Spend Your Holiday Time Wisely By Learning A New Skill

Flop and drop holidays appear to be on the wane, as more people use their TIME OFF to LEARN NEW SKILLS. PENNY McCORMICK selects some of the best short courses and finds out what is involved …

Golfing in Girona 

PGA Catalunya; Spain’s number one rated course and one on most golfers’ bucket list is just a quick ten-minute hop from Girona Airport or 90 minutes from Barcelona. Led by Emmet O’Neill nephew of owner Denis O’Brien the PGA Catalunya Hotel Camiral’s interior has been transformed by Lazaro Rosa-Violán from spartan to contemporary with a curated mix of classic modern furniture. The course and its facilities, once purely golfer-centric, is now a smart, well-planned, beautifully landscaped resort, offering golfers and non-golfers five-star luxury at the hotel or in a holiday rental property (as well as the opportunity to own their own apartment, townhouse or villa). With several travel and golf awards already under its belt, the resort is developing a profile as one of the smartest in Europe. Irish guests with the werewithal might be tempted to invest in the ultra-modern white-walled villas and apartment buildings designed by DeBlacam & Meagher (Dublin) and Jaime Prous and Francisco Y Damián Ribas (Barcelona), which peep out from green and wooded areas beyond the white boundary markers and it appears that building works are near completion. Prices range from €750k for an apartment to €2.5m for a large villa.

PGA Catalunya’s Miesian clubhouse sits in between the challenging Stadium Course and the more forgiving Tour Course with breathtaking views of the snow-capped Pyrenees shaping the horizon from the club restaurant veranda. There is no need to bring your own clubs, as the caddy-master provides sets of pristine Taylor-mades.

In the restaurant, guests can balance over-indulgence with a day on the course or at the hotel’s new gym and spa, while kids and teens could brush up on their swing at the Sergio Garcia junior golf academy.

PGA Catalunya, Green fees: Stadium Course High Season, €110; Tour Course Low Season: €72. www.pgacatalunya.com.

Painting at a French Châteaux 

Successful Irish artist Loreto Kavanagh Reilly has been running her one-week painting courses for 13 years. “The age profile is usually over 50,” says Kavanagh Reilly, “and they come from as far away as Australia and Alaska to attend the sessions.” The setting is the picture-perfect Château de la Chesnaye, near Orléans. Although this is a relaxing week, with delicious food and wine, Kavanagh Reilly takes the teaching of art seriously. She begins the week with the basics of making a painting, from the initial sketch through to the finished work. Each step is demonstrated and then developed through one-to-one tuition. Students are encouraged to work at their own level, whether a complete beginner or an experienced painter. After breakfast there is a field trip, bringing all the gear – paint, easels, and a picnic. Kavanagh Reilly makes her way round the group encouraging guests and referencing the styles of various famous artists that may be relevant. Says Kavanagh Reilly, “All materials are included in the holiday cost (€1,250) to make it easier for you to travel and to ensure that all students have the best painting equipment. The synergy of working together with like-minded people brings its own rewards; many of our previous students are close friends, and many return each year.” The price includes full board, tuition, materials, some transport and a yoga session each day; www.loretoreilly.com.

Discovering yourself in Udaipur

“The nurturing I received at my grandmother’s home in Tipperary, where she cared for and loved me, formed the basis of my bespoke Arrigo retreats (in New York, Udaipur and Hertfordshire) which are centred around the concept of healing the spirit,” explains Fiona Arrigo, a qualified biodynamic psychologist and life coach. Her courses have won awards for their excellence, due to Arrigo’s reputation for intuitive healing. Arrigo also runs a private practice in London as well as individual and group programmes in Ireland, in addition to giving lectures and seminars. “The retreats can be one-to-one or in groups and revolve around the tenets of coaching, body clearing and nurturing. I firmly believe that investing time in rest and an emotional reset is time well spent.” Offering a chance to do a life audit, a typical day might include coaching with Arrigo, then clinical work with psychotherapists, followed by afternoon “clearing” sessions (with acupuncture, kiniesology and breathwork). A deep tissue massage in the evening rounds off the day. www.thearrigoprogramme.com; £1,850stg for two sharing.

