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Top 20 creative escapes: Pick up a new skill on your next holiday

From food styling in Cork to comedy classes in Chicago, Nicola Brady has the best courses and retreats at home and away

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Early morning in Tuscany. Photo: Deposit

Early morning in Tuscany. Photo: Deposit

Melanie White of Rebelle Surf in Strandhill

Melanie White of Rebelle Surf in Strandhill

Play tennis at the Algarve's Pine Cliffs

Play tennis at the Algarve's Pine Cliffs

Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls

Storm Chasing in the US

Storm Chasing in the US

Saddle up for cowboy school in Arizona

Saddle up for cowboy school in Arizona

Catherine Fulvio

Catherine Fulvio

Lens and Larder. Photo: Marie Forsberg

Lens and Larder. Photo: Marie Forsberg

Press Pause: Elbowroom Escape

Press Pause: Elbowroom Escape

Sea Kayaking across to the Isle of Skye from Loch Kishorn

Sea Kayaking across to the Isle of Skye from Loch Kishorn

Learn photography in Jordan

Learn photography in Jordan

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Learn to make pasta in a Tuscan farmhouse

Learn to make pasta in a Tuscan farmhouse

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Early morning in Tuscany. Photo: Deposit

The new year is a natural time to start over. Suddenly, you want to shake off the post-Christmas doldrums, dust down the runners/guitar/tap shoes and feel like you're actually doing something with your life.

A holiday can also be a great way to pick up a new skill.

Experiential breaks are on the rise - one Irish tour operator, TD Active, saw a tripling in demand for yoga holidays and a 9pc jump in learning and creative escapes last year, with even more interest expected in 2020.

Whether you want to learn to sail or make your own jewellery, here are 20 ideas to get you started.

1. Photography in Jordan

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Learn photography in Jordan

Learn photography in Jordan

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Learn photography in Jordan

If you want to sharpen your photography skills and get a killer holiday to boot, then this is the trip for you. Led by instructors from the Dublin Photography School, this eight-day holiday takes you through the big sights in Jordan, from the city of Amman to the wondrous Petra. You'll learn all the tricks of the trade and the excellent tutors will be on hand to help with any camera frustrations along the way. The trips are open for all levels, but if you're really new to the game, you can take a travel photography workshop in Dublin before you head off.

Details: The eight-night Jordan Photography Holiday costs from €1,999pp, including flights, with TD Active. tdactiveholidays.ie

2. Creative Writing in Cork

We've all got a novel in us (apparently). But it's no joke trying to coax that story out of your brain and onto the page. Enter Clare Mulvany. She runs workshops in creative writing in Dublin, California and West Cork, and her 'Live a New Story' workshop goes beyond writing. It helps you to navigate your own story, harnessing the power of storytelling to help you make better career and life choices. The courses in Schull are held at Grove House, where you can stay for a night or two and make a weekend out of it. The Dublin workshops are in the Fumbally Stables, running on January 25 and March 21.

Details: One-day workshop is €130; the next in Schull is on May 2. claremulvany.ie

3. Press Pause in Wicklow

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Press Pause: Elbowroom Escape

Press Pause: Elbowroom Escape

Press Pause: Elbowroom Escape

We all have times when we're overwhelmed and need to take a break, and focus on ourselves. That's why the folks at The Elbowroom Escape have come up with a retreat where you can do just that. Aimed at those with depression, anxiety or stress-related mental health issues, the Press Pause retreat includes workshops led by psychotherapists and mental-health professionals, interspersed with yoga, guided relaxation sessions and time for reflection and walks, too. "We feel it's crucial for people to leave with a tool kit of new life skills, enabling them to build resilience into their lifestyle," says Lisa Wilkinson, the founder of The Elbowroom.

