If your 2016 resolutions include learning something new, these hotels and destinations can help. From teaching you how to take better photos to butcher a whole hog, these classes will engage you, help make the most of your vacation, and send you home with a brand-new skill—so that's one resolution you can cross off the list. —Sandra Ramani
In addition to the thrill of catching a perfect wave, surfing offers a host of health benefits, from cardiovascular fitness to strengthened core, leg, and shoulder muscles. Learn to surf—or take your game to the next level—in the place that started it all: named after the Olympic swimmer credited with popularizing the ancient Hawaiian “exercise” of surfing, Oahu's Duke Kahanamoku Beach and Lagoon sits off Waikiki Beach, adjacent to the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Hotel guests can take beginner and intermediate lessons in either the five-acre saltwater lagoon or the Pacific Ocean (private lessons $160 an hour; group classes for ages 10 and up are $100 for 2 hours, and are offered four times a day.)
Meanwhile, over in the Atlantic Ocean, the island of Barbados is said to have the Caribbean's most consistent waves, with year-round waters ideal for enthusiasts of all levels. Surfer Melanie Pitcher, owner of Barbados Surf Trips, can connect visitors to the right instructors and private or group classes, then take you on an island tour of her favorite hidden surf spots.
Taking Better Photos
As Instagram addicts know, pictures today are worth more than a thousand words—they often take the place of words altogether. To help improve your shooting skills, hotels around the world offer expert-led photography experiences. The just-opened Taconic, a Kimpton Hotel in Vermont has partnered with award-winning local shutterbug Les Jorgensen to lead excursions to Equinox Mountain, where he will offer instruction on getting the perfect shots—on both DLSRs and iPhones—in one of the state's most beautiful locations (starting at $90 per hour).
Following a popular photo trip to Antarctica last year, Exclusive Resorts has once again engaged National Geographic photographer Ralph Hopkins to lead a photo-focused trip—this time to the Galapagos, where he will teach you how to capture the islands' unique flora and wildlife (September 17–26, 2016).
Meanwhile, on Sicily's Bay of Mazzarò, just below the postcard-perfect town of Taormina, guests of Belmond Villa Sant'Andrea can book a Food Photo experience that is part market visit and cooking class, part lesson on how to best plate, style, and photograph food—useful skills, considering social media's obsession with what everyone is eating (prices vary).
Want to cultivate your green thumb? Whether you live in an apartment or on acres of land, it's possible to grow things to use in your kitchen—you just have to know how to work the soil you have. Located in the heart of Tuscany, Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco's vegetable 2-hour gardening class—operated out of its La Canonica Cooking School and limited to six participants—is led by the on-staff ortolano, or market gardener, who will reveal how best to sow seeds, how and when to water, and how to work seasonally.
On the Caribbean island of Anguilla, CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa features an on-site hydroponic farm growing everything from kale, tomatoes, and eggplant to herbs like parsley, mint, lavender, and chervil. Dr. Howard Resh, who oversees the farm production, can teach guests the basics of hydroponic farming and gardening, including tips on the best conditions to grow certain types of produce.
If your gardening skills get so strong that you end the season with extra bounty, a hotel can help with that, too: Omni Bedford Springs' canning class lets guests pick veggies from the on-site garden, then teaches them how to can and preserve products for use throughout the year.
There's more to flower arranging than just filling a vase with water. Learn how to select the appropriate flowers and create breathtaking bouquets for all occasions at San Diego's Rancho Bernardo Inn, which has an in-house floral department—Inn Florals—to cater to on-site weddings, events, and special occasions. Experts florists will guide you on a flower foraging tour of the resort's 265 acres—including the signature white rose gardens—then take you back to the flower house for a hands-on arrangement workshop, the results of which you can take home with you. The experience is available on its own or as part of select room packages.
Disconnected, centered, focused, zoned-out—whatever you call it, sometimes it's important just to be quiet. Learn the basics of meditation with a guided lesson at Napa Valley's Solage Calistoga, in which the instructor might incorporate fresh herbs (to engage the senses of touch and smell) and Tibetan singing bowls to encourage relaxation.
