Unusual holiday courses

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Anna Brech
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Many people go on holiday to relax, but arguably the best breaks are the ones where you come back refreshed and re-energised, having opened your eyes and learnt something new. And we're not talking a yoga class on the beach one afternoon when you were too hungover to face swimming (though they're good too).

You could be tracking black rhino on horseback in South Africa, learning the art of divination in Athens, brushing up on crime fiction techniques in Tuscany or finding out how to de-tech your life in the Caribbean - the world is brimming with opportunities to expand your skill set and become a student all over again.

Broaden your mind through travel with a look at our selection of some of the world's most unusual learning breaks, from the unique to the surreal, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, below. Have a favourite or a recommendation to add? Let us know in the comments section or on Twitter.

Words: Anna Brech, Images: Rex Features, Getty Images and hotels' own

  • Harvest olive and quince in Portugal's Algarve

    The beautiful surroundings of Agroturismo Cosmopolita, a working organic farm in Portugal's Algarve region, will make taking part in the harvest a pleasure rather than a chore. After you're done collecting olives and quince (September to October), oranges (November to April), apricots (May), and figs (June to August) in the 40 acres of wild pines and farmland, you can learn how to make truffles with figs from the French chef living nearby.

    From €90 a night, Agroturismo Cosmopolita, Portugal

  • Track Desert Black Rhino on horseback in South Africa

    At Tswalu Kalahari, South Africa's largest private game reserve, you can learn how to track and identify game on horseback, including tracking the extremely rare and endangered Desert Black Rhino. Equestrian guides provide expert tuition for the horse safaris, so guests can ride to the heart of the 100,000 hectare wilderness surrounded by buffalo, hartebeest, kudu, mountain zebra and more.

    From £630 per night, including full board and safari Tswalu Kalahari , South Africa

  • Learn champagne sabering in Bangkok

    For a party trick that's guaranteed to impress, book yourself a place on the champagne sabering course at the St Regis Bangkok. The hotel uses a saber from the Royal Thai Army in the head butler’s nightly revival of this traditional art, which involves separating the collar from the neck of a champagne bottle with a traditional sword. A pretty nifty feat, albeit one that might involve quite a bit of broken glass before you get it right...

    From £140 per room, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage at £22.50 per bottle St Regis Bangkok, Thailand

  • Fish for Piranha in the Peruvian Amazon

    Up for a challenge? Hop aboard a canoe and discover how to fish for piranha in the forgotten wilderness of the Peruvian Amazon. It's just one in a string of unique Amazonian experiences offered by boutique cruise company Aqua Expeditions. Other highlights include jungle trips to see three-toed sloths, caimans and on-board ceviche-making lessons.

    From £1,609 per person for a three night cruise (based on two people sharing on a full board basis), Aqua Expeditions, Peru

  • Go oyster hunting in Cornwall

    Got a taste for the high life? Forage for oysters the sustainable way at the multi award-winning Bedruthan Hotel & Spa on the Cornish coast. Head out to the banks of the Camel Estuary and scour the tide line for native oysters under the direction of the hotel's expert oysterman, before taking your haul back for a cooking demonstration. Enjoy your hard work with sparkling wine overlooking the breath-taking coastline of Bedruthan Steps.

    From £275 per person for a two night break, Bedruthan Hotel & Spa, Cornwall

  • Discover the art of prophecy in Athens

    This elegant 1930s apartment is located in one of the few remaining Art Deco buildings in Athens, just around the corner from where opera legend Maria Callas used to live. Guests can hire a traditional "master" who will come to the apartment with sweets and Greek coffee to teach the art of divination. This ancient method of reading the future through looking at abstract forms dates all the way back to the Oracle of Delphi.

    From €210 per night for up to 10 people, Art Deco apartment, Athens

  • Channel your inner horse whisperer in Andalucía

    Casa La Siesta is a beautifully restored traditional Spanish finca in Andalucía with its own horse whisperer on staff. It recently introduced a natural horsemanship course to run alongside its on-site horse refuge. Simin Nadjati Hinrichs, one of Europe’s leading trainers, leads participants in dressage classes and on rides through the stunning Andalucían countryside.

    From €699 per person for a four-night stay plus course, Casa La Siesta, Spain

  • Embark on a digital detox in St Vincent and the Grenadines

    Does your iPad rule your life? Maybe it's time to try out this ground-breaking "digital detox" course in the idyllic setting of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Turn off your Blackberry and go cold turkey on the beach, surrounded by the tranquil sound of the Caribbean waves. The holiday includes a de-teching guide, a session with a life coach - oh, and a private catamaran transfer to Palm Island in St Vincent, just to ease that transition into a non-digital world.