Learning to tango in Buenos Aires

Author Alana Kirk admits, “A week in Buenos Aires wouldn’t be the most obvious holiday destination of choice. But then this wasn’t a typical holiday. With my kids away for a week, I took the opportunity to do some research for a book I’m writing on redefining middle age. Rediscovering your sensual self by learning to tango in the “Paris of the South” sounded like a good start. The course was one week, but the promise was a lifetime of results. I had never danced tango before, so I felt a fraud on the first day, heading out to buy beautifully hand-made tango shoes. Just slipping them on made me feel more confident. It’s said that tango is a metaphor for life. I was sceptical, but it only took a few lessons to make me realise there was truth in it. You have to be brave and vulnerable, strong and soft, male and female, connected and balanced. It was a week that taught me more than a few steps on a dance floor. By learning that how I dance reflects how I feel, I explored a place much further than Buenos Aires: myself.” www.sashacagen.com/tango-adventure €1700. Kirk stayed at the Costa Rica Boutique hotel, about €40 per night. www.hotelcostarica.com.

An Italian cookery course

“I have enjoyed a number of culinary experiences in il bel paese, mostly day courses or long weekends perfecting my pasta and reconnecting with risotto,” says Amanda Robinson, (a freelance writer), but I’d never tried a week-long course before, especially one that promised two cookery classes a day, every day. Could I keep up? Well, there’s no need to fear. Impeccably run by the tireless Sarah Roberts, who has many years of running cookery holidays the world over, the week combines the laidback ambience of a deluxe sojourn in a rather swish palazzo in the Veneto hills, with the practical focus of hands-on cookery classes with professional chefs like Sophie Braimbridge (River Café) and Jeremy Lee (Quo Vadis) and a guest appearance by Rachel Roddy (prizewinning food writer). On my course, two couples and four solo guests made up the numbers. By the time we sat down to eat our way through fresh lemon and thyme tagliatelle, pumpkin ravioli, and spinach and ricotta rotolo, all made by our own fair hands, we were friends. Whatever we did, from strolls round Venice to peeling onions, it felt like a relaxed house party. You can’t fail to be inspired by the enthusiasm of the chefs and their willingness to share knowledge. As for the details, it’s an all-in price (£2,695stg, £250stg single supplement), including transfers to and from the airport. You are looked after very well – the only additional expenses are your flights and local goodies like peppery olive oils and white polenta – if you have room in your baggage allowance that is. You’ll come away with a neat file of all the week’s recipes and an enlightened understanding of the practicalities and ethos of authentic regional Italian cucina, with seasonality at the heart of everything.” September courses include: 10 – 16 (Ursula Ferrigno) 17 – 23 (Jake Simpson) 24 – 30 (Sophie Braimbridge), www.stirredtravel.com.

An equestrian holiday in Co Tipperary

Five generations of the Molloy family have been involved in adult, family and teenage equestrian programmes, organised from August to November, at Crossogue, a listed Georgian house, in the heart of Tipperary. Mark Molloy explains “We have excellent horses and ponies for all levels of rider and each guest has their own for the duration of their stay – giving them a chance to bond and develop their confidence and riding skills.” With all-inclusive packages ranging from one day to week-long visits, guests can relax and enjoy the flexible holiday options. Guests can pre-organise their horse-riding sessions which are twice daily, choosing between flatwork, show jumping, cross-country or relaxed rides around the beautiful 150-hectare farm. Rolling fields, woodland and trails along the Farney river, are the backdrop to other activities such as tennis, badminton, golf, swimming, fishing and sight-seeing. For those interested in racing, Crossogue also breeds thoroughbreds and guests can see young horses as they are developed in training sessions. Guests stay en famille with home-cooking a further attraction. Do pick up their award-winning Crossogue Preserves, especially the Damson Port Jelly, which won a Triple Gold Award at the Great Taste Awards. Combining expert tuition in a friendly atmosphere, no wonder the courses are popular. www.crossogue.com.

A wine qualification in Provence

“I have visited and know quite well a lovely little wine school in Provence, the Auberge du Vin,” says Mary Dowey, THE GLOSS wine editor. “It is run by a qualified English wine instructor, Linda Field – a lovely, friendly, enthusiastic woman. She offers quite a range of fully certified wine appreciation courses and estate visits, and because the place also functions as a normal B&B, not everybody in any particular group is obliged to follow the course.” Courses on offer include a two-hour introduction to the wines of the Rhone Valley (€45), offered throughout the year, available to those staying as well as to day visitors. Then there’s the Wine and Spirit Education Trust – Level 2 course (€600). It involves three days of wine tuition with 45 wines to sample. It is followed by a one-hour multiple choice exam on day four. (Next courses; October 4-8 or November 7-11). If you want to be more focused, the French Wine Scholar course (€850) is an in-depth look at the various wine regions of France with three days of wine tuition, (followed by a multiple choice exam) with 40 wines to sample. Accommodation is provided at discounted rates for students on WSET and FWS courses. www.aubergeduvin.com.

Penny McCormick

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