CREATIVE WRITING IN FRANCE
The Lowdown: Chez Castillon in the Dordogne was bought on a whim by actors Mike and Janie Wilson. They have transformed it into an oasis of calm and creativity where five-day writing courses are taken by established authors – this year’s line-up includes the likes of SJ Watson, Rowan Coleman, Julie Cohen and Jo Thomas. Courses run throughout the year and tutors are often able to put together bespoke courses for book groups or friends. Outside of the classes, you’ll get plenty of inspiration from the house’s location in the heart of market town Castillon-la-Bataille, as well as the surrounding area – St Emilion is just ten minutes’ drive away, while Bordeaux and Bergerac are 40 minutes away.
Where You’ll Stay: Chez Castillon is an 18th-century townhouse. There are six comfortable en-suite double bedrooms in the main house, each traditionally French in style, with views either of the garden or of Rue Victor Hugo with its boulangeries and flower shop. In the corner of the garden is a gîte, with three double en-suite rooms – these have a chalet feel with white-washed wooden floors and furnished in bright colours. All the bedrooms have tables or desks for you to work at. There is also a swimming pool in the garden.
The Details: Prices range from £750 to £850 and include 6 nights’ accommodation, plus all meals with wine from the nearby chateau. Painting and photography courses are also available.
KNITTING IN THE FAROE ISLANDS
The Lowdown: Discover the stunning landscapes of the Faroe Islands, the land of sheep and patterned chunky knits, and indulge your passion for knitting (note, you will need some knitting experience). On this eight-day trip, there are five half days of private workshops with local knitting expert Katrina I Geil during which you’ll learn about the Faroese knitting traditions and create your own Faroese-inspired project. You’ll also be able to explore the extraordinary nature of this remote north Atlantic outpost, and learn a bit about local history, traditions and culture with a visit to the National Museum, as well as meet textile artists and sample Faroese cuisine.
Where You’ll Stay: Hotel Hafnia is centrally located in the capital Tórshavn, overlooking its picturesque harbour. The 74 rooms are light and simply furnished in traditional Scandinavian style. The knitting workshops are held in the private meeting room.
The Details: 7 nights from £2,399pp, including return flights from Edinburgh, B&B accommodation, workshops, excursions.
COOKING IN SPAIN
The Lowdown: If you’re passionate about travel and food, book yourself onto one of Annie B’s fabulous cooking holidays in Vejer de la Frontera – a pretty hilltop town in Andalusia with a labyrinth of cobbled streets, quiet squares, churches and historical buildings. On the seven-night option, you’ll spend three days learning how to make some of Spain’s most classic dishes, including prawns in garlic, tortilla, melon gazpacho and traditional paella. You’ll also get an introduction to Moroccan food – for over 600 years the Moors lived in Vejer and their legacy lives on in the local cuisine. Trips include a visit to a local fish market, a bodega in Jerez to taste and learn about sherry, and a day exploring and eating in the historic town of Cadiz, as well as a tapas tour of Vejer. If you’re short of time, Annie also offers a four-night stay.
Where You’ll Stay: La Casa del Califa is in the centre of Vejer and consists of ten interlocking houses dating from the 10th to the 16th centuries. Each of the 20 rooms – from simple doubles to luxurious suites – has its own style with wrought iron, exposed brick and vintage furnishings (think Andalusian meets North African). Book into the loft-like Africa Suite if you want the biggest room from which you’ll get views of the town’s main square, the Plaza de España, and – on a clear day – the sea and Africa.
The Details: Price €2,175pp (based on 2 sharing) for the 7-night option, including classes, some lunches, excursions and B&B accommodation.
PAINTING IN CRETE
The Lowdown: Join tutor Robert Dellar’s eight-day Art Safari trip this May to Chania in Crete. The ancient town’s architecture is remarkable – a 16th-century lighthouse is one of the oldest and most beautiful in the world. It is approached by a long walkway and provides a wonderful spot for sweeping views of the town, watery reflections and silhouettes of the distant mountains. You will also spend much of your painting time in the pretty narrow streets of the walled old town and its 14th-century Venetian harbour.
