In pictures: Top 10 luxury learning holidays around the world

How would you like to master sailing on the Great Barrier Reef, perfect your painting in Spain or ride gaucho-style across the pampas of Patagonia? An increasing number of tour operators offer holidays where you can pick up something new or enhance existing skills, whether you’re creative, sporty or just want to have some fun. Such holidays are often taken with small groups, so you can learn amid beautiful surroundings with the specialists while getting to interact with like-minded people.

Riding in Patagonia

Argentine Patagonia is home to the gauchos, the Patagonian cowboys who herd their cattle over the big open plains. At Estancia Huechahue, a working cattle ranch, you can learn how to be a gaucho yourself. You’ll learn how to ride with a distinct swagger in true gaucho style, holding the reins together in your strong hand, while placing your other hand jauntily on your hip and putting aside everything that you’ve ever learnt about the “rising trot”. The best way to explore Patagonia is on horseback — as soon as you’re ready, you can head off across the rugged pampas, stopping for a gaucho lunch of ribs of beef cooked over a fire. You can gallop across the water meadows or ride along the narrow rocky gorges of Andean streams, watching the condors and eagles fly above you. The estancia offers varied riding programmes with facilities for novices as well as for those who want a challenging ride and those who want to help the gauchos work the cattle.

Abercrombie & Kent (; 02 234 6090; offers a week in Patagonia from Dh20,500 per person, including return flights with Emirates from Dubai, full board at Estancia Huechahue and all riding activities

Muay Thai in Bangkok

You’ll return from holiday fighting fit after this course at The Siam hotel, set along the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Muay Thai is a traditional Thai form of kick-boxing, known as “the art of eight limbs” because of its use of punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes. The three-day course is taught on a one-to-one with a renowned former muay Thai boxer in The Siam’s own boxing ring. He’ll create a programme for you depending on your stamina and fitness level, whether you’re a complete beginner or more advanced. The hotel’s chef will be on hand to ensure that you eat the right diet during your training, and you’ll get the chance to see the professionals in action at a local fight. You can relax after your lessons with two hour-long massages to ease muscle tension and trips around the nearby historic area on one of the hotel’s private boats.

The three-day programme costs from 3,177 Singapore dollars (Dh9,296) per person at The Siam (; 0066 2206 6999), including full board for two nights in a suite, eight hours of tuition, two massages and a trip to a local fight.

Diving off the coast of Malta

Learn to dive in a week off Comino, a small island in the Maltese archipelago between Malta and Gozo, which is renowned for its great dive sites. The diving conditions are particularly good here, which makes it a great place to learn, especially in the summer months. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can explore the marine life and some of the spectacular caves and wrecks in the area. The rugged coastline is dotted with caves, which were popular with pirates in the Middle Ages, and the crystal-clear waters boast fantastic drop-offs, tunnels and reefs. After your diving, you can relax in the Comino Hotel, which overlooks a bay with two private sandy beaches.

Dive Worldwide (; 0044 1962 302087) offers a week in Comino from £545 (Dh3,374) per person, including bed-and-breakfast accommodation, airport transfers, dive pack including SSI Open Water course, tuition and equipment.

Photography in Botswana

You’re bound to return home with amazing safari photos on this trip, as you’ll be accompanied by a specialist guide who can advise on both photography and animal behaviour. The Chobe National Park boasts the biggest concentration of wildlife in Africa, and you’ll go on game drives, nature walks and boat trips both there and in the Okavango Delta, where you’ll take a guided dugout canoe trip to ensure that you get up-close to excellent game and bird sightings. A 45-minute helicopter trip gives you the chance to take some magnificent aerial photographs. A dedicated safari vehicle and ranger means that you can stay out as long as you like and spend the evenings evaluating the day’s photos with the photographic guide, who will be able to advise on all aspects of photography, including composition, lighting, downloading and editing images.

A seven-day/six-night photographic safari in Botswana costs from US$12,835 (Dh47,143) per person with andBeyond (; 0027 11 809 4300) including full-board accommodation with three nights at Muchenje Safari Lodge and three nights at Duba Plains Camp, all game activities, helicopter flight, transfers and the services of the photographic specialist.

