From Denmark with love:
Traditional folk dancing
is one way the Danish
of Solvang, Calif., keep
their native culture alive.
In an old Steve Martin
routine, the comedian talked about the importance of
having reasonable goals. His own goal: “to be the all-being master
of time, space and dimension. Then,” he’d add, “I want to go to
That second goal has become somewhat
more difficult to accomplish of late, for private citizens (however
witty) and the meetings industry alike. While many planners
doubtless would like to organize events in faraway locales, the
reality of tightening budgets and the falling dollar likely is
keeping them closer to home.
But that needn’t interfere with
attendees’ taste for the exotic -- we’ve got plenty of that in our
own backyard. Consider these cultural enclaves for a taste of
foreign culture on domestic soil.
In 1910, Danish pioneers seeking to
escape the harsh winters of their earlier settlements in the
Midwest purchased nearly 10,000 acres of fertile land in the
rolling hills of California’s Santa Ynez Valley and began the
village of Solvang (Danish for “sunny fields”). Today, the
community, in the heart of Santa Barbara County’s wine country,
succeeds in preserving the cherished traditions of the original
Danish bakeries, restaurants, specialty
boutiques and hotels, all housed in distinctly Scandinavian
architecture, comprise the four square blocks of Solvang’s center.
Windmills, horse-drawn carriages and statues of storks nesting on
the rooftops of buildings (meant to ward off bad luck) populate the
Charming accommodations within walking
distance of the heart of town include the 39-room Petersen Village
Inn (800-321-8985; www.peterseninn.com), which offers five meetings rooms
seating up to 100, and the stately, 133-room Royal Scandinavian Inn
(800-624-5572; www.royalscandinavianinn.com), featuring
approximately 4,000 square feet of meeting space. A five-minute
walk from the Inn will land you at the Elverhoj Museum
(805-686-1211; www.elverhoj.org), where exhibitions celebrate
Danish-American history and culture. The museum offers its gardens
and galleries to groups of 15 to 150 people.
The 24-room Solvang Gardens Lodge
(805-688-4404; www.solvanggardens.com) caters to smaller groups.
Several of its rooms, all bearing the style of a classic Danish
farmhouse, open onto a private garden area that can seat about 40
or accommodate up to 100 for a reception. Alternatively, the
wide-open spaces of the 73-unit Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort
(805-688-6411; www.alisal.com) lie just two miles down the road. This
working cattle ranch, on a 10,000-acre spread of trails, golf
courses and private lakes, is an option for team-building
activities and corporate retreats.
In San Francisco’s Japantown
), visitors can stroll along the picturesque Fillmore District (pictured at right), peruse specialty boutiques offering silk kimonos and tea ceremony utensils, and meet in one of the neighborhood’s two hotels. The 125-room Best Western Hotel Tomo (415-921-4000; tomo.bestwestern.com
) features decor inspired by Japanese pop culture; two outdoor pavilions totalling 1,000 square feet; and a Gaming Suite equipped with Nintendo, Wii and Sony PS3 video games to enjoy during meeting breaks. The more traditional 218-room Hotel Kabuki (415-922-3200; www.hotelkabuki.com
) offers in-room tea ceremonies, as well as classes in taiko
drumming and origami. The Kabuki Springs & Spa (415-922-6000; www.kabukisprings.com
), a Japanese-style bathhouse featuring Shiatzu and Swedish massages, is just two doors down.
Basque in Boise
Basque immigrants began arriving in
Idaho’s Boise Valley in the late 1800s, and today the region is
home to the largest such community in the country
(boisebasques.com). The ethnic group’s homeland, Basque Country,
essentially comprises four provinces in north-central Spain and a
small part of southwestern France. Basques speak their own language
(Basque, or Euskara) and have a strong cultural identity. The Boise
community takes pains to preserve that heritage, and nowhere is its
public celebration of tradition more evident than in one colorful
stretch of downtown known as the Basque Block.
Group-worthy venues here include:
* The Basque Museum and Cultural Center
(208-343-2671; www.basquemuseum.com), which can arrange guided tours
for groups of up to 12;
* The Basque Center (208-342-9983; www.basquecenter.com), a colorful gathering place and
dance hall that can be rented for events and banquets that seat up
to 420 people;
The Basque Center
in Boise, Idaho,
is a cultural hub.
* The Gernika Basque Pub and Eatery
(208-344-2175), which serves Basque soups, sandwiches and wine,
along with specialties such as beef tongue in tomato and pepper
sauce, all in a relaxed joint with a capacity of 32;
* Leku Ona (“good place”; 208-345-6665;
www.iparagon.com/lekuona), a restaurant and five-room
boutique hotel serving traditional meals as well as
pinxtos (tapas), and which can host banquets of up to 85
in a private room; and
* The Fronton Building, a vintage
early-1900s former boarding house with a fronton, or
Basque handball, court on the lower level.
Events in the area may feature
entertainment by the Oinkari Basque Dancers and catering by The
Basque Market, which offers imported specialties and paella made in
giant pans proportionate to group size.
The 250-room Grove Hotel (208-333-8000;
www.grovehotelboise.com), with approximately 36,000
square feet of flexible meeting space, is just a half block away
from all of the action in lively Grove Plaza, which also features
the Boise Center on the Grove convention facility (with close to
85,000 square feet of event space) and the Qwest Arena. More than
750 additional hotel rooms are within walking distance.
Germany on tap:
resembles a quaint
A genuine tourist draw in the middle of
Michigan, the city of Frankenmuth, or “Michigan’s Little Bavaria,”
can get hammy with its heritage (note the theme park and
restaurants buzzing with lederhosen-clad waiters), but its
credentials are authentic: Settled by 15 German Lutherans in 1845
as an outpost from which to spread Christianity among the Native
American community, the city grew roots and became a destination
for many more German immigrants who came to farm the land.
Today, some local farms continue to be
run by their founding families. The Bavarian-style architecture,
covered bridge and historic Main Street all pay tribute to the
A riverboat tour is a good way to
become geographically and historically oriented to the area.
Frankenmuth Paddlewheel Tours (866-808-2628; www.bavarianbelle.com) offers trips aboard the
150-passenger Bavarian Belle, which can be chartered for
groups of 20 or more. A dinner option is available for groups of at
least 40 and often includes German specialties such as kasseler
rippchen (smoked pork loin with potato cheese puffs and
Relatively new in town is the 38-room
Marv Herzog Hotel (877-400-4210; www.marvherzoghotel.com), each room a tribute to a
year in the life of Herzog (1932-2002), a Frankenmuth-born
accordionist and bandleader who was legendary on the
Bavarian-American polka circuit. Founded by Herzog’s friend Bob
Drury (owner of the Drury Hotel chain), the property opened in May
2007 between Main Street and the Cass River and offers balconies
overlooking either. Special amenities are granted to groups booking
15 or more rooms.
Venues with event space include the
Bavarian Inn (800-228-2742; www.bavarianinn.com), a resort spread on 13
acres including a 360-room lodge, restaurants, shops and a theme
park. Meeting facilities on site include the Bavarian Inn Lodge and
Conference Center, for groups of five to 500, and the Bavarian Inn
Restaurant, which can accommodate up to 375 people for banquets. Or
consider Zehnder’s (800-863-7999; www.zehnders.com), the country’s oldest
family-owned restaurant, which serves all-you-can-eat chicken
dinners that some say put Frankenmuth on the map. Zehnder’s hosts
events of up to 350.