9 weekend courses in Europe

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Improve yourself in 2011, whether it's by learning to dance, playing polo or tucking into chocolate. In an extract from Lonely Planet Magazine, we feature 9 of the loveliest educational experiences to have.

1. Make cheese in Somerset

'Blessed are the cheesemakers', as a wise man once said. At Somerset's Hagley Bridge dairy farm, they are only too happy to invite newcomers into the inner sanctum. The farm offers one and two-day courses in the art of making everything dairy, from cheese and yoghurt to butter and cream. Numbers are limited to six, so there is maximum opportunity to get your hands cheesy – and if you're inspired to start your own brand speciality, they also offer one-to-one tuition in product development. Accommodation is available in the farmhouse or at local b&bs.

2. Play polo at Ascot

The Ascot Park Polo Club has a secret – sometimes it lets the plebs play too! Normally the preserve of ex-Etonites, now those who've never even sat on a horse can learn the best way to swing a mallet and play a chukka (a period of play). Things start off safely on the ground, with a quick lesson on the rules, before you clamber up on crates to perfect the four basic polo strokes. Only then are you let loose on a horse to practise hitting a ball without falling off. The session ends with a full match, before you're whisked off to Buck House for a jolly good booze-up with Wills and gang... well, maybe a pint in the nearby Castle Grove pub instead.

3. Sharpen your camera skills in County Kerry

It's a frustrating experience when you can't seem to capture on film what your eyes can see in stunning detail. For expert advice, turn to Frui and its range of global photography holidays. The easiest one to fit into a weekend is in County Kerry, where Ireland is blessed with more shutter-friendly landscapes than it knows what to do with. The course is punctuated by visits to local pubs, and teaches landscape photography fundamentals as well as ways to edit your photos on a computer.

4. Make chocolate in Brussels

If chocolate were a weapon, Belgium would be the world's most feared superpower. You too can learn the secrets of the dark arts (or milk or white if you prefer) at Zaabär in Brussels. A chocolatier first guides you through the tempering process (molten chocolate has to be cooled slowly to keep its texture), before you are let loose to customise your creations with dustings and spices ready to take home. You can join the workshop every Saturday or arrange a private group course for a minimum of 10 people.

5. Learn how to hunt and gather in Wales

On the Llyn peninsula in Wales, the Coast Hunter course will bring out any latent hunter-gatherer genes, teaching forgotten survival skills such as identifying edible plants, and spear-fishing. The style of the instructors ensures that the purpose of the course is squarely on having fun and picking up knowledge, rather than on hard-core endurance, but you will be camping out (having learnt how to set up camp yourself, of course). A good night's sleep is guaranteed, however, after a dinner of seaweed risotto cooked to perfection with oysters and whelks over the fire.

6. Smoke food in Cumbria

Chipotle chillies, Applewood cheddar, kielbasa sausages, kippers – smoking food may no longer be essential for food storage since the advent of modern preservation techniques, but it's still going strong now we've got the taste for it. Smoky Jo's, in the Cumbrian village of Shap, offers one- or two-day courses to teach you how to smoke your own food at home, using hot and cold smoke methods. You can also learn to construct your own smoker – apparently a filing cabinet makes an excellent one.

7. Be a barista in London

If you've ever wondered what a macchiato is (it's an espresso with a dash of milk), or fancied creating cafe-style coffee at home, then try BARista BARBAR, a London-based barista course. Run by coffee experts and commercial trainers, this one-day course teaches everything from speciality Italian gourmet coffee styles to the correct way to properly maintain your coffee machine. Pay extra and you can get even more creative on the latte art course and learn how to pour patterns such as hearts and tulips onto your cuppa.

8. Create perfumes in Languedoc

A perfume's 'notes' must combine in the right sequence and in harmony with one another, just like musical notes. Get it right, and you have a classic scent on your hands: Chanel No 5 turns 90 this year. The French region of Languedoc in the sweet-smelling south of the country is a fitting place to learn the first steps towards perfume making. Start by finding out the properties of essential oils before turning natural ingredients into your own signature perfume or aftershave.

9. Waltz in Vienna

It's hard to believe now, but the waltz was considered quite scandalous when it first became popular more than 200 years ago. Today, of course, it is the epitome of courtly manners. The Elmayer Dance School in Vienna has been teaching this much loved classic since 1919, and offers private tuition for singles or couples in any of the standard or Latin American ballroom dances. But if you're hoping to attend a Viennese ball – the Opera Ball is the big one – it's the waltz you'll want to practise.