A dream trip for art lovers

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So you want to do the Louvre, the Metropolitan, the Hermitage. Okay. You could trot the globe touring the world’s best museums, but for a real art attack head for the great outdoors.

A fleeting glimpse of the Mona Lisa through the throng isn’t half as satisfying as, say, a stroll through the very streets that once inspired Dutch master Vincent van Gogh or an exotic taste of Gaugin’s Tahiti. How about a dream trip for art lovers that gets you out of the museum and turns you on to the places that first inspired those works of genius?

Arles, France

So Paris has that famous lady with the cryptic smile, but the charming town of Arles in Provence moved post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh to paint 200 canvases in just 15 months. A walk through the narrow, winding streets full of colorful houses feels like a journey into one of those dazzling pictures.

Take the ‘Van Gogh Trail’, a self-guided tour of the places where van Gogh set up his easel, including the spot he picked before painting Starry Night Over the Rhone. And don’t miss the Monastère St-Paul de Mausole, the asylum where in 1889 Van Gogh checked in and knocked out another 150 works.

Related article: Ultimate art lover's pilgrimages

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona has been breaking ground in art, architecture and style since the late 19th century, and the eccentric genius of Antoni Gaudí encompassed all three categories.

Gaudí and his Modernista mates left an indelible mark on the city. Must-see works include the fantastical Casa Batlló, the rippling Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera), and his most famous work La Sagrada Família - an inspired, unfinished cathedral that reaches for the heavens and leaves visitors awestruck.

Bristol, England

Bristol? Yes, Bristol! Guerrilla graffiti artist Bansky - his real identity is a well-kept secret - has left his subversive mark in many places, but the best destination to see one of his stencil murals is here, a newly buzzing city linked to 19th-century piracy. Better still, Banksy is rumored to be a local.

Look for his notorious love-triangle stencil (featuring an angry husband, a two-timing wife and a naked man dangling from a window) on Park Street, as well as the stencil alongside the Thekla club-boat on Cheltenham Road, where you’ll find the revered Thekla Bar in the city’s Mud Dock.

Mexico City

Oozing energy and colour, Mexico’s often misunderstood capital is one of the art meccas of the Americas. For starters, visit Museo Frida Kahlo in the Casa Azul (Blue House), the house where Kahlo was born, lived and died. It’s filled with memorabilia from her life evoking 1940s Mexico and her often tempestuous relationship with famous muralist Diego Rivera.

Speaking of which, you can see great murals all over town. Some of Diego’s famous works are at the white marble Palacio de Bellas Artes, and you’ll find many giant murals at Mexico City’s Metro stations, including a 1000-sq-m ‘Profile of Time’ at Copilco station at the UNAM campus.

French Polynesia

French post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin needed to get away from it all for his art. Enter Tahiti in French Polynesia. He arrived in 1891 and spent a few productive years there, before going on to tiny Hiva Oa, an island where he built the Maison du Jouir (House of Pleasure) – a reconstruction can be seen today.

Carpeted in lavish flora, crisscrossed by rivers as clear as crystal and framed by lofty peaks, Hiva Oa is the sort of place that makes a mechanic want to pick up a brush. The best place to stay is Hiva Oa Pearl Lodge. After this five-stop trip, you may find yourself reaching for a pack of watercolors, too.

Head over to lonelyplanet.com and find other dream trips for moviemusicfood and outdoor lovers.

This article was updated in June 2012.