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The ASA Story

In 1977 Christopher Wood left university teaching to inaugurate Australians Studying Abroad (ASA) because he wanted to take learning from the classroom into the world. Chris began leading small groups of university students to Europe during the holidays in order to enhance their campus studies. In the 1980s ASA’s offerings grew to include educational tours for the general public, and ASA exploded as a major public education organisation in the 1990s. In Australia and America, meanwhile, Chris pioneered the much-used current phrase ‘cultural tourism’ long before others understood what it truly meant.

All ASA tours reflect a belief that learning is as much an act of imagination and experience as a garnering of information, based on the assumption that an intimate relationship exists between geography, history and culture. Our tours aim to give you unique insights into different cultural traditions by travelling to the places where each tradition evolved, and tracing how climate, geography, demography and politics interact to create specific types of art and culture. The physical experience of different landscapes, environments and communities that generate myriad colours, sounds and scents is the first step to understanding different cultures and enjoying these diverse places.

Many years on, ASA is no longer a one-man show. It now employs 12 permanent staff and a collective of consultants and local contributors in some 45 countries around the world, including an ever growing team of dedicated and experienced group leaders and lecturers, including international experts who interact with, educate and help ASA travellers to interpret the cities, monuments and landscapes through which they pass and the customs, rituals and performances they witness on their journeys of discovery.

We, therefore, strive on a daily basis to make each tour a better experience for our ASA travelling community by enhancing the programs with local hosts who provide inimitable insights into their regions and particular aspects of their landscapes and cultures. There is great excitement in the office when we receive emails confirming special events or access to private sites like exclusive musical performances, receptions in private villas or palaces, or visits to international artists, gardeners and designers who give generously of their time to welcome our groups not only to their projects but to their private studios and homes.

ASA programs relate very particular experiences of places, many of them not available to other travellers, to a broad vision of the world, by exploring the layers of history and the stories each has to tell. By unravelling the full tale of a place from the specific to the broader context, ASA tours show you the trees and the wood.

The whole team at ASA take pride in offering you an extraordinary experience and looks forward to welcoming first time participants to our programs, and extend a special greeting to our returning travellers. Travel with us and learn about the world in an exciting, challenging new way!

ASA Cultural Tours

ASA Open-Age tours

  • ASA offers around 30-40 journeys each year to some 45 countries around the world. There is an average of 16-17 participants (and a maximum of 26) on any trip. A number of our tours, particularly our city-based tours, are limited to a maximum of 20 participants. ASA welcomes travellers from other countries. We already have regular travellers from New Zealand, Canada, Britain and the USA.

University Credit Courses and School Overseas Study Programs

  • We also organise study tours on behalf of institutions including the University of Melbourne, Monash University, La Trobe University and St Catherine’s Girls’ School.
Why join an ASA Cultural Tour?

Broaden your understanding of human history in all its fascinating and colourful diversity on an ASA Cultural Tour. Expert lecturers will bring alive for you the monuments and sites included in the itinerary. They, and expert local guides, will provide comprehensive background talks and on-site commentaries, enriching your travel and cultural experience. ASA provides unique experiences not available to the ordinary traveller – access to private homes and palaces, international experts, behind-the-scenes visits to museums, libraries, studios and archives. You will enjoy festivals, theatre performances, amazing dining experiences and other memorable highlights.

Why join an ASA Literary Tour?

Discover the places and people behind the books! Visiting places connected with literature brings the excitement of recognising homes and landscapes long familiar to the imagination, of connecting loved novels and poems with the lives and environments of the authors and seeing first hand the countryside they described. An ASA Literary Tour includes writers’ homes, seeing original manuscripts, theatre performances, museums, and much more. In gardens, ruins, castles, villages, churches and graveyards you will discover the effect of environment on a writer and investigate the role played by a sense of place in literary creation.

Why join an ASA Cultural tour for Garden Lovers?

ASA garden tours are led by expert horticulturalists and offer the chance to visit exclusive and stunning gardens. They feature meetings with garden owners, head gardeners and internationally renowned landscape architects. Included in the garden tours are visits to stately homes and chateaux, to national parks, historical monuments, museums and vineyards. Many tours feature local festivals, some memorable culinary encounters, music and literary connections. You will discover the interactions between designers, artists, architects, writers and landscape as you explore some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. A feast for the eye and the mind!

