Stargazing in Atacama Desert
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Some of the clearest night sky in the world resides above the desolate expanse of Chile’s Atacama Desert, making for an unrivalled stargazing atmosphere. Because of its high and dry conditions, Atacama has become a major global centre of astronomy with the world’s largest telescope, ALMA, now located on the Chajnantor plateau at an altitude of 5000 metres. A moonlit trip to SPACE (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations), for example, comes with hot chocolates, blankets and the indispensible knowledge of tour leader Alain Maury, an experienced French astronomer.
Foraging classes at Fat Hen, England
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Although the art of foraging has recently gained in popularity, Fat Hen founder Caroline Davey has been teaching eager visitors this savvy skill since 2007. Fat Hen’s The Wild Cookery School offers a comprehensive range of courses, from seaweed foraging to a wild food cycling day, all designed to get visitors out and about in nature’s pantry, investigating new ingredients and ways of cooking. An afternoon in this Cornish corner will give food lovers a new way of looking at their larder – or their backyard, for that matter.
Learning Spanish in Barcelona, Spain
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As one of the three most spoken languages in the world, there are a few more uses to a smattering of Spanish than just streamlining your tapas order (although that doesn’t go astray). The University of Barcelona offers visitors short courses in Spanish from two weeks to 16 weeks, with grammar, communication, listening and reading comprehension all part of the curriculum. Plus, the people of Barcelona make for some pretty lively classmates.
Melting into mindfulness at Esalen Institute, Big Sur, USA
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Clinging onto the craggy cliffs of California’s Big Sur, this somewhat hidden retreat centre has a long history of coaxing visitors into change, reportedly including celebrities such as Jack Kerouac, Clint Eastwood and Penelope Cruz. Change can come in many forms at this non-profit centre: becoming certified in massage, gaining a new familiarity with Tibetan yoga or even gaining an understanding of permaculture.
Enrolling in art classes in Florence,
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If you’ve ever wanted to follow in the brushstrokes of great artists like Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo, Florence is a fine choice for igniting inspiration. Use the cobbled city streets interspersed with accessible art to encourage your creativity, then sign up to any number of courses on offer to start crafting your self-made souvenir. Arte Leonardo offers short courses in a range of artistic disciplines such as fresco painting, sculpture and even art history, while The Florence Art Studio instructs on the classical arts such as still life painting and drawing, with classes starting from just a week long.
Tracking snow leopards in Tien Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan
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Native to Central and South Asia, the vulnerable snow leopard lives in some of the most inhospitable conditions on Earth. With an estimated global population of less than 7000, catching a glimpse of this rare and beautiful creature is extraordinary enough but a 13-day expedition into the Tien Shan Mountains that straddle Kyrgyzstan and western China gives you the chance to help them thrive. Trek deep into the untouched alpine peaks of the Kyrgyz range of Ala-Too, while setting camera traps or working with anti-poaching patrol members to develop educational activities for local communities, all in the name of leopard conservation.
Becoming a gelatiere at Carpigiani Gelato University, Bologna, Italy
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A stint at this deliciously named university could change more than your tastebuds – just ask Messina founder Nick Palumbo. Based in the northern city of Bologna (yes, the home of Bolognese ragu, another Italian gift to the world of gastronomy), this three-day beginner’s course in gelato-making not only gives you the basic knowledge to create your own creamy Italian ice-cream and sorbet but also a crash course in retail techniques and investment strategies. Even if you’re not planning a new career as a gelatiere, you can probably chalk this holiday course up to a success if your endeavours result in even one self-churned scoop of gelato.
Attending a txoko in San Sebastián, Spain
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A hotbed of delicious, locally focused eateries, Spain’s Basque Country is home to creative culinary excellence. Cooking traditions run deep in this community – so deep, in fact, the autonomous region has its very own secret supper society. A pop-up restaurant of sorts, a txoko is an invite-only dinner, served up by members of the society. Attendees pop their contribution into a jar upon entering and the evening’s hosts get to work cooking. Heightening its exclusivity, visitors to Basque will be hard pressed to secure an invite but on San Sebastián Day on January 20, doors of the coastal city are flung open to all guests for an authentic txoko experience. Some local cooking courses, like that offered by chef Txuno Etxaniz, also offer a txoko dinner as part of their inclusions.