Details: A two-night Press Pause retreat runs from March 13-15 next, from €450. the-elbowroomescape.com

4. All-Female Scuba Diving

Solo female travel continues to skyrocket in popularity. So it makes sense that more companies are setting up trips that cater to that demand. Girls that Scuba started life in 2016 as a community for women who are passionate about scuba diving. Now they're launching a series of luxury scuba trips, open to dedicated divers, newbies and everyone in between. You'll head out to the world's best diving sites, with top instructors by your side. The trips range from more accessible spots in Jordan to Cocos Island in Costa Rica, dubbed "the most beautiful island in the world" by Jacques Cousteau.

Details: An eight-day trip to Jordan starts at €2,157 in September 2020 (dates TBC). girlsthatscuba.com

5. Painting in Tuscany

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Early morning in Tuscany. Photo: Deposit

Early morning in Tuscany. Photo: Deposit

Early morning in Tuscany. Photo: Deposit

There's a wealth of courses you can take at The Watermill, deep in the gorgeous Italian countryside. You can sharpen your Italian language skills (or indeed, start from scratch), you can learn to knit, you can even study screenwriting for a week with comedy writing legends. But their painting courses are particularly well fitted to the dreamy landscape. You can study and paint with water- colours and oil with artist Vicki Norman, heading out to capture the ancient castles, monasteries and medieval towns nearby.

Details: Week-long Oils, Watercolours and Other Media course from €2,064 full-board, June 20-27. watermill.net

6. Learn to sail in Cornwall

Learning holidays don't have to mean heading off on your own. It's just as rewarding to pick up a new skill as part of a gang, whether that's with friends or the family. At Mylor Yacht Harbour, you can learn how to sail in the gorgeous Cornish waters near Falmouth, and the classes are suitable for anyone over the age of six, so it's a great one to do with the kids. Mylor Sailing School creates bespoke trips depending on how much time you want to spend in the saddle, so to speak, and you'll stay in a luxury cottage in the heart of the beautiful Mylor Harbour.

Details: Sailing weeks from €1,977 for a group of four, including seven nights' accommodation and a five-day RYA sailing course; mylor.com/harbourside-holidays. Fly to Newquay year round with Aer Lingus. aerlingus.com

7. Cook up a storm at Ballyknocken

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Catherine Fulvio

Catherine Fulvio

Catherine Fulvio

If you want to dip your toe into the water of cookery lessons, without committing to a multi-week (or even multi-day) course, the half-day weekend workshops at Ballyknocken House & Cookery School are the perfect choice. Headed up by celeb chef Catherine Fulvio, courses are run by top-notch tutors or Catherine herself, and cover a wide range of topics - whether you're interested in southern Italian cookery, quick suppers or a plant-based diet. Afterwards, you can take a long walk in the hills, book in for dinner and take a relaxing soak in one of the Victorian roll-top bath.

Details: The Foodie Shortbreak includes a cookery class, accommodation and breakfast for two people and costs €409. ballyknocken.ie

8. Sea Kayaking in Scotland

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Sea Kayaking across to the Isle of Skye from Loch Kishorn

Sea Kayaking across to the Isle of Skye from Loch Kishorn

Sea Kayaking across to the Isle of Skye from Loch Kishorn

When it comes to sea kayaking, you couldn't ask for a better setting than the Scottish Highlands. On this short break with Wilderness Scotland, you'll learn the basics on the sheltered Upper Loch Torridon before heading out to sea, exploring the beautiful islands and keeping an eye out for friendly seals along the way. The expert tuition means you'll develop your skills and build confidence, so you'll quickly be at one with the waves. You'll spend five days on the water, finishing each day in a cosy bunkhouse complete with wood-burning stoves. They also run female-only courses.

Details: A four-night Sea Kayaking Introduction Course costs from €1,048, including most meals and all the kit. wildernessscotland.com

9. Jewellery Making in Yorkshire

There's always something special about a piece of jewellery with a story behind it. So imagine the story you'll be able to tell when you make your own. At the gorgeous Middleton Lodge, a country retreat in the North Yorkshire countryside, you can take a workshop with the jewellery designer Amanda Brawn, and learn how to make your very own stone-set ring. You'll be led through the whole process, from measuring and sizing to designing and soldering. Then afterwards, you can retreat to your cosy room and take a soak in one of the dreamy roll-top baths.

