Sights and Skills: Six Creative Breaks Across Europe

Learn to liaise with the loom, master the subtleties of scent and take a punt at palm-braiding. A new wave of creative courses pair adventures abroad with learning a new skill. Here’s our pick of where to workshop it.

Read more in Volume 37: Craft.

We're waving goodbye to deckchair-dominated holidays and welcoming with open arms (and readied tools) a host of new craft-focused trips that serve up adventures to new destinations with a side of self-improvement. Happily, artists and makers across the continent have taken note of our appetite for scholarly stays, and are offering workshops and learning-leaning trips into traditional crafts. Here are six ideas for travellers seeking new sights and skills.

All the skills: Our favourite creative retreats across Europe

A blue door set into a blue tiled wall in Lisbon, Portugal

Out on the Tiles in Lisbon


Lisbon loves a tile, with distinctive ceramics dressing stately streets in the upscale Príncipe Real neighbourhood and warren-like crannies of the ancient Alfama quarter alike. Thank goodness, as they grant our holiday snaps aesthetic pleasure. At the city's Loja dos Descobrimentos studio near Casa Dos Bicos, you can test your brush skills by designing a tile in a weekly craft workshop. Paired up with a professional tile maker, you'll create a geometric pattern, transfer it onto a Lisbon-made tile and fire the finished piece in the kiln, before taking it home just 48 hours later. Struggling for inspiration? We recommend seeking out your own Eureka moment in the bath at Verride Palacio Santa Catarina. The splash-out stay's royal suite houses a vast marble bathtub in which to admire its 'wow' of a blue-and-white mural dating from 1901.

What it costs: Workshops from £13
A visitor to Galimard's perfume laboratory tests an essence

Making Perfume in Grasse


The honeyed scent of roses, the earthy smokiness of vetiver, a hint of citrus - slightly startling… Perfume's subtle complexities and layers are all yours to master during a private two-hour lesson with a maître-parfumeur at Galimard in Grasse. Welcomed into a laboratory in the heart of France's perfume industry, you will be inducted into the art of the nose. It's a voyage of discovery as there are 127 notes to decipher and select to format the formula for your own eau de parfum. Bottled up, the original recipe is then secreted away in Galimard's database, so your bespoke scent can be reordered at a later date. Our tip? Include the dusty sweetness of the town's famed rose blooms for a signature scent souvenir of your travels.

What it costs: £214
A woman uses a traditional Cypriot loom to weave

Textile Weaving in Nicosia


Ignore the alarming clattering noise: you're in safe hands when working the juddering mechanics of a traditional Cypriot loom with Julia Astreou-Christoforou. The textiles designer is a renowned weaver and has extensively researched Cyprus's fabric history, learning her skills by visiting silver-haired guardians of the craft in villages across the island. Join three days of lessons in her Nicosia workshop to get to grips with the (somewhat) laborious loom. You'll practise fashioning a warp (the basis of a woven fabric) before overlaying it with the island's characteristic geometric "phyti" patterns and intricate open lace "asproploumia" designs. If your intended masterpiece doesn't quite deliver, visit Julia's shop for tufted cushion covers and woven totes to squeeze in your SUITCASE.

What it costs: £180pp
The hands of a Mallorcan llata weaver - the traditional palm frond weaving craft
Photo credit: Courtesy of VAWAA

Palm Braiding in Mallorca


Visit any Mallorcan market and you'll spot panicles of woven bags hanging above stalls crowded with baskets, hats and other latticed goods. Few will be traditional "llata" - braided and sewn bags made from palm leaves. Here's where the creative duo, Araceli and Antonella, step in. The inheritors of unique crafting skills handed down from their mothers and grandmothers, they have put together an itinerary on the Spanish island introducing keen crafters to the ancient skill of basket weaving. Based in the cradle of this craft, Capdepera, they introduce guests to the island's artistic community over a four-day trip, combining a chance to learn skills passed down by generations of Spanish artisans with an indulgent slice of Mallorcan hospitality. You'll collect and prepare palm leaves and, with their guidance, braid the natural material into a bag or basket, and also visit their friends and artistic collaborators, exploring the creative enclaves of the Spanish isle.

What it costs: £840pp

Orange yarn on a traditional Skye loom

Spinning Yarn in Scotland

United Kingdom

On Skye, yarn spinning looms large in the community, from tall tales to textiles. When wool yarns are swirled through dyes made from local plants, the textiles take on the varied hues of the island's mossy landscapes. On a nine-day trip to the largest Herbredian island, guests are invited to explore the history of Skye textile making and the folklore woven into the landscape. Guided by chats with local craftspeople, you'll meet hardy sheep living an isolated existence at Island on the Edge croft, and learn how to spin wool, dye yarn the hue of the auburn hills, and weave wools and silks into the traditional tweed of Skye. When the hard craft gets too much, there are local castle tours and dram drinking on the Isle of Raasay, before bedding down under the 200-year-old roof of The Old Mill, a cosy self-catered rental teetering on the island's dramatic coastline.

What it costs: From £2,790
Villa Lena, a creative retreat in the Tuscan hills
Photo credit: Adrian Vindelev

Pottery in the Tuscan Hills


Picture this: A coral-coloured villa backdropped by a cobalt-blue sky, ringed by Cypress trees, olive groves and the shade of 500 hectares of Tuscan woods. Villa Lena is a hybrid of a hotel, farm and artists' retreat; an avant-garde take on agriturismo tucked between the folds of Italy's brunette hills. Founded by a French trio - art collector Lena Evtafieva, DJ Jérôme Hadey and entrepreneur Lionel Bensemoun - the 19th-century estate has been stylishly renovated into 18 suites and a living space where guests share studios with artists-in-residence, and listen in on talks and workshops to inspire their creative self. After morning yoga in the white-wine dappled light of the woods, you'll try your hand at plenty of crafts, including photographing the surrounding landscapes or having a moment with embroidery by the pool. Come evening, dinners are communal, with guests swapping stories over farm-to-table platters and discussing the changing gallery of artwork on the walls. This summer, there's a focus on pottery.

What it costs: Rooms from £108 per night

Discover more stories from the Craft issue here.

Discover More
Our Favourite Museums Showcasing the Beauty of Craft