From street photography to swimming with whale sharks, unusual holiday courses to book for 2016

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Moya Crockett
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There are two types of people when it comes to holidays. For the first, the best part of going away is the chance to do nothing at all. A snooze in the sun, the occasional swim, and somewhere nice to eat: sorted. Type two, in contrast, are sent into a tailspin of panic at the thought of seven days with nothing in the diary. These people want structure. They want plans. They want to be learning something. 

Irreconcilable differences? Not at all. Plenty of holidays allow you to combine the joy of mastering a new skill with time to relax and escape from daily life - and we've got some of the best holiday courses here. Whether you fancy learning to surf in Costa Rica, writing poetry in the Scottish Highlands, making ice-cream in Sorrento or becoming a street photographer in Istanbul, there's something for everyone. 

Accommodation included in all prices. Flights included where noted.

  • Get writing in the Scottish wilderness

    If you fancy yourself the next Kate Tempest or Paula Hawkins, head to Moniack Mhor in the wild Scottish Highlands. Courses at the creative writing centre range from crime fiction to poetry and travel writing, and tutors include poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Author Ali Smith describes Moniack Mhor as “a place of rare space and weather-wildness and beauty. Something magical and good always happens here”.

    From £300pp for 5 nights.

  • Surf in Costa Rica

    You’re practically guaranteed a beach tan after a week of riding the waves at famed Costa Rican surfing beaches Playa Hermosa and Playa Santa Teresa. Never been on a board before? No problem – expert instructors are on-hand to guide the progress of experienced surfers and absolute beginners alike.

    From £2,235pp for 7 nights (flights included).

  • Drive a Vespa through Spain

    Learn how to drive a 125cc Vespa on a road trip through the Spanish countryside and beautiful medieval towns. These tours include stays in boutique hotels, as well as Vespa lessons - so no worries if you've never been on a scooter before. Zoom zoom. 

    From £989pp for a 4-day guided tour.

  • Volunteer with elephants in Thailand

    Chiang Mai is famous for its lush mountain forests and elephant keeping traditions. Mahouts (elephant keepers) draw on generations of tribal knowledge to care for elephants rescued from tourist camps, who now live peaceful lives in their natural habitat. Learn about elephant history, behaviour, training and social skills as you discover the culture of Northern Thailand. 

    From £920pp for 1 week.

  • Make chocolate in St Lucia

    Set in a huge cocoa estate, the luxury resorts of Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet share a pristine beach and a Willy Wonka-style chocolate lab. Get your hands dirty (in the best possible way) in chocolate-making classes, take a guided tour around the estate to discover how cocoa goes from tree to bar, or just enjoy the delights of a Caribbean island in the sun. 

    From £258 per night.

  • Take images like a photojournalist in Istanbul

    Hit the streets of Istanbul and master the art of street photography with award-winning photojournalist Lee Thompson. You'll learn how to approach people in the street and take stunning photographs of people and landscapes. The tour group stays in a 4* boutique hotel, and there's plenty of free time to soak up the city's vibrant nightlife and fantastic cuisine.

    From £880 for 4-day guided tour,

  • Make cheese in the Dordogne

    If you're passionate about where your food comes from - and a fan of cheese - this could be the trip for you. Guests at a historic organic goat farm enjoy private cheese-making classes, take part in milking the goats, and go behind the scenes at local markets. The beautiful Dordogne countryside is yours to explore by foot, car, canoe or bike. 

    £410 for 7 nights,


  • Swim with whale sharks in Mexico

    Fancy diving with the biggest fish on the planet? Marine biologist Dr Simon Pierce leads snorkelling trips along Mexico’s beautiful Yucatan coastline and coral reefs, where guests can swim nose-to-nose with whale sharks, tropical fish and giant leatherback turtles. Despite their scary name and giant size, whale sharks feed mainly on plankton – so you can let go of any Jaws-based fears of being eaten alive.

    From £1695pp for 8 days, 

  • Paint in Portugal

    There's a course for everyone at this art school in Olhão, Portugal. Guests spend their days sketching or painting in and around the town, before retiring to a restored Moorish guesthouse. Faro, with its great nightlife and restaurants, is just 20 minutes' drive away, but Olhão is laidback and less touristy, with the breathaking Ria Formosa lagoon right on its doorstep. 