Details: Ring-making workshop costs €155; rooms from €191. middletonlodge.co.uk

10. Surfing in Sligo

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Melanie White of Rebelle Surf in Strandhill

Melanie White of Rebelle Surf in Strandhill

Melanie White of Rebelle Surf in Strandhill

Ever wanted to hop on a surfboard and learn how to ride the waves? Melanie White launched Rebelle Surf in Sligo in 2019, with the aim of spreading her love of surfing and encouraging people to bring a sense of fun into their lives. She runs workshops for all, but also has regular surf camps for women that incorporate yoga, seaweed baths, great food and plenty of time on a surfboard. The Summer Solstice camp includes three surf sessions, yoga, lunches and energy practices, and you can choose to camp, sort your own accommodation or stay in a nearby hotel.

Details: Weekend from €250 without accommodation, on June 19-21. rebellesurf.com; sligotourism.ie

11. Storm Chasing in Tornado Alley

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Storm Chasing in the US

Storm Chasing in the US

Storm Chasing in the US

This one might be a little bit niche. But if you're anything like me, you've wanted to run off and join the storm chasers ever since watching Twister back in the 1990s. And you can do just that with Storm Chasing Adventure Tours, who lead six-day tours with highly experienced experts and top-of-the-range software in the US. You'll drive long distances in the hope of seeing storm formations and even tornadoes, across Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, and it's not all for fun - the information you'll help to gather is relayed to the National Weather Service to help those living in areas affected by storms.

Details: Tours run from May to June from Denver or Oklahoma, from €2,338 (ex. flights). stormchasing.com

12. Cook Pasta like an Italian

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Learn to make pasta in a Tuscan farmhouse

Learn to make pasta in a Tuscan farmhouse

Learn to make pasta in a Tuscan farmhouse

If you're a fan of Italian cookery, then holing up in a Tuscan farmhouse, learning how to make gnocchi, pasta and risotto, must surely be heaven on earth. You'll spend four days among olive groves and vineyards, and learn all the tricks of the trade from an experienced chef, before sitting down to sample your wares at the end of it all. But don't worry, lunches and dinners are also provided from the experts, in case your tortelli isn't quite up to scratch. You'll also visit local producers for behind-the-scenes looks, and take part in plenty of tastings and workshops, too. Sustainability is at the core of what they do, so everything is super ethical and environmentally friendly to boot.

Details: A three-night pasta-making holiday starts from €899, excluding flights. responsibletravel.com

13. Cowboy College in Arizona

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Saddle up for cowboy school in Arizona

Saddle up for cowboy school in Arizona

Saddle up for cowboy school in Arizona

Ever harboured a desire to run away and live like a cowboy? Well, you can do just that in Arizona. You'll learn all the skills at the Arizona Cowboy College just outside Scottsdale, from how to saddle up to how to throw a lasso. And it's not just for appearances' sake - you'll accompany real-life cowboys into the striking Scottsdale desert to round up cattle and do any other jobs that need to be done. At the end of the day, you'll sit around the campfire and soak up the peaceful serenity of the Arizona countryside.

Details: A week's session costs €2,023, with shorter options available; cowboycollege.com. Fly to Phoenix with Aer Lingus via Boston. aerlingus.com

14. Learn to swim in Wales

Have you always been a bit tentative in the water? Or never got around to learning how to swim? The 'stress-free' swimming courses at Croft Farm in Wales will help you to overcome your fears. You'll take intensive one-on-one classes with expert teachers who specialise in teaching those who are cautious in the water. And your lessons will take place in the small, shallow and warm onsite pool, used exclusively for lessons (so you don't need to worry about other people milling around). When you're not in the pool, you can head out and explore the gorgeous Pembrokeshire Coast National Park nearby.