Trying photography in Iceland
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In Iceland, where around four-fifths of the country is uninhabitable and unpopulated, natural beauty is at a surplus – and your budding photography career can benefit from untouched, picturesque backdrops. Glaciers, aurora borealis-streaked night skies and wild, beautifully bleak mountain peaks make stunning subjects for your studies, with organisations like Iceland Photos Tours creating snap schedules suitable for both summer and winter landscapes.
Taking a creative writing retreat in New York, USA
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A muse for writers from Joan Didion to Tom Wolfe, New York may be the change-of-scene needed to rid you of writer’s block. Sackett Street Writers – a collective that has birthed 150 published books – offers eight- and six-week fiction courses that are held in private spaces across Brooklyn. Sometimes classes are in a bookstore or an art studio, other times in the home of your instructor (home-baked cookies are common). If you’re hoping to become the next Elizabeth Gilbert, Gotham Writers – located between 37th and 38th Streets in Manhattan – runs a 10-week memoir-writing course, the perfect excuse to spend afternoons pensively strolling the streets of the Big Apple.
Learning traditional Sicilian cuisine at Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School, Palermo, Italy
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There’s certainly no shortage of cooking classes in Italy but the charming 19th century cottage setting of Case Vecchie, an hour’s winding drive south-east of Palermo, is singular in both its scenery and its generations of culinary wisdom. Originally conceived by cookbook author and notable chef Anna Tasca Lanza and now led by daughter Fabrizia Lanza, this ‘farm-to-table’ cooking school offers hands-on instruction for a wide variety of kitchen knowledge, from coffee roasting and cheesemaking and horticulture. During their education, guests who choose a multi-day experience will stay on the sprawling property, enjoying the rustic farm stay atmosphere in between learning the art of Sicilian cookery.
Making macarons at Le Cordon Bleu, France
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What better place to become a qualified bakery buff than Paris? In the hierarchy of French patisserie classics, the deliciously chewy macaron occupies top spot and at one of the world’s most prestigious culinary schools, Le Cordon Bleu, students can learn the art of creating their own. ‘The Secrets of Macarons” course is taught in French with English translators. Students craft – and, of course, sample ¬– two flavours, such as pistachio and hazlenut, during a three-hour lesson.
Do distilling classes at Moonshine University, Louisville
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Give your bar cart a considerable upgrade by taking a trip to Moonshine University in Louisville, where graduation will result in you becoming the ultimate bartender. Specialising in the education of rum, whiskey, gin and vodka distillation, six-day classes give students a crash course in spirits from industry experts (often including speakers from famed local brands such as Jim Beam). Programs cover beginner, intermediate and advanced curriculums so students of all skill levels can learn something new – whether it pertains to oak education, fermentation or botanicals.
Building a tiny house in Machynlleth, Wales
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Off the back of a movement towards more streamlined, minimalistic living, tiny houses have gained their own steady following. Thanks to this short course in Wales, you could be the proud owner of your very own humble abode. Led by a master craftsman (who designed this home, pictured), three days is all it takes to transform timber into your own private, albeit shrunken, residence, measuring around three by 1.8 metres. Transporting it back from your travels might prove a little tricky but you’ll be equipped with the skills to make your own once you’re back on home turf.
Mastering sushi making at the Tokyo Sushi Academy, Tokyo, Japan
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Understanding the deceptive complexity of sushi goes far beyond simply sampling so why not learn to make your own? With lesson lengths from 90 minutes to six weeks, The Tokyo Sushi Academy has a particularly flexible course structure but a consistent feature is that lesson “materials” are sourced from Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s oldest and largest fish market (which stocks a staggering 480 various types of seafood). The produce alone will take you as close to expert level as you’ll ever be.
Keeping quiet at a silent retreat in Bangalore, India
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Some trips abroad are crafted specifically to give travellers an escape from the constant chaos of everyday life. Speed up the process by taking up residence in a silent sanctuary like Shreyas Retreat at Santoshima Farm in Bangalore. For seven days, participants relinquish their voice in the practice of mouna (time spent in silence), giving way to mute introspection and contemplation, coupled with meditation and journaling to enhance the process of reflection. The palm-fringed property also offers onsite yoga, spa treatments and Ayurveda therapies, rounding out the relaxation experience perfectly.