If Crete is not for you, Art Safari organise painting holidays to more than 40 destinations worldwide, including Norway, Spain, Greece, Morocco, Namibia, Zambia, the Galapagos and Cornwall, to name just a few. Artists of all standards are catered for and the holidays are tailor-made to suit the individual needs, artistic abilities and size of each group. There is a lot of one-to-one tuition and you’ll have time to develop your personal style and technique in graphite, pastel and watercolour.
Where You’ll Stay: In Chania, you’ll be based in Porto Veneziano Hotel on the waterfront and within walking distance of the painting locations in the old town.
The Details: The Chania trip takes place from 24th to 31st May. Price from £1,533pp, including all meals, art tuition, excursions, transport and airport transfers.
BALLROOM DANCING IN VIENNA
The Lowdown: Vienna is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and – thanks to its classical music scene, Baroque architecture, museums full of old masters and the Opera Ball – rich in cultural history. There is nowhere better to learn the Viennese waltz than the city’s most famous dance school, Elmayer, which was founded over 100 years ago. In addition to the waltz, you can book private tuition to learn any ballroom dance, from the foxtrot and quickstep to the rumba and tango.
Where To Stay: Vienna’s most lavish hotel, the five-star Hotel Imperial on the Ringstraße boulevard in the heart of the city, will take you back to the era of the Austro-Hungarian empire. For a more budget-friendly stay, book into the Max Brown 7th District in the hip, creative Neubau quarter of the city.
The Details: A 50-minute private lesson for one or for a couple costs €75.
STOCKSY/ROB & JULIA CAMPBELL
TENNIS IN PORTUGAL
The Lowdown: Tennis is excellent for improving fitness, plus it’s fun and sociable. If watching Rafa Nadal win the Australian Open has inspired you to get on court, Pine Cliffs in the Algarve is the ideal place to learn. Managed by the Annabel Croft Tennis Academy, its tennis centre has five floodlit courts (two clay and three all-weather hard courts) where you’ll take part in group tennis lessons, drills and exercises; at an additional cost, the coaches can tailor-make a programme of private lessons to suit you, which is particularly useful if you are starting from scratch.
Where You’ll Stay: Pine Cliffs is spread across the clifftops and has wonderful views of the sea from each of its luxe rooms. Falesia beach is reached via the hotel’s lift or a footpath down the cliffs. After a day on court, book in for a restorative massage in the fabulous Serenity Spa. It’s worth noting that this hotel has long been regarded as a family favourite, so is perfect for a multi-generational holiday. However, if you are not planning to travel with family and grandchildren, aim to book in low season.
The Details: 7 nights at Pine Cliffs from £1,030pp, including breakfast and tennis programme.
GOLF IN SPAIN
The Lowdown: In the hills of Benahavís on the Costa del Sol, the Marbella Club Resort’s golf course is one of the best in Spain. On a clear day, it’s got views to the Sierra mountains, Gibraltar and the African coastline. Whether you’re a beginner learning the fundamentals or a seasoned golfer wanting to fine-tune your technique, you’ll get one-to-one sessions. Once you’re finished golfing for the day, return to the hotel where you can relax and revitalise with a variety of spa treatments, or laze by the pool or on the beach. If you are still feeling energetic, there is a range of complimentary group classes, from yoga to circuits.
Where You’ll Stay: Luxe boutique hotel Marbella Club is set within large exotic subtropical gardens with views overlooking the Mediterranean. It is only a 15-minute stroll along the beachfront to the chic boutiques and traditional tapas restaurants of Marbella and a ten-minute drive to the buzzing marina of Puerto Banus.
The Details: 7 nights B&B at Marbella Club from £2,145pp, including six 60-minute private golf lessons; golf club set and balls for golf lessons; a personalised relaxing massage, an intensive sports massage and a ‘golfer’s tonic’ massage.
