Surfing, County Antrim
Portrush is a bracing but beautiful place to learn to surf. Despite having two top surf beaches, it is far less crowded than beaches in Devon and Cornwall. But for totally empty breaks, Portrush Surf School also runs one- to three-day surf tours to hidden spots along the west coast of Ireland. There are at least two surf sessions a day, with coaching for all levels from beginners to advanced, plus visits to off-the-beaten track castles, pubs and restaurants. Accommodation is flexible, from surf lodges to boutique hotels, depending on budget. The trips are limited to five surfers plus instructors, and the group travels by minibus.
• £149 for one day/£299 two/£449 three, including coaching and accommodation but not meals, portrushsurfschool.com
Landscape photography, Isle of Lewis
Hebridean Adventures runs liveaboard wildlife-watching boat trips from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. This year, it is also running easier-to-access activity cruises from Mallaig and Ullapool on the Scottish mainland, including hiking, sea kayaking and photography. The inaugural landscape photography trip from Mallaig will visit some of the most photogenic spots on the west Highland coast and the Isle of Skye, approaching it by sea for a distinctive perspective. The voyage is suitable for all photography levels, including beginners, and is led by Angus Mackie, a professional photographer and tutor, who will offer guidance on landscape interpretation and composition. Participants sleep aboard the nine-berth MV Monadhliath, a converted fishing boat with two raised viewing decks to spot whales and dolphins, and go ashore by dinghy.
• £995 for four nights, including tuition and meals, from 29 August, hebrideanadventures.co.uk
Chi running, Portugal
Gray Caws, a chirunning coach based in London, leads annual retreats in Bali (May) and Spain (October). This autumn, he is also running a new tai chi and trails retreat in Portugal. Chi running is suitable for any age or fitness level, and uses the principles of tai chi and qiqong to improve running efficiency, technique and breathing, and to reduce the risk of injury. On the new retreat, there will be daily guided chi trail running and hiking, tai chi and qiong classes, breathwork and meditation. The price also includes a canoe trip along the Rio Mondego, stopping to picnic and swim, and a massage. Guests stay in a manor house in the mountains in Beira, central Portugal, which has an outdoor pool, olive groves and a kitchen garden.
• From £1,095 for four nights, including individual coaching and vegetarian meals, from 28 September, adventuresinmovement.com
Competent knitters can hone their skills in Shetland, a knitting hotbed and the birthplace of the Fair Isle jumper. The tour includes knitting workshops with an expert and visits to woolly attractions such as the Shetland Textile Museum, historic woollen mills and contemporary design studios. There is also plenty of sightseeing to be done: highlights include Jarlshof, a prehistoric and Norse settlement; bird sanctuary Sumburgh Head; and Scalloway, the ancient capital with a ruined castle. The first night and last nights are spent at sea on the NorthLink ferry, while the three nights in Shetland are at Busta House hotel, a 16th-century building near Brae that stocks 260 whiskies. Knitters travel by coach, with pickup points in seven Scottish locations, including Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
• From £1,278 for six days, including tuition, tour guide and most meals, next departure 24 September, brightwaterholidays.com
Build a house, Mid Wales
Cat, the Centre for Alternative Technology, is dedicated to finding practical solutions to the climate crisis – and teaching people how to implement them. The short courses on offer at the centre in Machynlleth, Powys, encompass a whole range of sustainable living, from to upcycling furniture (one day, £55) to growing fruit (two days, £130 full board) permaculture (three days, £250 full board). One of the most popular is the four-day Build a Tiny House course. Students learn how to create their own small-carbon-footprint miniature house, including building the floor, walls, roof and windows; designing the layout; and installing a compost toilet and renewable energy systems. The on-site accommodation is, of course, in eco-buildings heated by biomass boilers and solar-thermal cells.
• £650 for four days full board, including tuition, next available Tiny House courses 22-25 September and 23-26 November, cat.org.uk
Idillio D’Arte runs cultural trips in Puglia, southern Italy, including a week focusing on contemporary dance. Carlo Melis, a dancer and choreography, teaches a two-hour workshop each morning. Classes are suitable for everyone and may include some local dancers, too. The dancing is followed by visits to historic towns such as Alberobello, Ostuni and Polignano a Mare, or a guided walk around Brindisi old town, with wine tasting and dinner. Guests stay in Masseria Gravelle, a country hotel based on a converted 18th-century barn near Conversano, another ancient town.
• €1,070 for seven days, including B&B, five dinners, tuition and transfers, 28 June to 4 July, idarte.it
Rubicon 3 runs sailing trips around the world on 18-metre clipper expedition yachts. No sailing experience is needed: first-time crew members learn a full range of nautical skills from a skipper and mate, from navigating to how to pick the perfect anchorage. There is a full day of basic training on each trip – learning about points of sail, tacking, gybing, reefing and what to do if someone goes overboard – followed by daily sailing lessons. For 2020, a new Galician Adventure traverses Spain’s Atlantic coast, exploring the region’s distinctive rias (deep inlets) and pretty fishing villages. The journey starts and ends in the harbour town of Muros; highlights include a couple of days on the idyllic Cíes Islands, and visits to the quaint village of Combarro, the walled town of Baiona and far-westerly Cape Finisterre.