    From £495 for four nights,

  • Learn to cook in Vietnam

    Vietnamese food is having a moment in the UK, so head to the mother country and learn how to make authentic dishes from the experts. As well as intensive but relaxed cooking classes, this trip includes visits to the floating markets of Saigon, Hoi An and Hanoi, and plenty of time to discover the country’s rich history.

    From £797pp for 8 nights,

  • Belly-dance in Morocco

    Belly-dancing, which has its origins in the Middle East, is a surprisingly intense work-out – as well as being loads of fun. A professional dancer and teacher for over a decade, host Roberta now runs a dance camp from the laidback beach village of Tamraght, three hours from Marrakech. Guests stay in an eco-friendly riad in the village and take part in two hours of belly dance lessons every morning; the rest of the time is yours to enjoy.

    From £223pp for 7 nights,

    Image: Thinkstock

  • Master circus skills in the Dominican Republic

    If you’ve ever dreamed of flying through the air with the greatest of ease, you could do worse than learning circus skills from the masters. Legendary international circus troupe Cirque du Soleil run circus skills workshops from Club Med Punta Canta in the Dominican Republic, where you can master the flying trapeze, high bungee, aerial silks, tightrope and much more, before passing out on the resort’s private beach. 

    From £494pp for 7 nights,

  • Learn to ride in a week in the Azores

    Horseback is one of the loveliest ways to see the lakes and mountains of São Miguel, the largest island in the Azores (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean). This riding holiday is aimed at beginner and novice riders, with ten hours of lessons over the course of a week. By the end of the trip, you should be able to join a spectacular full-day ride across the island. 

    From £501pp for seven nights,

  • Go antiquing in Néris-les-Bains, France

    Néris-les-Bains, a small spa town in central France, is an unexplored delight. Combine a stay in a seven-bedroom farmhouse just outside town with a weekend of treasure hunting, accompanied by antiques expert Marmen Raquin. Marmen can assist with translation and negotiation, and help you spot the best vintage bargains as you pick your way around flea markets and attic sales. 

    From £358 for 3 nights,

  • Go on a wildlife research expedition in South Africa

    Get acquainted with lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants and more when you join a team of international volunteers assisting with vital conservation work in South Africa. Volunteers are trained to track animals through their natural habitat, in a private game reserve in Limpopo province. It's a crucial job, and one that gives you an unfiltered look into Africa’s iconic wildlife.

    From £1,195 for 2 weeks, 

  • Survive in the UK wilderness

    If you got lost in the wilderness, would you have to rely on a man for survival? Or could you build a shelter, find food and make a fire? The Woodland Ways Weekend, run from beautiful rural locations across the UK, is perfect for women who want to get back in touch with nature and master basic bushcraft and survival skills, from preparing food in the wild to finding your way without a map.

    £239 for a 3-day course,​

  • Forage for food in the Greek mountains

    Zagori reveals a different side to Greece: think jagged snow-capped mountains and winding rivers, rather than surf and sand. Expert guides teach foodie guests how to forage for mushrooms on the mountainside and in the deep forests, as well as how to cook with foraged food. 

    From £176 for 2 people for 2 nights, Aristi Mountain Resort & Villas

  • Attend ski school in France

    At the inaugural Women’s Ski Weekend in Chamonix, France, daily skiing guides and instruction will be provided in intimate groups. There’s a wide selection of easy and more challenging off-piste routes to enjoy, and confident skiers can even tackle the famous Vallee Blanch run accompanied by a guide. The luxury weekend includes a chalet chef, afternoon tea, four-course evening meals, massages and luxury in-chalet facilities.

    From £1,700 for 5 days, 9-13 March 2016,

  • Learn Italian and make ice cream on the Amalfi coast

    Always wish you could speak the language when you go abroad? Spend a week learning Italian and making ice cream in beautiful Sorrento. This five-day course includes 20 hours of basic Italian lessons, plus classes where you can master the art of making ice cream, sorbet and granita. Sorrento's location on the Amalfi coast also makes it a perfect base from which to explore Pompeii, Naples and the islands of Capri.

    From £346 for 5 days,

  • Go dog-sledding in Lapland

    If you prefer a bobble hat to a bikini, learning how to dog-sled in Lapland could be the adventure for you. Whiz through pine and beech forests and across frozen lakes on a husky-pulled sled, visit a reindeer farm, try out forest skiing and even spend a night in a woodland cabin without electricity. 

    From £1096pp for 7 nights, 


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Moya Crockett

Moya is a freelance journalist and writer from London, and a former editor at Stylist.