11 Places to Travel for Creative Inspiration in 2019
A Moroccan city swathed almost completely in blue. A throng of figurative sculptures tucked deep within a Finnish forest. A famous artist’s New Mexico home in the expansive desert she depicted on canvas. These are just a handful of the countless sanctuaries, scattered across the globe, that have offered profound creative inspiration to those seeking it. Below, we take you to 11 of them.
The Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
Joshua Tree, California
After being priced out of Los Angeles in the late 1980s, Noah Purifoy moved deep into the Mojave Desert. In Joshua Tree’s stark landscape of spiky plants and endless sand, he created his magnum opus: a 10-acre sculpture park, rising like a mirage from the flat expanse, which became a museum after his 2004 death.
The artworks here are typical of Purifoy’s practice, in which he transformed discarded objects (toilets, tires, old sneakers, scrap wood) into deeply affecting sculptures loaded with references to racial injustice and resilience. In the 1960s, he forged his first works from the ashen remains of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. Purifoy’s Mojave Desert pieces carry the same weight, but with moments of ecstasy and hope—huts offering shelter, walls embedded with colorful glass, platforms for gazing out over the desert sunsets—that point to art’s healing powers.
Take a circuitous, eight-hour drive from Mexico City to find Las Pozas, one of the globe’s most otherworldly, mind-bending art environments. Eccentric millionaire and obsessive collector Edward James chose this lush, remote corner of Mexico’s Sierra Gorda jungle to realize his “Surrealist Shangri-la.” The garden’s labyrinth of 36 stone sculptures indeed resembles a mystical Surrealist composition come to life.
Giant arabesques tangle with the rainforest canopy, thin stone ribbons ripple downward like waterfalls, and vertiginous staircases climb into the sky. For the last 22 years of his life, between 1962 until 1984, James perfected his oasis, which was not only home to his lavish collection of parrots and orchids, but also became a frequent place of refuge for his creative friends, like the great Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.
The Blue City of Chefchaouen
For centuries, the small mountain town of Chefchaouen has been legendary for its largely monochromatic streets, blanketed in vibrant blue paint. A bird’s-eye view shows a cluster of cobalt buildings crawling up the mountainside, many seeming to match the sky above. Walking through one of its completely blue streets, on the other hand, gives the impression of entering a Color Field canvas.
Legend has it that the women of Chefchaouen have banded together, in the dark of night, to maintain their hometown’s chosen hue. Scholars aren’t exactly sure of the 500-year-old tradition’s origins, but some trace it back to a group of Jewish people who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century. The story goes that after settling in Chefchaouen, they expressed their commitment to God by covering their homes in blue, the color of divinity in Judaism.
French mailman Ferdinand Cheval hadn’t thought about making art until 1879, when he stubbed his toe on a pebble. The event sparked a 34-year-long obsession in which Cheval assiduously collected rocks around his small hometown of Hauterives, and stacked them to create the spellbinding monument known today as Palais Idéal (“Ideal Palace”).
Cheval’s undertaking resembles a fortress, with ornamentation likely inspired by fairytales and far-flung travels. Serpentine spires and columns resembling stacks of puff pastries lead to stone palms, gnarling gargoyles, and pebble-encrusted figures towering three stories tall. The ambitious, fantastical confection has been a site of pilgrimage for countless artists through the years, from André Breton and Brassaï to Max Ernst and Niki de Saint Phalle.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s Former Home
Abiquiú, New Mexico
Though Georgia O’Keeffe passed away in 1986, her presence is palpable on a visit to Abiquiú, where she lived and worked for the last 40 years of her life. Her home there—as well as her summer cottage at Ghost Ranch, located just 15 miles north—remains mesmerizingly intact. (Visitors can book tours of the Abiquiú home and studio through the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.)
At Abiquiú, O’Keeffe’s studio looks out over the Chama River Valley’s spellbinding desert landscape, a view resembling a number of the painter’s late canvases. Potted plants tended by O’Keeffe during her life dot the property, while the garden where she cultivated her own vegetables still grows (the artist was an early adopter of slow food and green smoothies). Desert paths where she walked her beloved Chow Chows and cleared her head between painting sessions survive, too. “I would rather come here than any place I know,” O’Keeffe wrote to her husband Alfred Stieglitz in 1940, the same year she purchased Ghost Ranch. “It is a way of life for me to live very comfortably at the tail end of the earth.”