Salsa in Cuba

Dance and music penetrate life in Cuba, so it’s the ideal place to learn how to dance the salsa. Even beginners can learn enough to dance with the locals in the nightclubs. Private lessons and workshops take place in the morning, so that in the afternoons and evenings you can watch famous bands rehearse and visit cabarets and salsa clubs to try out your new steps. You’ll be accompanied by a team of local dancers, so you’ll get a real insider’s tour of Havana, including invitations to house parties. This group trip caters for dancers of all abilities, from complete beginners to experienced dancers who want to improve their technique.

Club Dance Holidays (; 0044 207 099 4816) offers a week in Cuba from £899 (Dh5,565) per person, including salsa lessons, all club entries, return transfers and ed-and-breakfast accommodation at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a five-star hotel and World Heritage Site.

Painting in Andalusia

Spend a week learning how to paint or improving your technique in a village in the Andalusian countryside. This part of Spain is renowned for its superb light, magnificent scenery and famous white villages, and you’ll have the opportunity to travel around the local area to try out your skills. The small group course is based in a typical white Andalusian pueblo, where the resident professional artist will give daily demonstrations and lessons, before taking you to a variety of locations including valleys, mountains, beaches and the Botanical Garden in Malaga. (; 0044 1273 823700) offers eight days in Andalusia from £799 (Dh4,946) per person, including accommodation with most meals, tuition, transport to the painting locations and airport transfers. Easels and drawing boards are provided, but you’ll need to bring your own paints and brushes.

Cooking in Bali

Learn how to create authentic Balinese dishes like chicken satay and grilled red snapper wrapped in a banana leaf at the on-site cooking school at the Four Seasons hotel in Jimbaran Bay. Start the morning by going to the beach to watch the traditional Indonesian fishing boats coming in with their catch and visiting the local fruit and vegetable markets to choose the freshest ingredients. Then return to the cooking school to learn how to make traditional Balinese food such as spicy lemon grass-shallot relish to go alongside your snapper for lunch, followed by a Balinese pumpkin treat for pudding. In the afternoon, you can relax in your private villa looking over the Indian Ocean, while your children have fun learning how to make Balinese sweets with the pastry chef.

A private villa at the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay (; 0062 361 701010) costs from $455 [Dh1,671] per night, room only. The cooking class costs $77 (Dh283).

Nomadic life in Mongolia

Leave the modern world behind and spend eight days living the nomadic life in Mongolia, sleeping in a ger (a traditional Mongolian yurt) and learning how to steer oxcarts, milk cows and make nomadic garments. On this small group trip, accompanied by a guide, you’ll travel by horseback or oxcart to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park to stay with host nomadic families and discover all about their traditional skills. You’ll learn how to saddle horses, tether livestock together and make traditional dairy products for breakfast. You’ll be taught how to use Mongolian bows and arrows, before challenging the locals to a friendly archery competition. You’ll take tea with your neighbours and learn how to play traditional games with their children.

An eight-day trip to Mongolia with Dnata Travel (04 316 66666; costs from $1,076 (Dh3,952) per person, including accommodation with most meals (five nights in a ger, two in a hotel) and the services of a guide.

Sailing in the Whitsundays

The Whitsunday Islands off the coast of Queensland in Australia are considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the world to sail, so why not learn to sail here on a three-day course aboard a 43-foot yacht? You’ll spend eight to 10 hours per day having practical sailing lessons, learning all about safety, tides, ropes and handling sails. You’ll anchor overnight in secluded tropical bays, where you can enjoy bush walks and snorkel over the coral reefs. There’s no better way to explore this area than by boat and the crew will show you the best sights in the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef.

The three-day course with (0044 208 144 5990) costs from $842 (Dh3,093) per person, including two nights aboard the yacht, all meals on board, tuition, IYT qualification, snorkelling and wet-weather equipment.

Italian in Florence

Art lovers will relish the opportunity to spend two weeks in Florence, the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, learning Italian in the mornings and taking art history classes in the afternoons. This two-week course for beginners upwards will develop your speaking and writing skills in small groups and you’ll spend your afternoons visiting museums, art galleries and churches. There’s a focus on the Florentine Renaissance, but you’ll be given an overview of all the main art historical periods. Most students opt to stay with a host family, as it’s the best way to practise your Italian and experience Italian life and culture first hand.

The two-week course with Gostudylink (; 04 444 9483) costs from €1,214 (Dh6,183) per person, including all tuition and half-board accommodation with a host family.

Published: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM


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