September may mean back to school, but it’s not just for the kids anymore. While leisurely vacations have their place, making time for an educational experience can turn a basic holiday into a life-enriching trip. From photography classes to the performing arts, and from pastry school to pottery, here are 18 “ed-ventures” to get your brain cells engaged.
Vancouver Photo Walks, Vancouver
Get to know Vancouver from your camera’s perspective on a two-hour themed walking tour with pro photographer Suzanne Rushton and her crew of skilled guides. Explore the city’s neighbourhoods—popular destinations include Stanley Park and Chinatown—while learning technical and creative tips for using your SLR, point-and-shoot or smartphone camera. Intermediate photographers, pack your tripod and SLR to capture superb nighttime shots of Gastown or Granville Island.
School of the World, Jaco, Costa Rica
If your ideal photography class includes exotic subjects, this Central American getaway is the right retreat for you, whether you stay for a week, a month or more. Two learning hours each weekday include classroom time on shooting and digital workflow, and field trips to shoot local villages, beaches and even fishermen at work. GoPro-specific classes include loaner cameras if you’re new to the high-tech, action-capturing gadget.
Rocky Mountain Photo Adventures, Banff, Alta.
Whether you’re still stuck on auto mode or trying to master your macro lens, year-round workshops and retreats with pro photographer Mark Unrau will help your skill-set soar. Themed courses focus on the sublime local scenery—learn to capture perfect mountain sunrises, for instance, or get the best angles on fleeting summer wildflowers—and include post-processing and printing. For the truly dedicated, consider a six-day photography adventure on horseback in the Banff-area backcountry.
Maison Christian Faure, Montreal
This Old Port patisserie boasts not just a café and restaurant but also a pastry school where professionals, amateurs and even kids get educated on technique, trends and decorating skills. Classes for “serious amateurs” run for six hours on Saturdays twice a month; fall offerings include éclairs, macarons and, for the holidays, yule logs and gingerbread houses.
Mockingbird Hill, Port Antonio, Jamaica
Jerk sauce is just one of the highlights of this two-hour resort cooking class where you can learn how to make the classic Jamaican specialty and get a jar to take home. You’ll also help prepare lunch (the menu might include jerk chicken, pepperpot soup, Jamaican-style steamed fish or fried plantain), then, after class, sit down to enjoy it with your classmates.
The Little Mexican Cooking School, Puerto Morelos, Mexico
Located halfway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, this friendly cooking school offers group and private classes featuring the country’s diverse cuisines. Themes vary day by day and might include seafood and tropical fruits or Oaxaca and mole; the course schedule is designed so visitors can join in for just one day or return for multiple sessions in one week.
Arts & Crafts
edVentures, Fredericton, N.B.
The New Brunswick College of Craft & Design (NBCCD) is Canada’s only post-secondary institution devoted exclusively to crafts. Get access to college instructors and local working artists via edVentures’ intensive workshops in arts, crafts and culture in Fredericton and at nearby historical village King’s Landing. Sign up for topics as diverse as pottery, sewing, photography, jewelry-making or even open-hearth baking, with classes ranging from three hours to five days in length.
Knitting tours, Ireland
The nine-night knitting-themed itineraries by tour operator Irish Tourism will have yarn enthusiasts in creative heaven. Incorporating general as well as craft-oriented sightseeing, each tour focuses on either the north or south of the country, with highlights including Aran knitting workshops, lessons in spinning wool with a drop spindle and a demonstration of traditional willow basket weaving.
NocoArt Guest House & Art Studio, St. Martin
There’s no shortage of beautiful subjects at this art-themed guesthouse on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, where amenities include an art studio alongside tropical gardens and a pool. From beginner to expert, artists can book painting or drawing lessons with resident artist Corinna Trimborn, who offers instruction on topics such as colour management, composition and landscape.
Horseback riding at Travaasa, Austin, Tex.
Get up close and personal with four-legged friends at this experiential resort, where the goal is to have you get to know the horses, rather than just treating them as transportation. Join a cowboy on an hour-long trail ride across creeks and through the Texas hills, or sign up for an Equine Encounter, during which you’ll meet the whole herd, halter and groom a specific horse, then guide that horse through a series of bonding exercises.
Experience biathlon, Whistler, B.C.
Those for whom one sport is never enough will adore the biathlon program at Whistler Olympic Park, where qualified instructors teach fundamentals and technique for both cross-country skiing and target shooting. Start with a 30-minute marksmanship lesson (includes 10 shots), or book a two-hour session to work on your shooting and classic or skate-skiing skills.
North Shore Surf Girls, Oahu, Ha.
Female instructors welcome all ages, levels and genders to develop skills on surfboards or stand-up paddleboards on Oahu’s picturesque North Shore. Start with a two-hour lesson, perhaps with a sunset barbecue added on. Or book a seven-day surf camp that includes airport transfers, yoga classes, nature hikes and all the surfing you can handle. Classes are designed to be fun and friendly rather than intimidating, and instructors’ backgrounds include time spent as pro surfers, lifeguards and even Baywatch stunt doubles.
Grape Camp, Sonoma County, Calif.
Every September, wine enthusiasts gather for a harvest-season immersion that includes picking grapes, blending wines, dinners with winemakers and grape-growers and plenty of tasting. Registration for the 2016 session starts Dec. 1. Can’t make it to camp? Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, offered every Labour Day weekend, gets you up close and personal with the wine scene, too.
Camp Schramsberg sparkling wine camp, Napa Valley, Calif.
Aimed at both consumers and pros, Camp Schramsberg is all about the bubbly. The spring blending camp (next from March 13 to 15, 2016) focuses on pruning vines, blending and matching; the fall harvest camp (next Sept. 11 to 13, 2016) has you picking grapes, tasting freshly pressed juice and planning pairing menus. As a photo-op-worthy bonus, learn to sabre-open a bottle, too. Note: Last year’s camps were sold out in December.
Wine Camp, Long Island, N.Y.
Just a two-hour drive from New York City, this picturesque region is home to more than 30 wineries. Get an in-depth experience at this hands-on, four-day camp for enthusiasts of any skill level, with instruction in tasting, blending and pairing, plus the chemistry of wine-making, the fundamentals of fermentation and how barrel-aging affects flavour.
Scratch DJ Academy, Multiple U.S. locations
Founded by the late Jam Master Jay of Run DMC, this DJ-ing school trains the pros alongside amateurs who sign up for weekly or private sessions to learn how to mix, blend and scratch. Facilities in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago will book sessions for singles or groups with pro instructors like DJ Esquire, a two-time DMC U.S. DJ champion.
Broadway Fantasy Camp, New York
Take your singing from the shower to the stage with group and private adult workshops for all levels of performers focused around one of New York City’s iconic must-dos. Customized experiences of varying lengths might include singing and dancing sessions in the same studios the pros use or meet-and-greets with actors right before they go on stage.
Hollyhock, Cortes Island, B.C.
With a mission to support and promote lifelong learning and leadership, this Discovery Islands retreat hosts a schedule of classes on myriad subjects. Recent and upcoming music-themed workshops include didgeridoo, ukulele and the five-day Fall in Love with Your Voice, which covers musical improvisation, devotional chanting, instrumental instruction and sound meditation exercises.
How to Start Planning your Christmas Vacation in July
It might not be beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the middle of summer, but with less than six months to go, it’s never too early to start planning (and booking) that holiday escape—indeed, many popular places are booked six months to a year ahead. From California to the Caribbean, here are a few hot destinations for when the weather turns cold.