Top How-To Vacations

Courtesy of Equestrian Escapes

From mastering a new language to learning to surf, getaways with an educational bent show us the way.

Two Bordelais, a company run by French husband-and-wife team Jean-Pierre and Denise Moullé, is no ordinary mom-and-pop shop. Jean-Pierre, who formerly led the kitchen at the groundbreaking Bay Area restaurant Chez Panisse, is one of the world’s most venerated chefs. So when the couple welcome visitors to their home in Bordeaux twice a year for a week of cooking instruction and cultural concentration, it is something special.

“We want it to be a full immersion into French life,” says Denise. And it is—the kind from which guests come away knowing how to roll chocolate truffles or spit-roast a duck.

What the Moullés seem to have perfected is the art of the educational vacation. Though common to think of leisure travel as an opportunity for relaxation and exploration, how-to trips introduce a third element: the development of a new passion or skill, whether it be surfing, painting, riding a horse or learning a language.

Guests at Two Bordelais, for example, stay in private homes and gather throughout the day for lessons, excursions and, of course, memorable meals. Jean-Pierre, without a sous-chef or middleman, teaches guests to cook for a few hours a day in either the professional kitchen at nearby Château la Louvière or in his personal kitchen at their home, a 17th-century restoration set on a vineyard.

The endeavors go beyond cooking. At the Tuscan Photo Workshop (TPW), seasoned photographers and total neophytes come together for a few weeks of shoots, critiques and family meals in the Italian countryside. For the more experienced, the intensive is a way to dose a vacation with structure and enrichment; for first-timers, it is a comprehensive introduction to the art.

“It’s so easy to take a picture now,” says Sally Gall, a longtime instructor at TPW. “But people want to learn what makes a good picture, and this is a wonderful way to do it. Because you get intense access to seven teachers and 100 photographers, all shooting somewhere between four and ten hours a day, the exposure is just much wider than you’d get taking a regular class.”

Similarly, at the Lamborghini Academy in Bologna, Italy, students come from all over the world to spend a few days learning to drive some of the world’s best high-performance cars. By the end of the course, they are racing around the famed Autodromo Imola—proof that these types of getaways can lead to big things. Here are our favorites.