Reconnecting with nature can also help quiet the mind, reengage the inner self, and even improve health. Near Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Sandos Caracol Eco Resort's Path of the Senses experience includes a barefoot and blindfolded guided jungle walk to encourage introspection and positive thoughts, while Forest Bathing—offered at hotels like L'Auberge de Sedona in Arizona and The Mayflower Grace in Connecticut—takes you to the forest for a series of contemplative activities, from journaling to targeted meditation.
Being More Creative
Engage your inner artist with a class that encourages creativity and expression. In Florida, the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village has engaged eclectic local artist and gallery owner Leoma Lovegrove—whose vibrant, colorful works are in two Presidential libraries—to lead both off- and on-site painting workshops that will have you seeing everyday objects through a new lens.
Meanwhile, sister property Westin La Paloma in Tucson offers one-on-one welding classes with Steve Kimble, the brains behind the local Metal Arts Village and creator of some of the works displayed at the resort; classes are held a short drive from the hotel, and no experience is required.
Eating better is a perennial New Year's resolution, and in 2016, these spots can help take it from to-do list to reality. At the Cayman Islands' Le Soleil d'Or, a unique farm-to-table wellness resort, guests can get tips on how to best select produce during a tour of the 20-acre organic garden, then work side-by-side with the chef to learn how to prepare fresh and healthy dishes.
In California, The Ranch at Live Oak boot-camp offers an offshoot Culinary Experience led by chef Nina Curtis that focuses just on healthy eating. Available in 3- or 5-day courses, the hands-on workshop covers topics like soups and stocks, sauces, and dry heat cooking, as well as proper knife skills, kitchen organization, and garden cultivation. Accommodations are not included, although the ranch can recommend area hotels.
See what the snout-to-tail movement is all about with a lesson in butchering. At Durham, North Carolina's, artisanal Rose's Meat Market and Sweet Shop, monthly classes include Whole Hog Butcher, in which you'll learn to properly take apart and cut down a pig, as well as pork butchery demo sessions and hands-on sausage-making courses (prices vary). Continue the theme by checking in to one of Durham's recently opened hotels: the 21c Museum Hotel's Counting House restaurant menu features a pan-roasted pork tenderloin, while at The Durham, James Beard award–winning chef Andrea Reusing pairs pork chops with local fennel and griddled green onions.
If you've never seen the world from atop a horse—or it's been a while since you've been in the saddle—make it a point to head west in 2016. Located on 60,000 desert acres within Arizona's Saguaro National Park and the Coronado National Forest, the family-friendly Tanque Verde Ranch is home to more than 160 horses. All-inclusive rates include standard walking and loping lessons and rides, all led by seasoned wranglers; ride in the arena or on a trail through the Sonoran Desert and up into the Rincon Mountains (particularly stunning at sunrise). For more one-on-one interaction, the customizable Harmony with Horses program (available for an additional charge) includes private 3-hour lessons that focus on communication and connection between the horse and rider.
In Montana, the Paws Up working ranch/resort is set on 37,000 acres of breathtaking Lewis and Clark country along the Blackfoot River. The onsite Saddle Club, the largest private equestrian center in the state, features a 23,000-square-foot riding arena, seating for 150 spectators, 52 stalls, and more than 100 miles of riding trails. Lessons are available year-round for all levels; in warmer months, confident riders can also head out on cattle drives, during which you'll help herd cattle like a real rancher.
Scent has the power to transport you to another place and remind you of a favorite experience or destination. Fairmont Hotels' signature Rose 31 scent is such a favorite with guests that the brand has partnered with beloved perfume house Le Labo—creators of the fragrance—for a package that includes an after-hours visit to a Le Labo boutique, where you'll learn about the art of perfume blending, then work alongside a skilled technician to mix your own bottle of Rose 31. The package is available for a limited time at select Fairmont Hotels, including The Plaza in New York and the Fairmont San Francisco.
At the recently opened Ritz-Carlton, Bali, the on-site L'Atelier Parfums & Creations—run by a French expat—offers an in-depth lesson on creating a fragrance from scratch; choose from a 90-minute or 3-hour session, both of which will include instruction on sniffing and identifying fragrance notes and building a complex and complementary combination. You'll leave with a bottle of your custom creation.