• £1,499 for 10 nights, including tuition, equipment and meals, from 28 October, rubicon3.co.uk
The National Trust’s 150-plus working holidays are an affordable way to learn rural skills such as hedge-laying and drystone walling. One unusual new holiday this year involves learning how to make traditional outdoor furniture. Ranger Paul, a master woodworker, will teach volunteers how to make cleft chestnut gates and benches, to be installed around Woolacombe on the north Devon coast. Participants stay in a bunkhouse on the Watersmeet Estate. The NT also has a new Woodman’s Weekend on the Slindon Estate in West Sussex, learning to make timber products such as fencing material and charcoal (£140, 10-14 July).
• £190 for seven nights, including training and meals, from 29 March nationaltrust.org.uk
Making music, UK
HF Holidays is known for its walking breaks, but it also has a range of trips where guests can learn new skills, including painting, dancing, singing, cooking and playing musical instruments. Several are aimed at people who want to brush up their music skills or play as part of a group, such as a Dixieland Allsorts Band break in the Peak District, which is suitable for players of any instrument at Grade 1 or above. Others are aimed at complete beginners who want to learn a new instrument, such as the harmonica (in Snowdonia) or the ukulele (in Northumberland). For the undecided, there is a new Musical Taster Weekend in the North York Moors, where beginners can try pop, folk and jazz, using their voices, percussion instruments and ukuleles. All trips are based in country houses in scenic locations – the taster weekend takes place at Larpool Hall on the edge of Whitby, which has 14 acres of grounds and views over the Esk Valley.
• Three-night breaks from £274 full board, including tuition, hfholidays.co.uk
Crafty breaks, Cornwall
Bedruthan, a clifftop hotel above Mawgan Porth beach in north Cornwall, launched lots of “making breaks” in 2019 and is adding to them this year. Guests can learn crafts such as calligraphy, crochet or jewellery making, or go on a baking course; new workshops will be added over the coming months. One unusual course covers the basics of pyrography: the art of decorating wood with burn marks. Participants make a set of decorated coasters or wooden bunting to take home. Workshops take place in a seaview studio and include tea and cake; they can be booked as day courses or overnight breaks. The latter includes B&B, a three-course dinner and use of the hotel’s spa.
• From £50 for a making workshop/£131 for a making break. Next pyrography breaks 8 March; 27 September, £65, bedruthan.com
Writing, Malvern Hills
Budding JK Rowlings can apply for Handheld Press’s science fiction and fantasy writing retreat in the Malvern Hills. The retreat includes masterclasses from Una McCormack, a New York Times bestselling author and creative writing lecturer, and Helen Marshall, a World Fantasy Award-winning author. There is also a workshop on how to pitch your book from Handheld Press, lots of time to write, either privately or in shared spaces, and optional group walks. The retreat is aimed at creative writing students and published authors (meaning at least one piece of writing has been published professionally). Dell House is a 10-bedroom building in two acres of peaceful wooded gardens.
• From £375 for three days, 1-4 July, handheldpress.co.uk
Pottery, Lake District
Gosforth Pottery runs residential courses for all abilities throughout the year. Morning tuition covers throwing pots, handmaking pots, decorative techniques and other aspects. The week concludes with students’ pots being fired in a raku kiln. Afternoons and evenings can be spent potting (the studio is open until 10pm), or walking in Wasdale, Ennerdale and Eskdale; painting and sketching; or visiting the Cumbrian coast. The course is run by the husband and wife team behind the pottery from their 17th-century farmhouse, with accommodation in on-site holiday cottages. The price includes homecooked food based on traditional Cumbrian recipes.
• £385 for a weekend/£760 for a week, next courses 14-16 February and 20-17 March, potterycourses.co.uk
Villa Shambhala, a four-bedroom property on the banks of the Dordogne in south-west France, has a “living gallery” and an art studio. The critic Élie Faure once lived next door, and the house was visited by artists such as Diego Rivera and Chaïm Soutine. Now the owner, art expert Kit Bentley, is running residential courses taught by the French contemporary artist Eric Bourse. All abilities are welcome, from beginners who want a taster to more experienced painters aiming to develop their style and technique. The medium is acrylics and all art students will complete a small canvas by the end of the course. When taking a break from painting, guests can relax in the walled garden or on the roof terrace, go kayaking on the river, walk to the nearest village, Pessac, or drive 20 minutes into Saint-Émilion.
• Villa, sleeps eight, from £1,167 for five nights and seven nights from £1,667. Smaller groups can stay at Petite Shambhala, sleeps four, from £647 for five nights. Art tuition €50ph paid to artist and €20 for materials, oliverstravels.com
Wildwind has been running sailing holidays from Vassiliki on the island of Lefkas for 30 years. Now it has branched out into Wildwind Adventures, for people who would like to try a range of watersports. A typical week’s holiday involves at least one full day learning to sail a dinghy or catamaran, a windsurfing lesson, a one-day scuba diving course, two mornings’ paddleboarding, one sea kayaking session and a snorkelling safari. Guests can also go mountain biking if they have the energy. There is a choice of two small, beachfront hotels to stay in, and weekly barbecues, live music at the beach bar and cocktail nights at the pool bar.
