Who else at the dinner party can say they know how to weave a Peruvian Ayacucho?Make a journey out of refining a skill or interest, and reap the benefits forever.
If you love to travel because you always learn something, then you probably love learning because it takes you somewhere new. The following itineraries may cover places you've already visited or they may include unexplored territories, but any of them will elevate your focus on a given subject from mere interest to bona fide expertise while showing you a famously beautiful corner of the world. Goethe said, "A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life." Why shouldn't he—or she—also learn to strum a little flamenco guitar or identify rare Costa Rican orchids or capture a perfect moment on film?
BECOME A CHEF DE CUISINE Don't let the name fool you: Artisans of Leisure will invite you to do some serious work on your custom-cooking tour. You might perfect a gaeng phed ped yang in Thailand, pintxos in Spain, or other regional dishes in your private classes, taught by both home cooks and local celebrity chefs in their countries of origin. Previous destinations have included Italy, France, India, China, Vietnam, and Morocco. A.L. also arranges for private dinners of authentic regional dishes at the homes of their local friends, shopping for special utensils, visits to nearby farms to learn how local ingredients are grown, and places of honor at chefs' tables in hot restaurants.
Artisans of Leisure; 800/214-8144; www.artisansofleisure.com.
MASTER A DESIGN STYLE The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America leaves no bergère or billet unturned in the buildings to which its excursions offer special entrée—hence the high percentage of architects and interior designers among the general enthusiasts who sign up. The Golden Age of Gustavian Style (June 919, 2007), a trip to Sweden to study the furniture, wall coverings, and ceram-ics produced during the reign of King Gustav III (17711792), will be led by scholars Lani Sternerup and Johan Cederlund, co-authors of the forthcoming Classical Swedish Architecture and Interiors: 16501840. Other tours include A Sicilian Grand Tour (April 1927, 2007), Italian Gardens and Villas (September 27October 5, 2007), and Private San Francisco (November 30December 3, 2007).
PLAY THE GUITAR Professional musicians Frances and Jack Zelenka moved to San Miguel de Allende two years ago to add the Mexican guitarra tradition to their repertoire. When not touring, they welcome students of all levels to join them for individually designed, private guitar lessons. The Zelenkas can also plan your trip— finding a hotel or house, arranging transport to and from the airport, hiring local guides, and escorting you to clubs to hear their favorite musicians. Definitely take the optional detour to the tiny mountain town of Paracho, the heart of Mexican guitar making for hundreds of years; there, the Zelenkas make a beeline for the best luthiers to help you find an instrument that suits your level of skill and discretionary funds.
Guitar Vacation Retreats, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; 52/415-101-7477; www.guitar-vacation-retreats.com; lessons $25 an hour. The Zelenkas' recommended hotels range from $40 to $250 per night.
CULTIVATE YOUR GARDENING SKILLS The American Horticultural Society's Travel-Study Program offers thoughtful, intensive tours of private gardens not usually open to visitors (often including lunch or cocktails with the owners). Gardens of Bohemia and Moravia (September 1728, 2006) offers first-time access to historic properties appropriated during World War II and restored to their owners after the formation of the Czech Republic. A reception with the U.S. ambassador in the embassy's own garden and visits to two unesco World Heritage sites are trip highlights. Other upcoming AHS trips: Coastal Gardens of New Zealand (January 1126, 2007) and Wilderness Gardens of Nicaragua and Costa Rica (February 1017, 2007), which explores the habitats of parrots and jaguars from the sailing vessel M.S.Y. Windstar.
American Horticultural Society's Travel-Study Program, operated by Leonard Haertter Travel Company; 800/942-6666; www.ahs.org; from $6,870 per person, not including airfare.
WEAVE A TAPESTRY Puchka Peru's biannual Peru Textiles/Folk Art/Market Tour (October 13November 3, 2006; October 12November 2, 2007) takes travelers from the coastal capital of Lima to the "White City" of Arequipa and the Colca Valley Canyon and finally up to Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Participants not only take in the otherworldly landscape and Incan archaeological sites but also study Peru's justly famous textiles in detail. Classes and demonstrations by indigenous weavers, braiders, knitters, spinners, and tapestry makers constitute up to nine days of the 22-day trip. This is a fair-trade tour; teachers are paid the same fees earned by similar crafts experts in the United States and Canada. Participants often return home with such Peruvian textile-working tools as backstrap looms and knitting needles fashioned out of bicycle spokes.
Puchka Peru; 250/360-1898; www.puchkaperu.com; packages from $3,900, not including international airfare.
TAKE A PERFECT PHOTO Several times a year, New York's School of the International Center of Photography offers destination workshops led by acclaimed professional shutterbugs—Joel Meyerowitz and Sally Gall have been on the faculty. ICP's Mongolia travel program (July 520, 2007) will center on the annual Nadaam Festival, in which nomads compete in the Three Manly Sports—wrestling, horseback riding, and archery; photogenic parades and ceremonies honor their efforts. Past ICP tours have gone to New Mexico, the Italian Lake District, Tuscany, Provence, Ireland, Holland, India, and Vietnam. Study methods—such as lectures, hands-on classes, and critiques—are determined by the instructors.
School of the International Center of Photography; 212/857-0001; www.icp.org. Call the center for a complete 2007 program schedule. Most trips are limited to 15 or so participants.