By Walter Brooks
When John Villani changed the way he planned his vacations, he never thought it might make him a celebrated cultural connoisseur.
A decade later he is leading thousands to more fulfilling holidays, and the little town at the tip of Cape Cod is named the third most cultural in towns with populations under 30,000 in the entire United States and Canada.
The town's population is 3,431.
He began his search by looking for vacation destinations with lots of culture: art galleries, street fairs, poetry readings, outdoor festivals and museums.
The New Mexico native says, "overnight I'd become a cultural tourist," in the new fourth edition of The 100 Best Art Towns in America (Countryman Press, $19.95) which will be published April 1, 2005.
Villani's "travel help" book is compiled as a result of his changed vacation habits. It lists practical information about local arts schedules, locations and events, along with his personal recommendations for where to stay and where to eat.
Three New England Towns in Top Ten under 30,000
The 256 page book includes 1,000 U.S. and Canadian towns. Out of the thousand he listed in the new edition, the author picked two Top 10 Best lists, one for towns with fewer than 30,000 people and a second list for towns with a population between 30,000 and 100,000.
The list of towns with fewer than 30,000 people starts with Naples FL, followed by Ashland OR, Provincetown MA, Taos NM, Northampton MA, Aspen CO, Eureka CA, Marfa TX, Salt Spring Island BC and Brattleboro VT.
His criteria included the number of art galleries, accomodation price, quality of restauirants in the town (Provincetown had an edge here), natural beauty, frequency of arts festivals, and the quality and quantity of museums, art schools, theaters and alternative arts locations.
The list of towns from 30,000 to 100,000 begins with Santa Fe NM followed by Loveland CO, Sarasota FL, Hot Springs AK, Asheville NC, Boulder CO, Portland ME, Lawrence KS, Bellingham WA and Chico CA.