Well-Researched, carefully crafted itineraries

True to ASA’s pioneering role in the development of cultural tours, great thought and energy go into carefully researching our itineraries. These are always designed and developed in-house. Research begins with isolating a number of important themes to guide our teaching program. These are then taken into account when choosing guest lecturers, selecting site visits that tease out the themes, with special attention to privileged access to places that would not be available to most travellers. We also look for distinctive accommodation, interesting performances, and any fascinating festivals in the countries we visit. We prepare pre-tour resources, including reading material, and also research and write special handbooks for many tours, or find the most appropriate books to send to participants.

Special Events and privileged access to people and places

ASA’s careful research and accumulated expertise offer you privileged access to places and experiences that are not available to most tourists. Tours often include visits to private palaces, villas, country houses and gardens hosted by their owners. They may include special ‘behind the scenes’ or ‘out-of-hours’ visits to famous museums and monuments that are usually packed during conventional visiting hours. We also have a huge network of local experts who have become ‘friends of ASA’. Many are leaders in their field, like Eduardo Mencos, Spain’s most famous avant-garde gardener and garden writer.

Experienced, engaging, enthusiastic tour lecturers

ASA tour lecturers are noted not only for their broad knowledge and the expertise they bring to their tours, but also for their articulate, enthusiastic commitment to ASA’s focus upon meaningful and enjoyable ‘on the spot’ learning. Our lecturers give comprehensive background talks and on-site commentaries in concert with international experts and local guides. Many of our lecturers have been leading tours from 10 to 30 years and over 38 years ASA has been privileged to work with some 500 local and international experts who are world leaders in their fields.

How our education programs work

Each tour demands a distinctive education program. On a number of tours your tour lecturer, or a local or international guest speaker, will give special illustrated talks in your hotel before or after a day’s activities. These are supplemented or substituted by general talks or site briefings on your coach; these coach talks are especially important if an itinerary does not allow time for hotel lectures. We place special emphasis upon informed on-site commentary, which links the general themes of the tour and hotel talks to what you actually see. Where available we use ‘whisperers’, individual units with earplugs that allow you to listen to the on-site commentary but also give you freedom to explore for yourself. These ‘whisperers’ are excellent when we are in a crowded site or if you are a little hard of hearing; ASA group members swear by them!

Educational and Practical Information

ASA is renowned for the wealth of educational and practical information published for tours. Handbooks and site notes written exclusively for ASA by experts often support a tour. Other tours are supported by compilations of important articles providing in-depth information. In some cases, we choose the most apposite reference books available, which you receive prior to departure. We also produce pre-tour reading lists and detailed practical information.

Accommodation

We take great care in selecting your accommodation. We prefer hotels in a very central location in walking distance to sites of interest and restaurants. Where possible we select hotels that complement the theme of each tour (including heritage hotels, boutique hotels with historical charm or ‘design’ themes). Examples include the famous Parador of Santiago de Compostela and the extraordinary London hotel designed by Philippe Starck.

Limited hotel changes

Wherever possible, tours hinge on a limited number of ‘hubs’ from which we make day trips. This means less moves and therefore less packing and un-packing and more time to achieve practical chores. It also allows you time to explore a place better, and enjoy personal interests, such as attending theatre and music performances.

Diverse culinary experiences

The full experience of a place involves all the senses: of sight, sound, fragrance, feel and taste. Our detailed research team enjoys finding interesting ways to enhance your culinary delights. These may include Michelin star restaurants, or establishments that are famous for their local cuisine, their design, and/or associations with famous people and events. On a range of tours you will enjoy visits to distinctive wineries or even foraging in local markets for a group picnic lunch.

Leisure time

All tours are planned to include leisure time. The amount of time varies from tour to tour, from half days at leisure to days that finish early. Leisure time occurs on days when interesting sites like museums are open or offers visits to markets and souqs that lend themselves to individual exploration, or you may just want to sit in a café and ‘people watch’.