    From £2,967 per person for seven nights including flights and private transfers, Black Tomato, Caribbean

  • Become the next Gillian Flynn in Tuscany

    The gentle rolling landscape of Tuscany may seem unlikely inspiration for crime writing but sometimes you just need to get away from it all to get in the zone. The Watermill at Posara runs a series of creative writing courses in a secluded location with wonderful, freshly cooked food to wind down to at night. This autumn, best-selling thriller writer Meg Gardiner runs the guesthouse's first week-long crime writing course covering crucial areas such as secrets, lies and adrenaline, and heroes, heroines, and the hook.

    From £1,323 for a week-long course and accommodation, The Watermill, Italy

  • Get dancing and wrestling in Senegal

    Learn traditional African folk dancing, drumming and the national sport of la lutte from villagers in Senegal, in excursions run by Les Paletuviers resort in the Toubacouta arrondissement. Find out about the structure and rhythm involved in playing a Djembé drum, the sheep-skin covered instrument that plays a central role in many local ceremonies. Or learn the art of lutte, where wrestling meets dancing, and attend a tournament accompanied by a chorus of monotone singing and djembé beats.

    From £73 per person per night, Les Paletuviers, Senegal

  • Join a paint safari in Andalucía

    Head to one of Spain's most dramatic alpine deserts for a week of painting in the aptly-named Artist's Retreat. This Andalucía-based guesthouse runs yearly 'paint safaris' where a guide takes wannabe Monets and van Goghs to beautiful and isolated spots in the surrounding countryside for the space and time to paint. The property also boasts impressive eco-credentials; all power is made from the sun and wind, and cooking and heating is generated with local wood.

    From €660 per person for a five-day break and tuition, Artist's Retreat, Andalucía

  • Freedive with manta rays in the Maldives

    The Maldives' abundance of gorgeous white sand beaches, coral reefs and warm azure waters makes it the ideal destination for free diving. The Soneva Fushi Resort is based on its own island and offers three-day courses to guests. Divers can explore the reef encircling the island and a nearby colony of nesting turtles, as well as spotting manta rays, eagle rays, reef sharks and even whale sharks.

    £836 for a three day workshop, Soneva Fushi Resort, the Maldives

  • Learn sustainable bee keeping in Wales

    TV presenter Kate Humble and her husband have opened their Monmouthshire farm up to the public for a string of rural skills courses, including "Get The Buzz" sustainable bee keeping. Guests get to meet the honey bee colonies, learn basic bee biology and ecology and find out how to harvest honey; as well as gaining a broader understanding of the sustainable relationship between bees, people and the environment.

    From £95 for a day course, farm cottages from £395 for a week, Humble By Nature, Wales

  • Volunteer at a panda reserve in Chengdu

    Learn the art of panda conservation by volunteering for half a day at the world-famous Chengdu Panda Reserve. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is included in Travelsphere's 13-day tour of China and offers enthusiasts the rare chance to observe first-hand the efforts being made to save these endangered animals from extinction. Other highlights on the tour include a gourmet cookery class in the province of Sichuan, famed for its spicy cuisine.

    From £2,499 per person including return scheduled flights from Heathrow, Travelsphere, China

  • Go salt water fly fishing in Mozambique

    There's no better place to learn to fly fish than in the clear blue waters of Mozambique. Boutique hotel Azura Benguerra runs half day expeditions for fine and beautiful catch including bonito, travelli and king and queen mackerel - as well as a more challenging variety of game fishing (with a policy of catch and release). Want more? In the evenings, the hotel hosts a free star-gazing and astronomy talk under the vast African night sky.

    From £336 per person per night, £225 per boat for a half-day expedition, Azura Benguerra, Mozambique

  • Put your butchery skills to test in Mayfair

    Indulge in the quintessentially British skill of carving in a workshop from feted chef and restaurateur Mark Hix. This two-hour masterclass takes place at Rocco Forte’s Brown’s Hotel in the heart of London's Mayfair and ends with a feast of carved meats served with potatoes, vegetables, dessert and a cheese course - not forgetting wine. You even get your own Brown’s Hotel apron and Mark Hix cook book to take home.

