Sure, sitting on the beach and sipping cocktails is fun. But if you’ve got more than a few days away, nothing beats seeking out local guides and learning something new.
Whether it’s perfecting your front crawl in an English lake or getting to grips with your camera on a photography safari, these trips will thrill knowledge lovers as much as pleasure seekers.
What better place than Chiang Mai to learn the art of Thai cooking? © John and Tina Reid / Getty Images
Cook up a storm in Chiang Mai
Blessed with some of the world’s best street food, you could be forgiven for coming to Chiang Mai and spending your entire trip indulging in everything from the spiciest tom yum soup to searching for the perfect pad thai. But chances are you’re going to want to learn how to make these delicious dishes yourself. Thankfully, Chiang Mai has several options for curious cooks looking to pick up new culinary skills, with schools dotted through town.
Based on the edge of the city, teachers from Thai Farm Cooking School (thaifarmcooking.net) will collect you from your guest house, take you shopping in local markets and teach you about spices, rice and flavours. You’ll then decamp to its organic farm base, where you’ll learn to cook six dishes. After cooking up a storm, pupils and teachers sit down together to taste everyone’s creations.
Fancy trying your hand as a gaucho in Argentinian Patagonia? © Picavet / Getty Images
Become a gaucho in Argentinian Patagonia
Forget childhood riding classes on sleepy farmsteads. Hopping on a horse in Argentina’s spectacular Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi in Patagonia means scaling mountains and splashing through rivers, all while learning how to round up cattle on vast ranches.
23km north of Bariloche, Cabalgatas Carol Jones (caroljones.com.ar) is the ideal place for first-timers and seasoned riders. The eponymous Carol Jones runs half-day, whole-day and multi-day trips around her ranch and beyond, teaching you how to control your steed and bring cattle to heel as well as giving consummate lessons on the area’s wildlife and history. She’s eminently qualified, too – her grandfather, Jarrod Jones, was a Texan pioneer who came to the area in 1889.
Test your photography skills against the backdrop of the African savannah © SerrNovik / Getty Images
Sharpen your photography on a Kenyan safari
For many people, an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that’ll see your camera called into service constantly. But those who want to get incredible shots of big game need an expert guide and plenty of time in one of the continent’s richest reserves.
Paul Goldstein, Exodus Travel’s resident safari photographer (exodus.co.uk), leads six-day trips in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, where visitors will learn how to capture leopards, cheetahs, lions and black rhino perfectly. Drives start before daybreak and can last all day, but the rewards are plentiful. Few travel experiences can match standing in the back of an open-sided 4x4 taking pictures as a pride of lion pads across the open plain or a herd of elephants stops for a drink at a waterhole as the sun comes up.
Perfect your asanas at a yoga retreat in Ubud © Susan K / Getty Images
Get to grips with yoga in Bali
Stretching out on a yoga mat is a surefire way to feel healthy and blissed out on your travels. The pretty town of Ubud, deep in the heart of Bali, is arguably the best place on the planet to get your fix and perfect moves you only practise once a month at the local gym.
The Yoga Barn (theyogabarn.com), set on the edge of town and overlooking green paddy fields and swaying palms, has 15 classes a day to choose from, as well as offering regular, multi-day retreats and multi-class passes for those staying longer term. The three large, open-sided studios have views to die for, while the in-house café is the perfect place to prolong that chilled vibe once class is over.
The martial art of kendo is a cultural window into the history of Japan © Nao Imai / Getty Images
Become a kendo master in Japan
The Japanese martial art of kendo, literally ‘sword way’, sees hardened participants don armour and take each other on using bamboo swords. Its techniques are similar to those used by ancient samurai warriors, making the modern sport a gateway into the history of this fascinating country.
Atlas Japan Tour (atlas-japantour.com) runs a special class for visitors in the northern town of Nonoichi, taught by locals every other Saturday. They’ll give you a crash course in the sport’s past, as well as teaching you how to safely take on and beat your opponents. Fear not, all kit is supplied and you don’t need to be a hardened swordsman to take part either.
More and more visitors are taking to the water as well as the hills of the Lake District © Martin Brent / Getty Images
Dive into wild swimming in the English Lakes
The mountains of England’s Lake District have long been a magnet for walkers. But there’s a quiet revolution going on, with visitors wading out into the waters of Buttermere, Wast Water and the area’s other stunning lakes for a refreshing dip instead of taking a long hike.
For those who’ve never swum outside the confines of an indoor pool, Swim The Lakes (swimthelakes.co.uk) has a half-day ‘introduction to open water swimming’ course, suitable for complete beginners through to hardened triathletes. Experienced guides will take you into the cooling depths of Windermere and tell you about technique and how to build stamina, all while getting a frog’s eye view of this beautiful corner of the British Isles.
If the stunning Shenandoah Valley and the surrounding area doesn't inspire the landscape artist inside you, nowhere will © Dennis Govoni / Getty Images
Master painting in Virginia
Carving out time to learn how to draw or paint can be tough when everyday life gets in the way. The glorious Shenandoah Art Destination (shenandoahartdestination.com) in Virginia is the ideal spot for anyone looking to perfect their artistic streak while on holiday. It offers weekend, four-day, six-day and ten-day vacations for artists of all levels.
Printmakers, painters and illustrators are all welcome, with the gorgeous plantation house providing a base for visitors to explore their muse in the surrounding Shenandoah Valley. Jan-Willem and Nancy Boer, the in-house instructors, have decades of experience in creating and selling art, with classes no larger than 10, ensuring you get plenty of time to hone your techniques with expert guidance.
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