Bath) thermal park, a 30-minute drive from Eremito. Rich in carbon, these soothing thermal waters remain a comfortable 86 F (30 C) year-round and are thought to aid in treating digestive and liver disorders.

Learn About the Glassmakers of Piegaro

Pay a visit to the Museo del Vetro, or Glass Museum, in the Umbrian town of Piegaro. Housed in an old glass factory dating to the early 1800s that has been faithfully restored, the museum is a living tribute to preindustrial glassworks.

Pore over delicately handcrafted glasses, bottles and carafes — some of them decorated in pure gold — along with the straw-wrapped flasks that once served as the factory’s most in-demand product. Don’t miss the multimedia display that delineates the history of Piegaro and its glassmakers.