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Ethnic Heritage Towns

Originally published in Going on Faith on The Group Travel Leader Inc., a Lexington, Kentucky-based publishing company that currently owns and publishes four national travel industry publications.

America is often called the Land of Opportunity and has attracted cultures from around the globe dating back to its pre-Colonial days.

Since that time, numerous immigrant communities have established their own cultural enclaves across the country, each offering its own unique international flavor and flair.

Following are four distinctive ethnic destinations to add to your group travel itinerary — no passport required.

Photo provided by the Lindsborg Convention & Visitors Bureau

Lindsborg, Kansas

What do Handel’s “Messiah,” International Waffle Day and St. Lucia have in common? Lindsborg, Kansas.

Located approximately 195 miles from Kansas City and 230 miles from Oklahoma City, Lindsborg — population 3,500 — is widely recognized as “Little Sweden, USA.”

Founded in 1869 by Swedish immigrants, Lindsborg has lovingly preserved its rich heritage and culture, making it a wonderful tourism destination.

“Lindsborg is one of the better known tourism destinations in Kansas, and it happened purely by accident,” said Holly Lofton, director of the Lindsborg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In the late 1800s, many people came here from across the country for the Messiah Festival of the Arts, arriving by the railroad that stopped here before car travel became available.”

Today, the 136-year-old, 10-day festival, held in conjunction with Holy Week, encompasses theater performances and visual arts experiences, and its namesake is the longest running performance of Handel’s “Messiah” in North America.

Group activities include tours to sites and attractions like the Höglund Dugout, an example of an early Scandinavian home built below ground. Historic structures in town include the Swedish Pavilion and the Old Roller Mills, named among the “The Eight Wonders of Kansas,” the only fully restored wooden roller mill in the country.

Traditional Swedish fare awaits in the walkable downtown area. The aptly named Swedish Crown Restaurant serves delicious Swedish and American dishes with an unusual twist, and the Swedish Country Inn offers a Swedish breakfast buffet.

Take home a bit of Sweden, like tasty herring or Swedish meatballs, at places like Anderson Butik. Courtyard Bakery and Gallery features authentic Swedish baked goods and pastries. And Hemslöjd — Swedish for “handicraft” — sells a variety of Scandinavian gifts, including the popular traditional Swedish Dala Horses.

Annual celebrations include the St. Lucia Festival, a winter solstice tribute to the Italian saint who brought light and sustenance to Sweden’s suffering people, and Våffeldagen (International Waffle Day) in March. Svensk Hyllningsfest, held in October in odd-numbered years, is Lindsborg’s largest festival; it is highlighted by traditional dances, music and a full Swedish smorgasbord that feeds 700 people.

Photo provided by the Provided by Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau

Miami’s Little Havana, Florida

Don’t be fooled by the diminutive in the name Little Havana. This Cuban gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean is big on history and authentic experiences, making it one of the most distinctive heritage tourism destinations in the country.

Dating back to the 1930s, the area has always been a melting pot of Hispanic and Latin cultures: Cubans fleeing from social, economic and political strife in Cuba, as well as immigrants from Puerto Rico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, among others. Together, they have created a vibrant multicultural landscape bursting with energy and tradition at every turn.

The main drag, extending almost two miles in the heart of Miami, is Calle Ocho (Southwest Eighth Street). It and its connecting side streets are peppered with insightful monuments, imaginative murals, historic attractions, captivating music and warm, welcoming people.

For example, you’ll find a 16-foot-long bronze raised map of Cuba, statues of the Virgin Mary and the Eternal Torch of Brigade 2506, which pays tribute to the lives lost in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba.

“Although Little Havana is in the U.S., it feels like walking in a very different culture and place,” said Connie Kinnard, vice president of multicultural tourism and development for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Visitors enjoy a very walkable, authentic experience here, from the shops where they roll premium handmade cigars in the traditional fashion to watching domino games and competitions at Domino Park to enjoying a Cuban coffee to places like Hoy Como Ayer [Today Like Yesterday] Bar and Lounge for great live entertainment, food and dancing.”

On the culinary front, locally owned places like Azúcar Ice Cream Company; El Cristo Restaurant and Catering, which serves Cuban-American cuisine; and the Spanish-inspired Casa Juancho offer dishes made from Abuela’s (Grandma’s) recipes with a modern twist.

Miami area denizens and visitors flock to the immensely popular Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) the last Friday of each month to enjoy talented street performers, live music, salsa lessons, art gallery exhibits and more.

Be sure to meander along the Latin Walk of Fame of Little Havana, which honors Latino entertainers, artists, and personalities including Celia Cruz, Julio Iglesias, Olga Guillot, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, Pedro Vargas and Thalia.

Photo provided by the Pella Convention & Visitors Bureau

Pella, Iowa

Located in America’s Heartland just 40 miles southeast of Des Moines, Pella is “America’s Dutch Treasure.”

Established in 1847 by Dutch immigrants, Pella is a close-knit, rural community with approximately 10,300 people.