Nek Chand’s Rock Garden
In the early 1950s, self-taught artist Nek Chand was a road inspector helping to oversee the transformation of Chandigarh, an Indian city being remodeled by famed French architect Le Corbusier as an urban utopia. Construction was pervasive—and so was the rubble left in its wake (27 towns were razed to make room for the new city). Chand began carting the debris to a dense patch of forest on the city’s outskirts. There, he spent almost 20 years transforming discarded concrete, shards of pottery, and broken bangles into sculptures resembling all manner of mystical beings and beasts.
“I began creating a city of gods and goddesses,” he recalled of the now-renowned sculpture garden. “You could see life in the rocks.” Indeed, Chand’s figures live in an expansive landscape of waterfalls, meandering paths, and towering, temple-like structures—all forged by the self-taught artist.
Seagrove, North Carolina
Seagrove, North Carolina, has 500-million-year-old tectonic shifts to thank for its prized possession: a bountiful reserve of rich local clay. Situated not far from the Uwharrie National Forest and Mountains, the small town has long been a refuge for potters attracted to the area’s natural resources, extensive history of ceramics, and vibrant network of contemporary artists.
The region’s pottery tradition can be traced back to its Saponi, Keyauwee, and Siouan indigenous people, who forged utilitarian and ceremonial vessels from redware clay as many as 3,000 years ago. European colonists arrived in the late 18th century, establishing Seagrove’s first cluster of commercial studios. Today, you’ll find Owens Pottery—North Carolina’s oldest ceramics operation, founded back in 1895—as well as some 85 individual pottery studios within the mere 25-mile radius.
La Maison Picassiette
When cemetery caretaker Raymond Isidore bought a humble cottage in Chartres, France, he didn’t know it’d become his canvas. Starting in the 1940s, Isidore spent the majority of his free time transforming his home into a shimmering, immersive mosaic.
Nicknamed Picassiette—a portmanteau combining pique (steal) and assiette (plate)—the environment is almost completely encrusted with broken bits of pottery and glass, scavenged lovingly by Isidore. “I picked them up without any specific intention, for their colors and their flicker,” he later recalled. Inside, surfaces as wide-ranging as sewing machines, bed frames, and kitchen floors boast kaleidoscopic patterns, occasionally arranged into flower garlands and flocks of birds. The home’s exterior and gardens, though, are even more ornate. Façades, pathways, flower pots, and thrones are covered in an imaginative mélange of flora, fauna, and faraway places. One wall boasts the Leaning Tower of Pisa; on another, a shepherd gazes at a spray of stars.
Second Home Peru
On a cliff high above Lima, Peruvian painter and sculptor Victor Delfin transformed an elegant Tudor mansion into a cabinet of curiosities. Delfin, now in his nineties, purchased the estate after a successful 1978 solo show at New York’s Bayard Gallery. Since then, he has filled its spacious rooms and lush gardens with an ever-growing trove of paintings and sculptures.
His canvases—depicting flamboyant peacocks, ecstatic bouquets, and colorful South American mountain villages—blanket interior walls. Outside, a group of bronze stallions look out over the bay, while a roaring puma’s head serves as a fountain, water cascading from its mouth into a pool in the courtyard. In recent years, Delfin’s daughter has opened a portion of the home—including Delfin’s charmingly chaotic, high-ceilinged former studio—as a whimsical guest house that doubles as a window into the artist’s mind.
Veijo Rönkkönen Sculpture Garden
Self-taught Finnish sculptor Veijo Rönkkönen preferred not to engage with the outside world, and didn’t have many friends. Instead, he spent his free time creating around 550 sculptures, most of them depicting people. They were his company—and means of connection with others.
Scattered throughout a tract of Finnish woodland, on the border of Russia, the figures range from playful to rapturous to vividly malevolent. A group of scantily clad men bend into seemingly impossible yoga poses, a circle of women dance ecstatically, and a hooded figure resembling the grim reaper grins, his mouth filled with real human teeth. Rönkkönen spent over 50 years (until his death in 2010) adding to his eerie menagerie. Despite his reclusiveness, he happily invited visitors to see the world he’d created, which remains intact as a museum today.
Quinta da Regaleira
In the late 1800s, wealthy Portuguese businessman António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro erected a strange, opulent estate devoted to his infatuation with butterflies, mysticism, and the occult. He’d long been fascinated by nature and the universe’s mysteries, and he sought a place to contemplate them.
Across the lush property, covered in bougainvillea, paths lead to castles and chapels encrusted with symbolism evoking alchemy, Hermeticism, and Freemasonry. Quinta da Regaleira’s crown jewel, though, is its matrix of mossy pathways, grottoes, and wells that represent Carvalho Monteiro’s path to enlightenment. Enter a cave in the mountainside and find your way to the dark, ominous base of the “Initiation Well.” Climb its thin spiral stairway, though, and you’ll eventually reach the light.