PHOTOGRAPHY IN SWEDEN
The Lowdown: Pack your camera and head to Stockholm for three nights this September on a Light & Land tour. Sweden’s capital stretches across 14 islands connected by 57 bridges, giving this waterfront city its unique charm. You’ll get the chance to explore the city’s skyline and fascinating architecture under the tuition of Astrid McGechan who has photographed extensively in urban environments. You’ll be able to let your creativity loose and return with photos to treasure.
If you fancy another destination, there are plenty of alternatives. Set up by landscape photographer Charlie Waite and nature photographer Sue Bishop over 20 years ago, Light & Land offers photography tours and workshops worldwide for small groups. All locations, which range from Cornwall to the Canadian Rockies, are carefully researched so all you have to do is concentrate on getting the best image.
Where You’ll Stay: The Scandic Upplandsgatan is a comfortable, modern hotel in a secluded location. It’s within an easy stroll of the city centre and Sturelan with its restaurants, bars and exclusive shopping. There are also several cosy local bistros and restaurants on your doorstep.
The Details: The Stockholm trip takes place from 15th to 18th September. Price £1,499pp, including B&B accommodation, tuition and entry to various sites.
BEEKEEPING IN FRANCE
The Lowdown: Ever dreamt of keeping bees and making your very own honey? If so, head to the small medieval town of Confolens in the Charente department – and to Kevin and Amanda Baughen’s charming, art deco-inspired villa on the banks of the river Vienne. Their beekeeping experiences are designed to give you an insight into the world of bees and what it takes to keep them. They hold morning discussions and include lots of practical, hands-on sessions, so you get to see and feel what beekeeping is like. You’ll learn about the bees themselves and their importance to our ecosystem, the hives and of course the honey. On the three-day course, you’ll get three four-hour sessions of beekeeping learning and activity; on the five-day course, you’ll also get to explore the bees in greater depth, doing real beekeeping jobs, and the option of a candle-making workshop. Afternoons and evenings are yours to enjoy the surroundings or visit the larger towns of Poitiers, Angoulême and Limoges, all within an hour or so’s drive.
Where You’ll Stay: The Baughens offer comfortable accommodation in four spacious en-suite doubles that have recently been refurbished by local artisans. Two rooms have views of the river and two look out onto the large parkland garden. In the evenings you can enjoy pre-dinner aperitifs outside as the sun sets over the river.
The Details: Price €390 for the 3-day course (2 nights) and €595 for the 5-day course (4 nights), including accommodation, breakfast, lunch, drinks and three-course dinners.
The Lowdown: There is no better way to learn or improve your Italian than immersing yourself in Italian culture while soaking up scenic views of the blue sea, dramatic cliffs and colourful harbours of the Amalfi coast. During this week-long course, you’ll have daily language lessons in small groups with a native tutor as well as evening ‘aperitivo’ chat sessions – a relaxed way to practise your Italian with fellow guests over a glass of something. You will also get time to soak up the local atmosphere with some sightseeing and shopping at local markets, as well exploring nearby towns like Ravello and Positano.
Where You’ll Stay: Accommodation is in villas terraced into the sides of the cliffs. They all have extensive outdoor terraces and pools, as well as breathtaking views of the coastline. All rooms are en suite.
The Details: Price of £1,799 includes 7 nights’ accommodation, all meals, drinks, activities, tuition, day trips and airport transfers.
FLY FISHING IN THE BORDERS
The Lowdown: Hamilton House near Coldstream in the Scottish Borders is the perfect location to learn to fish. On its doorstep is the Tweed – generally regarded as the most prolific salmon river in Europe. The estate has its own beat and ghillie who will kit you up and take you through each of the steps of casting.
Where You’ll Stay: Hamilton House, which sleeps six in three double bedrooms, is a classic stone Borders house perched high on the banks of the river. The interior has a real country-house feel with art by local artists; the cosy drawing room has an open fire and double doors that lead to a patio with superb river views. The village of Norham, with its imposing Norman castle ruins, is three miles away – you’ll also find a village store, bakery and butcher.
The Details: 7 nights’ self-catering from £750.
*DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice before you book. Visit Gov.uk for more information.