    £150 per person for the carving masterclass, rooms from £270, Brown's Hotel, Mayfair

  • Grill lobster to perfection in Canada

    The luxurious five star Kingsbrae Arms is based on Canada's northeast Bay of Fundy - aka the lobster capital of the world, with some 41 lobster fisheries and some of the largest tides in the world. Its four-day Lobster Academy course addresses the origins of seafood and its impact on the environment and seasonality. Highlights include personal cooking demonstrations from the chefs, tips on smoking, marinating and grilling seafood to perfection, a visit to the largest live lobster pound in the world - plus oceanfront lunches and barbecues under the stars.

    From £812 per person for a four-day course, Kingsbrae Arms, Canada

  • Turn story-teller in Morocco

    How much technique is there to telling a really great story, which pulls your audience in and captivates them? Find out with the story-telling courses run by boutique guesthouse Riad Alkantara in the heart of Fes’s medina. As well as housing a serene courtyard and palm tree-flanked pool, Riad Alkantara sees itself as a platform for creative arts and cultural exchange. Other classes it hosts include plasterwork, wood-carving, candle-making and musical instrument making.

    From £76 per night,, Morocco

  • Learn Chinese Brush Writing in Hong Kong

    Learn to paint authentic Chinese characters on a silk scroll at The Peninsula Hong Kong. Guests are introduced to this ancient art with basic brush techniques, which they then transfer to canvas. The hotel also runs Feng Shui and Dim Sum-making classes.

    Rooms from £340 per night, classes from £75 per person per hour, The Peninsula , Hong Kong

  • Become a safari guide in Botswana

    Forget going on safari - cut to the chase (so to speak) and become a safari guide yourself. Original Travel's four-week intensive course in Botswana is perhaps the only place in the world where students can follow up lectures with a trip to the wilderness. There's a strong emphasis on the hands-on skills of guiding and participants are required to explore the surrounding Okavango Delta on foot, motor boats and in game-drive vehicles to get up close with the game and be at one with the environment.

    From £2,650 per person including accomodation, tuition and flights, Original Travel, Botswana

  • Sing loud and proud in Florence

    If you're an opera buff, look no further. Rocco Forte's Hotel Savoy in Florence allows you to take singing lessons in the city where the world's first opera was written. Guests take part in a two-hour masterclass, including a guided walk to the courtyard of the Pitti Palace (pictured), followed by a singing lesson led by tutors from the respected Accademia Europea di Firenze. They then get to pitch their skills against the experts with a visit to the opera.

    From €505.50 per room per night, Hotel Savoy Firenze, Florence

  • Craft a chair from a tree in Dorset

    Indulge your crafty side by booking a place on the sustainable carpentry course at Crafty Camping in Dorset. Over the course of the two-day workshop, you'll learn a whole host of woodwork skills including green woodworking, bowl carving, spoon carving and how to make a chair from a tree (useful, that). After you're done you can chill out in the various glamping options, including a tipi, a yurt and a shepherd’s hut.

    From £300 per person including accommodation and lunch, Canopy And Stars, Dorset

  • Make brioche and baguettes in a French windmill

    It doesn't get more rustic than this. Moulin de Lugy is an 18th Century organic bread windmill with original features based in heart of the seven valleys region of Pas de Calais. Learn how to make French breads and brioche under the watchful eye of a master baker and leave with an armful of delicious goodies to accompany your newly-gained knowledge.

    Return crossings Dover-Calais from £25,, Moulin de Lugy, France

  • Catch monster waves off Portugal’s Atlantic coast

    Channel your inner surf dude with lessons from renowned surfing champion Ruben Gonzalez, at luxury hotel The Oitavos on the Atlantic coast near Lisbon. After a morning's surfing at Guincho beach, near where Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was shot, hardy participants can head north to Silver Coast, where American surfer Garrett McNamara broke the Guinness World Record for the largest wave ever surfed by catching a 90-foot tall wave last November.

    From €1,080 for a two-night stay, plus tuition and massages, The Oitavos, Portugal

  • Make like a mixologist in Sicily

    Why order cocktails when you can make them yourself? The award-winning Verdura Resort in Sicily runs bespoke mixology classes where you can mix up drinks using fresh ingredients hand-picked on hotel grounds. Learn how to use homegrown basil and mint from the garden and oranges plucked from the orchard to make personalised cocktails exactly suited to your palette.

    Rooms from €297, mixology classes from €45 for an hour, Verdura Resort, Sicily


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.