Details: A five-night cottage stay for two plus eight one-hour lessons starts from €1,310. premiercottages.co.uk

15. Comedy in Chicago

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The Bean, Chicago

The Bean, Chicago

The Bean, Chicago

Walking into The Second City is like walking into the hallowed ground of comedy. The walls are lined with pictures of all the greats who've studied here, like Tina Fey, Eugene Levy and Steve Carell, and you can join their ranks with a course in the prestigious comedy school. You can take intensives in writing, improv or a mixture of the two, for either three or five days - there's also a five-day intensive for stand-up. While you're there, book into as many of the evening shows as you can - most of the performers have started in those same intro-level courses.

Details: Three-day intensive courses start from €282; secondcity.com. Fly to Chicago with United or Aer Lingus. united.com; aerlingus.com

16. Wine tasting in France

If you're a fan of the odd glass of wine, but wish you knew more about what you were drinking, a wine-tasting holiday will be as helpful as it is delicious. At the Irish-owned Château St Pierre de Serjac in France's Languedoc, you can pick up some skills in a working winery, with guided wine walks, tastings and vineyard tours, all led by the experts in the know. The château itself is beautiful, and there's a spa onsite, too, as well as an outdoor pool.

Details: Three-night wine-tasting stay from €750pp including meals (flights extra). serjac.com

17. Learn Spanish in Tenerife

Ever jetted off on holiday and cursed the fact that you don't speak the language? Maybe you picked up a few phrases over the years but don't feel confident enough for a full conversation. Or perhaps you just want the chance to practise without the fear you'll get it all wrong. At the swish Ritz-Carlton Abama resort, on the south-west coast of Tenerife, you can dip into as many Spanish lessons as you like, with the aim of improving your confidence and practising as much as possible. With a few of these workshops under your belt, you'll soon be chatting up a storm as you explore the island. There are also workshops in sushi-making, tile-painting and even Instagram photography, so you can head back home with plenty of new strings to your bow.

Details: Rates at the Ritz-Carlton Abama start at €350; ritzcarlton.com/abama. Fly to Tenerife with Ryanair or Aer Lingus. ryanair.com; aerlingus.com

18. Play tennis in Portugal

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Play tennis at the Algarve's Pine Cliffs

Play tennis at the Algarve's Pine Cliffs

Play tennis at the Algarve's Pine Cliffs

Let's face it - we don't get that many opportunities to practise tennis on a sunny court. But head to the Algarve, and you'll get a far more temperate climate in which to perfect your swing. At Pine Cliffs, you can receive world-class tennis coaching at the Annabel Croft Tennis Academy. The programme was designed by tennis champion Annabel Croft, and the coaches are top notch, including the head coach, Gonçalo Portas, who has trained the likes of Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki. The tennis camps take place in the mornings (from 9.30am-11.30am), so you have the afternoon free to lounge by the pool or play a few rounds of golf.

Details: Five-day tennis camps from €325 for adults in low season, rooms from €140 (flights extra). pinecliffs.com

19. Survival in the South Downs

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Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls

Have you ever curled up on the couch watching Bear Grylls on the telly, proclaiming that you'd be great at that? Well, now's the time to put your money where your mouth is. At the Bear Grylls Survival Academy, you can learn all the skills you need to survive in the wild, whether that's setting traps, foraging for wild food, building a shelter or making a fire. You can ease yourself in with an 18-hour Wild Camp or do a full-on five-day extreme course in the Scottish Highlands.

Details: Overnight Wild Camp from €225, next held on May 16 (flights extra). beargryllssurvivalacademy.com

20. A taste of food styling in Cork

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Lens and Larder. Photo: Marie Forsberg

Lens and Larder. Photo: Marie Forsberg

Lens and Larder. Photo: Marie Forsberg

Whether you need the skills for work, want to improve your own food photography or just would like to learn the art of food styling, the workshops with Lens & Larder are second to none. At their spring event, the focus is on sustainability and slow food, and they're teaming up with renowned food photographer and cookbook author Marte Marie Forsberg. The course will be held at Ballymaloe, the perfect setting for a farm-to-table food experience.

Details: Three-night workshop from €2,250pp, including tuition, cocktails, wine and all meals. lensandlarder.com

NB: All prices subject to availability/change.

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