Is your traveler's intuition telling you to skip the long-planned bike tour of Provence and stay closer to home this summer? Well, that doesn't mean your only option will be eating a croissant at an EPCOT Parisian "sidewalk cafe." One great alternative to an exotic adventure is a learning vacation. These mini-schools offer the chance to get away and relax while also picking up a new skill.
For the active adventurer, a learning vacation may be a chance to flex the muscles you can't use sitting at a desk. While we all push the speedometer sometimes, learning how to blaze around a Formula One racetrack is quite another story (see below). Likewise, it's one thing to go camping in that "have Coleman stove and a nicely windowed tent, will travel" kind of style. But why not learn how to build a shelter out of found materials (see below)?
Other learning vacations stimulate parts of your mind that may go dormant during the workweek -- you can write a short story, shoot a video, or even make your own olive oil. --Patrick J. Sauer
A SESSION WITH THE COACH: Put on your whites and work up a U.S. Open-quality sweat at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy Adult Program [$695-877, imgacademies.com]. This five-day tennis getaway in Bradenton, Fla., models its courses after the same kind of instruction Bollettieri gave to honor students like Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, and the Williams sisters. No matter what your level of skill, the adult program offers drills, programs, and workouts to bolster both singles and doubles tennis. The program can include video analysis, mental conditioning, and fitness training. For another $500, train with the cagey coach and take a personal bit of Nick Bollettieri wisdom back to the home court.
MASTER THE TRACK: If you see yourself as the next Mario Andretti, the Skip Barber Racing School [$2,995-3,495, skipbarber.com] can bring out the Indy 500 driver in you. The three-day courses are held at more than 20 nationwide locations, including Florida's Daytona International Speedway. While students are predominantly male, any driver with a valid license can sign up. Having experienced the feeling of maneuvering a car around the track at 110 mph, some drivers go on to the advanced classes and take up the sport professionally, says school representative George Tamayo.
NAPA VALLEY 101: The Beringer Master Series on Food & Wine [$2,800-4,600, beringer.com] is a five-day series of classes the locals call "la dolce vita of Napa Valley." It typically includes cooking classes with the Bay Area's best chefs, garden tours, and olive oil-making tutorials. In the winemaking session, aspiring vintners mix Beringer's private reserves with the class's own product and create their own vintage. The week wraps up with a 10-course meal at renowned restaurant the French Laundry.