Summer in the UAE: activities to try

In the coming months, there's no excuse to be bored, sitting around the house with nothing to do. Go out and try one of these varied courses from golfing to yoga to pottery, as detailed by Weekend's resident cultural experts.

Stefano Viola, the head Italian chef at the Villa Toscana restaurant at the St Regis Abu Dhabi on the Corniche, demonstrates pasta preparation, which he teaches during his regular cooking classes at the hotel. Silvia Razgova / The National
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The National Staff

In the coming sweaty months, there’s no excuse to be bored, sitting around the house with nothing to do. Get out and try one of these varied courses.


One of our favourite places in town for Italian food, if not our favourite, Villa Toscana in the St Regis Abu Dhabi on the Corniche will be offering both private and group cooking classes over the coming months.

Chef Stefano Viola opens his kitchen each Monday and Wednesday from 9.30am to noon, where students are led on a culinary adventure through Italy’s Tuscan Hills.

Without the bustle of the lunchtime traffic, a long table is set up at the front of the restaurant; your station includes a selection of mouth-wateringly good ingredients and all of your equipment.

Viola guides you slowly through the steps and, working with the highest standards of produce, you will experiment with a differing set of ingredients each week, each session working your way through a series of antipasto recipes, main courses and desserts.

Always using specific Tuscan products, such as honey, olive oil, cheese and meat, you will get the chance to experiment with the basics, such as a classic salsa di pomodoro, as well as delights such as handmade ravioli, stuffed with spinach and ricotta — even learning how to make and assemble your own dough. Presentation techniques will also be ­explained.

It's not often that a chef of this calibre will open his kitchen to the public, so take advantage while you can. — Katie Trotter

• One session at Villa Toscana costs Dh500 per person; five sessions cost Dh2,000 per person. For more information, go to

Also see: Chef Angelo Albera at the Amici restaurant in the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi will be teaching pasta-making classes on the first Tuesday of every month (June 3, July 1 and August 5) from 11am to 12.30pm, for Dh125, including lunch. For reservations, call 02 656 0600 or email


“Close your eyes. You can see better with your hands,” says Homa Vafaie-Farley, as I sit nursing a palm-sized ball of soft, grey clay. I’m making a pinch pot at her small studio, which sits behind a narrow shopfront near Khalidiyah Park, and the task is peculiarly absorbing.

Carefully, I thin the clay into a pot shape around my thumb and watch Vafaie-Farley as she assists the five other students in the class. There’s a Japanese saying that it takes two lifetimes to become a potter. Another slightly more practical guide is 10,000 hours of work, and the other women in this morning’s class have clearly spent some time working with clay.

Three are expertly forming shapes on potters’ wheels, another is in the process of perfecting a slab-rolled vase, Japanese-style; each alternates between silent concentration and relaxed conversation, with the occasional, more urgent call for Vafaie-Farley’s help or explanation.

I’m an absolute beginner, so I’m learning basic techniques: pinch pots, rolling slabs of clay with a rolling pin and rolling long sausages that can be coiled into pots. Shape formed and smoothed free from cracks, I take time to decorate my creations with the imprint of textured fabrics and everyday objects. Quite unexpectedly, after a single two-hour session, I know that I prefer pinch pots to slab rolling and I’m seriously considering the complex process of glazing.

"You need some Botox. Your pot has developed wrinkles," Vafaie-Farley tells Emily, a British expat with two young children who, it's fair to say, makes regular visits to Abu Dhabi Pottery to save her sanity. "So, are you hooked?" an American woman asks me at the end of the class. "Yes," I reply, "I think I am." – Clare Dight

• A two-hour class costs Dh185 for adults and Dh110 for children; a course of four sessions, valid for a calendar month, costs Dh640 for adults and Dh360 for children, not including a Dh50 registration fee. From June to August, adults can buy five sessions for the price of four without a registration fee. For details and to book, call 02 666 7079 or visit


Learning how to use a DSLR camera can go one of two ways: it either (excuse the pun) clicks instantly or you’re even more confused than when you started, and figuring it out on your own is tricky, to say the least.

Enter Jay Alonzo, the owner of the Abu Dhabi-based photography and teaching studio Key Lite.

The casual setting of the Najda Street studio is instantly welcoming. There’s an open-space classroom and studio with a small kitchen where students can make tea or coffee and take a little break during the longer classes.

Alonzo himself is an excellent teacher, taking students from the basics of a camera up to the smallest detail of working your DSLR.

With 17 years of teaching under his belt, Alonzo’s method is clear and concise and, best of all, very reasonably priced. Classes range from Dh150 to Dh330 for up to six hours of teaching.

Two courses are available to non-DSLR owners as well: The Expert Beginner and Creative Beginner, for compact-camera users looking to unlock the potential of their miniature gadgets before going on ­holiday.

The four remaining courses cover in-depth instruction on DSLR cameras, including DSLR Beginner and DSLR 2: Exposure Master, while Prolight 1 and Prolight 2 are for camera users who are keen on discovering the effects of lighting on ­photography.

