Learning + Vacation = Best Trip Ever
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Learning + Vacation = Best Trip Ever

We found six getaways that will let you tap into your creative side (and the destinations are pretty great, too).
Speak a Foreign Language

Set in Bemidji, a rural town in the woodsy Lakes Region of northern Minnesota, Concordia Language Villages feels like summer camp for adults. The teaching style is "full immersion," meaning you'll conduct all your daily activities -- eating meals, chatting with other students, or greeting your instructors on the walk to class -- in your language of choice. Classes are taught by native speakers or certified language instructors; food is home-cooked and ethnically authentic; and you'll attend presentations on history, culture, music, and arts and crafts. Classes are geared toward learners at all levels, so don't worry if you're a complete novice.

Weekend courses start at $420, including lodging, meals, and coursework. Weeklong sessions start at $695. 218-586-8600; languagevillages.org

I Tried It
"I loved all the activities at camp, and I left my weeklong stay on an absolute high. Since I live in Texas I have plenty of opportunities to speak Spanish, but I'd hesitate because I didn't think I knew enough. Now I speak it every chance I get!"
- Jeniffer Shearer, Springtown, Texas

Get Crafty

At John C. Campbell Folk School, a historic rural campus that's been operating in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina since the mid-1920s, you can learn just about any rustic craft. There's basketry, jewelry making, woodworking, blacksmithing, cultural dancing, gardening, and more -- 47 skills and more than 860 courses. A typical weekend course includes several hours of class instruction, studio time to work on your craft, and a student exhibition at the close of the weekend. The school is also about two hours from Asheville, a town that's fast becoming an artistic destination in its own right with more than 30 art galleries.

Tuition averages around $300 for weekend courses and $600 for weeklong courses. Lodging rates start at $175 for a weekend and $450 for a week and include three meals a day. 800-365-5724; folkschool.org

I Tried It
"I took a course on hat weaving. The participants and instructors came from all over the country, and the creative energy was so stimulating. Plus, the campus is beautiful."
- Carol Rankin, Decatur, Georgia

Try Improv

The Second City, a Chicago improv company that has produced stars like John Belushi, Mike Myers, and Tina Fey, hosts training workshops during both summer and winter for wannabe comedians. You can take three-day intensives on a few varying topics: improv comedy, sketch comedy, and musical improv. Tuition covers lessons and writing sessions and may include a show featuring resident Second City performers. The company also offers weeklong immersion courses that include sessions on acting, physical comedy, and comedy writing. Classes are held at the famed Second City, a theater that sits near some popular Chicago sights, like the Navy Pier.

Sessions start at $285. Meals, lodging, and extras aren't included, but the website lists discounted rates for several hotels, hostels, and dormitories in the Chicago area. secondcity.com

I Tried It
"I'd never taken an acting course before, but once I tried the Second City workshops I was hooked. They are an absolute blast! I feel like a kid at summer camp every time I go back for another workshop."
- Heather Anne Beach, DeWitt, Iowa

More Learning Vacations

Write a Book

Located in pretty Folly Beach, a barrier island just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, the Low Country Writers' Retreat offers a few options for aspiring authors. There are three-day writing workshops for both beginners and more advanced writers led by the director, Mary Ann Henry, who's been teaching creative writing for 13 years. Her workshops range from short-story boot camp for novice writers to seminars on how to refresh your skills in fiction writing. You can also choose to work directly with Henry if you just want one-on-one guidance. The area provides plenty of outdoor inspiration as well: Walk the pristine beaches or swim and kayak in the calm waters on the island's bay side.

Three-day workshops start at $175, not including lodging, which starts at $100 a night for a cottage or suite. lowcountrywritersretreat.com

I Tried It
"I had a lifelong dream of writing fiction, so as soon as I found this retreat, I registered for a workshop before I could change my mind. I've been back twice and I feel so inspired every time I go."
- Jessica Winternheimer, Omaha

Make Wine

The three-day Wine Camp at Veramar Vineyard -- a family-run estate in the rolling hills of Virginia's wine country -- gives you all the fun stuff as well as a real appreciation for the hard work of running a vineyard. You'll get lessons on wine appreciation and winemaking, learn all about the winery's daily operations, and perhaps even help with testing the soil, sampling the grapes, or bottling and labeling the wines. Sessions are held throughout the year, but campers who attend in October -- harvest season -- will also get to help pick, crush, and press grapes. Another bonus for fall visitors? The winery is in the Shenandoah Valley, so the foliage is especially stunning.

The program is $900 per person for three days and two nights, which includes daily meals, lodging at the winemaker's residence, samplings and tastings, and all camp activities. 540-955-5510; veramar.com

I Tried It
"I took my husband because he'd been talking about making his own wine, and we both learned a ton about the process. Now we're even trying to grow our own grapes at home."
- Pam Giganti, Damascus, Maryland

Take Photos Like a Pro

The Rocky Mountain School of Photography is based in Montana, but it offers weeklong photo workshops for varying skill sets led by expert photographers in some of the country's most beautiful national parks, like Wyoming's Grand Teton and California's Yosemite. The workshops can be strenuous -- the one in Montana's Glacier National Park, for example, includes high-altitude hikes to the park's most picturesque spots, so it helps to be in decent physical condition. Not into hiking? No worries! The school also offers intensive weekend photography courses throughout the year in cities like San Antonio, Nashville, and Portland.

Weeklong workshops start at $1,295, not including meals or lodging (the group arranges discounts with local hotels). Two-day courses are $139. 800-394-7677; rmsp.com

I Tried It
"I've taken two RMSP workshops and I've loved both of them. The courses are a great way to improve your skills, plus they put you in environments you might never get to go to otherwise."
- Trudy Wright, Nashville