Start your exploration at the Scholte House Museum, named after founder Dominie Hendrik Pieter Scholte, which features original antiques, furnishings, paintings and other artifacts.

Höglund Dugout, Swedish Pavilion, Old Roller Mills, The Eight Wonders of Kansas, St. Lucia Festival, Svensk Hyllningsfest, Calle Ocho, Bay of Pigs Invasion, Azúcar Ice Cream Company, Casa Juancho, Latin Walk of Fame of Little Havana, Scholte House Museum, Earp House, Vermeer Mill, Ulrich’s Meat Market, Pella Tulip Time, Lake Red Rock Balloon Fest

Frontiersman Wyatt Earp, of “Gunfight at the OK Corral” fame, lived the first 13 years of his life here. His story is told at the Earp House by costumed re-enactors.

Pella’s iconic landmark is the Vermeer Mill. Reportedly the largest working grain mill in the United States, its special grain flour is used to bake specialties like the traditional Dutch letters — flaky, almond-filled pastries shaped like an “S.” The Mill sits next to the Historical Village Complex, a miniature Dutch Village made up of 100-plus structures that replicates villages in Holland.

Tantalizing authentic Dutch smoked meats like jerky and bratwurst are sold at Ulrich’s Meat Market, and In’t Veld’s Meat Market and Opa’s Deli invites groups to enjoy staples like the traditional Double Dutch, made with Pella’s famous bologna or dried beef, and Gouda cheese, served hot or cold on a raisin bread bun.

On the popular working farm tour of Frisian Farms Cheese Shop, you’ll see production of its artisan aged and flavored Gouda cheeses, like the classic Dutch Komijnekaas, made with cumin, sun-dried tomato and garlic.

According to Jill Vandevoort, director of the Pella Convention and Visitors Bureau, Pella Tulip Time is one of the best times to visit.

“Held the first Thursday through Saturday of May, Pella Tulip Time attracts over 150,000 visitors from across the country to enjoy our distinctive cultural heritage and community pride,” Vandevoort said. “We have authentic Dutch folk dances, two daily parades and floats some say could be entered into the [Pasadena] Rose Parade. The whole festival really comes together because of our shared community values.”

Annual events include the Lake Red Rock Balloon Fest in June and the Herfst Feest (Harvest Fest) in September. Next year, in a nod to the famous outdoor Christmas markets in the Netherlands, Pella will hold its inaugural Kerstmarkt of Pella. The event highlights Pella’s wealth of Dutch history and heritage, and will feature arts and crafts, gifts, culinary specialties, an ice-skating rink and other activities.

Photo provided by the Holland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Holland, Michigan

Nestled along the shores of Lake Macatawa 150 miles from Chicago and 170 miles from Detroit, Holland, a city of 34,000, also exudes the authentic flavor and flair of the Netherlands.

Its largest event is the annual Tulip Time Festival. This eight-day celebration begins the first Saturday in May and features parades, traditional klompen (wooden shoe) dancing, an arts and crafts fair, carnival rides, concerts and more. The centerpiece is the breathtaking sea of millions of magnificent, brilliantly hued tulips adorning nearly every area of town, earning it accolades including “Best Small Town Festival” and “2016 Best Flower Festival.”

“One of Holland’s defining moments is when our 260-year-old Historic DeZwaan Windmill was brought over from the Netherlands 51 years ago,” said Sally Hallan Laukitis, executive director of the Holland Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was totally reconstructed, is 125 feet tall from the ground to the blades and given to us with the understanding that it would stay as a working grinding mill. Visitors can take a tour up to the fifth floor, where the grindstones and gears are located.”

The structure sits adjacent to the Windmill Island Gardens, 36 picturesque acres of manicured gardens, canals, an antique hand-carved and painted wooden horse carousel and the DeZoete Haan Fudge Shop.

Groups can embark upon a Dutch Touch tour to experience the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory, the only production Delftware — traditional blue-and-white porcelain pottery — factory in the United States; the Holland Bowl Mill, among only a handful of wooden bowl mills left in the country; and hands-on cooking classes at Nelis’ Dutch Village.

Holland’s walkable downtown features dozens of inviting shops, galleries and eateries. Among them is Candle-ology, with 100-plus fragrance options to make custom-scented soy candles, room diffusers, soaps and other items.

New Holland Brewery offers brewery and distillery tours, and Alpenrose Restaurant and Café serves tantalizing American and Bavarian specialties. Fresh Dutch pastries and deli items are sold in its adjoining bakery.

Don’t miss sampling the Saucjizeneroobje, a flaky pastry filled with sausage, or delicacies such as Dutch pea soup and Speculaas, spiced cookies usually formed in the shape of a windmill.

One of Holland’s most popular group activities is a dinner cruise aboard the Holland Princess. While sailing along Lake Macatawa, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of Big Red, the Dutch architecture lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses in Michigan.

Originally published in Going on Faith on The Group Travel Leader Inc., a Lexington, Kentucky-based publishing company that currently owns and publishes four national travel industry publications.

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