Looking for more? The Emirates Photography Competition is hosting a public programme with a series of workshops with the UAE-based photographers Alia Al Shamsi and Reem Falaknaz at Manarat Al Saadiyat next month. Participants will be challenged creatively when it comes to their photographic skills. — Nadia El Dasher

• Jay Alonzo’s courses are scheduled for June, July and August. For more information, visit

Emirates Photography Competiton’s Public Programme workshops are taking place throughout June. For more information, call 02 657 5800 or email


If you can brave the heat (and what golfer isn’t mad enough to do that?), now’s the best time to take advantage of Abu Dhabi’s world-class golf courses, which offer instruction at special rates, and you won’t have to fight for space on the driving range (under a shaded canopy, natch).

Being a complete novice, I took a few classes with the ever-patient P J Van Merch at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club. I was amazed at how quickly I progressed, with Van Merch offering steady encouragement, no matter how much turf I tore up, as well as "swing analysis" on his iPad, as if I were a pro-in-training. Van Merch points out that the Saadiyat Island breeze makes practice bearable, particularly in the morning (starting at 7am) and evening (wrapping up at 8.30pm). – Mo Gannon

• The academies at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and Saadiyat Beach Golf Club are offering a Ramadan package of four 30-minute classes, including bottled water and towels, for Dh750 per person (for more information, email Both clubs are offering a complimentary nine-hole playing lesson, with the purchase of a lesson package, in the summer months. For more information, call Abu Dhabi Golf Club at 02 558 8990 or Saadiyat Beach Golf Club at 02 557 8000.


There’s no getting away from it: yoga is big business in the UAE. As a way to increase fitness, core strength, inner peace and general bendiness, nothing beats it, and the summer heat need not get in the way of your personal yogi goals, whether you’re a beginner or seasoned professional.

Many studios operate throughout the region, all year long. In the capital, for instance, Bodytree Studio boasts two locations — the main studio (in a villa on 11th Street, off 26th Street) and the Sense Spa in the Rosewood Hotel on Al Maryah Island, where you can indulge in not only yoga, but dance and Pilates lessons, too. For anyone wishing to take things much further, there's no need to head for retreats in India or Thailand, because you can learn to teach yoga right here in the UAE. From August 8 to 31, one of America's foremost instructors, David Magone, will be carrying out the acclaimed Prana Vayu 200-hour teacher-training programme in Dubai's Ibis Hotel in Al Barsha. It's being organised by Yogalates Bliss and is intensive (students get just two days off between 22 days of training) and covers everything that you need to know about guiding others as well as perfecting your own techniques. Pass the exam at the end, and you're good to go. — Kevin Hackett

• Prices for 75-minute yoga classes at Bodytree start at Dh70, with advance booking of 10 classes working out at Dh640; for more information, go to David Magone’s teacher training costs Dh14,500 and you have until August 6 to book and pay — for details visit


It’s one of those things that we’ve been meaning to do since we first moved to the UAE — but just never quite got around to it. So why not bite the bullet and finally learn some Arabic this summer?

It’s a tricky language, to be sure — learning the alphabet is a feat in itself — but even if it just means that you can have a quick chat with your Arabic neighbour or interact with the gentleman at your local grocery store, it’ll be well worth the effort. It’ll also look great on the old CV (particularly if you’re planning on looking for a new job come the busy September recruitment period).

The Eton Institute is running Summer Super Intensive Courses, which offer the opportunity to get a good grasp of the language in only three weeks, at its Dubai and Abu Dhabi branches. The course lasts for 60 hours, with four-hour classes held daily from Sundays to Thursdays, with a choice of morning, afternoon and evening timings.

You can also learn Arabic at the Berlitz Institute, which has branches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. The company claims to have already helped 41 million people around the world learn a new language, so you're in good hands. The institute is open throughout the summer months and offers private, semi-private and small and large group sessions, depending on your preference. — Selina Denman

• Course cycles at Eton start on June 29, July 27 and August 24, priced at Dh2,500. The institute also offers an Intensive Course, a 30-hour programme, with classes held for two hours a day from Sunday to Thursday, with the choice of morning and afternoon timings. This costs Dh1,500. For more information, visit Course lengths at Berlitz vary from between one and three months and focus on developing conversational skills. The institute’s special summer promotions and packages are being launched on June 22. For more information, visit


Get hands-on at Manarat Al Saadiyat with the workshops supporting the exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects, which features items that tell the story of human history spanning two million years. From metal coins and pottery to masks and jewellery, the objects reflect our need to survive, believe, amuse and progress. The British Museum has sent its popular show to Abu Dhabi for the summer, and a variety of workshop subjects accompany it.

Each of the workshops is based on a specific item from the exhibition. Learn the pottery of the Jomon people of Japan and create a cord-patterned clay pot, similar to those made by the ancient culture; examine the Roman marble busts of Caesar Augustus and Sophocles, and draw their faces with sketching techniques; see a Yemeni devotional object of a hand cast in bronze and create your own from plaster and paint; carve a woodblock and print on paper as inspired by the German artist Albrecht Dürer's rhinoceros print. — Ellen Fortini

• Classes are held on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at various times at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, until June 28, and cost Dh50. Advance registration is essential at 02 657 5800. For more information, visit