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While lounging on a beach is all well and good, there’s something to be said for feeling productive in areas other than the workplace. From pearl-gathering to cider-making, make the most of your time off with one of these learning holidays.
Get your hands dirty by partaking in the planting, harvesting and pruning of everything from figs to olives as a short-term volunteer at luxury hotel Babylonstoren, set on one of the oldest Dutch farms in South Africa. There are also ducks and chickens to get familiar with, a prickly pear maze to get lost in and high-end farm-to-table restaurants – including Babel and the Greenhouse – to enjoy the fruits of your labour in.
2. Learn to scuba dive in Belize
Few things make a trip feel more worthwhile than acquiring a completely new skill. Whether you’re a total rookie or are looking to test out night diving, Belize is a great scuba spot. A hip alternative to the Great Barrier Reef or the Philippines, not only is Belize home to the world’s largest blue hole, but the sea life here is tough to beat. Visit “Shark Alley” for the chance to spot nurse sharks, rays, turtles and white-spotted toadfish.
3. Take a sommelier class in Buenos Aires
Rather than continuing to swirl your wine around and pretend you know what tannins are, why not take an actual sommelier course to learn the tricks of the trade? Bypass the typical Italian wine tasting route and head south to Argentina instead. Not only is it home to an abundant selection of delectable wines, but it’s also a pretty scenic environment to do your sampling in. Get your feet wet with the course in BA before venturing to Mendoza to check out your new favourite wineries and show off your knowledge.
4. Go sailing in the British Virgin Islands
We’re not talking about a bottle-popping party boat – we mean actual sailing here. If you don’t have prior experience, employ a captain but make a point of taking on the role of crew to build up your confidence in the calm, turquoise waters of the British Virgin Islands. Soon you’ll be pootling around the Med next summer pootling around the Adriatic.
5. Cook up an Italian storm in Lucca
If you really want to ramp up your cooking skills, head to Tuscany for a week of classes. Lucca is a relatively undiscovered culinary hub and Cucina Italiana is the place to learn how to make local favourites such as necci (ricotta-stuffed chestnut-flour crepes) alongside Italian classics like mozzarella and squid-ink risotto. The courses also feature seminars on extra-virgin olive oil and excursions to Parma and Modena. Bike around the city’s walls to burn off a week’s worth of Italian food to cap it all off.
6. Hunt for black pearls in French Polynesia
For an experience that’s as unique as the pearls you’ll be learning about, head to “The Farm” in Bora Bora to be taken through the process of harvesting the island’s precious black pearls, which take on hues of metallic purple, green, grey and blue. Learn about the history of pearl farming before diving for your own.
7. Get inspired on a writers’ retreat in England
With motivational talks from well-known authors, workshops and guided sessions, a writing retreat is a lovely getaway whether you’re an author or not. Pair that with twice-daily yoga, meals prepared by a dedicated chef and a location and words are guaranteed to start appearing on the page. Letters From… is one of our favourite options, offering getaways for writers in different locations across the UK, including Wiltshire and Bath.
Cycling is one of the best ways to explore a new country. Whether a self-guided trip or an organised biking tour (we love The Slow Cyclist’s customised trips) it’s a great way to cover ground and stay off the standard tourist trail. You’ll also be getting plenty of fresh air and plenty of exercise without having to go near a gym.
9. Go WWOOFing
Outdoorsy folks – or those hoping to get back down to earth after too much time in the city – you’re in need of a WWOOFing adventure. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s an organisation that connects travellers with organic farms around the world, allowing you to stay on the property for free in exchange for some good old-fashioned farm work. There are openings in every corner of the globe, so for those looking to explore New Zealand or Indonesia on a budget, this might be just your golden ticket.
10. Make jewellery in the Cotswolds
Focusing on a craft for a few hours a day can really help you to get out of your head as you focus on the matter at hand. Andycraft in the Cotswolds specialises in metalwork jewellery. Head down with your girlfriends for three days of creating, and enjoy this idyllic part of the country via pubs and tea rooms in your downtime.
11. Join a National Trust working holiday
The National Trust runs working holidays across the UK, offering programmes that range from handling private collections in historic houses to archaeology and cider-making. Tap into skills that you haven’t used since university, and potentially lay the foundations for a future side hustle…
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