• From £799 for seven nights/£1,115 for 14, incl tuition and BA flights from Gatwick, weekly from 3 May to 27 September, greece.wildwind-adventures.co.uk
Fly fishing, Devon
The Arundell Arms, close to the Devon/Cornwall border, is one of England’s leading fishing hotels. It controls the fishing rights on seven rivers, has run a fly-fishing school for more than 75 years and employs two full-time instructors. Complete beginners who go on a four-day course will learn to fish for river and lake trout by themselves. The course is broken down into a day’s casting instruction, a day’s lake fishing and two days’ river fishing. The practical lessons are combined with workshops and lectures on tackle, safety, fly-tying, entomology, river craft and fish behaviour. There is a two-day condensed course for those who have only a weekend to spare. Both are suitable for ages 11 and above.
• £300 adults/£200 under-17s for two days or £495/£300 for four days, including tuition, accommodation extra. Next courses 10-13 April and 18-19 April, arundellarms.com
Vegan cooking, London
There has been a fourfold increase in the number of vegans in the UK over the past five years, and many more people are cutting down on meat and dairy. So what better time to go on a vegan cooking course? On a five-day course at the Avenue Cookery School in Wandsworth, south-west London, students learn to cook sweet and savoury dishes, using nuts, pulses, grains, tofu, miso, seitan and tempeh, and dairy and egg alternatives. Mornings are spent cooking (then eating) a two-course lunch, with more demonstrations and dishes in the afternoons. Time is also spent on knife skills, presentation, learning to cook with leftovers and how to avoid waste. On Thursday, students throw a dinner party to show off their new repertoire. Optional accommodation is in a family-run B&B.
• £690 for five days, accommodation £305 for B&B and dinner, next course 27 April to 1 May, theavenuecookeryschool.com
International House runs intensive Spanish courses in eight beautiful cities: Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastián, Valencia, Seville, Cádiz, Málaga and Palma. The emphasis in on speaking and understanding, so classes are conducted entirely in Spanish, but attention is also paid to reading and writing skills. In Palma, Mallorca, students can combine studying with exploring the island – lessons take place from 9.30am to 1.30pm, leaving afternoons free for swimming, sunbathing and sightseeing – or learn another skill on a combined Spanish and sailing course. There are classes for all levels and it is open to anyone over 16, although there is also a two-week over-50s course (€490, 1 June). Students stay with host families (from €215 a week) or in shared apartments (from €205 a week).
• €210 a week, ihes.com
The Song House is a retreat centre near the Muckish mountain in County Donegal. It runs week-long singing holidays and short breaks, such as a weekend of songs and walks on the Wild Atlantic Way, or a singing and chanting weekend. Songs – which may include traditional English, Irish and American folk songs – are taught by ear so there is no need to read music; most retreats are open to everyone (one is for more experienced singers and one is for choir leaders). The retreats are about community, harmony and nature. Singers cook and eat together, play games, tell stories, explore the landscape and meet local people. The Song House has five bedrooms and there’s a B&B just up the road for any additional guests.
• From €359 for a weekend/€660 for a week, including accommodation, meals and tuition, next weekend retreat 3-6 April, full week 17-24 July, thesonghouseireland.com
Open-water swimming, Mallorca
Swimming holiday pioneer SwimTrek runs Introduction to Open Water trips in Mallorca for those who want to make the transition from the pool to the sea. There is plenty of one-on-one and group training in a 50-metre pool, working on swimming technique and open-water swimming skills, plus video analysis. This is combined with sea swims in sheltered bays, culminating in a boat-escorted swim crossing to an island reef in Es Carbo Bay near Colonia St Jordi in the south-east of the island. The trip is suitable for anyone who can swim 500 metres in a pool; swimmers with some open-water experience may prefer the Open Water Development holiday. Accommodation is the seafront Hotel Romántica in Colonia de Sant Jordi, a short walk from Es Trenc, one of the island’s best beaches.
• From £890 for five nights, including coaching, B&B, one lunch and four dinners, three departure dates in September, swimtrek.com
Freediving, Canary Islands
Freediving is the older, low-tech alternative to scuba diving, using breath control and body positioning techniques to swim underwater. Much Better Adventures runs small group trips (two or three people) to learn the skill on El Hierro, the second smallest and most remote of the Canary Islands, which has world-class diving in the Mar de las Calmas marine reserve. The course includes 10 90-minute practical sessions in natural pools and open water, and 5½ hours in the classroom. Students will achieve AIDA 1 and AIDA 2 freediving certification, and by the end of the course should be able to hold their breath for two-plus minutes, swim underwater for 40 metres and dive to depths of 16-20 metres. It is suitable for anyone who can swim for about 10 minutes. Students stay in a seaview apartment in La Caleta.
• £908 for six nights, including self-catering accommodation, tuition and equipment, next departure 17 February then six more dates until November, muchbetteradventures.com
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