Vacations usually deliver a generous dose of relaxation -- ideally with a bit of indulgence thrown in. But for more and more travelers, they're serving up something else: a chance to expand the mind and explore creative horizons. Around the world, people are discovering the benefits of trips that incorporate artistic expression, from writing memoirs to exploring Italian textiles.
Play with Words
Everyone has a tale to tell. Connecticut's Mayflower Inn and Spa aims to draw out your inner muse in its memoir writing workshops. Held in November, January, and April, the three-day sessions take place in the spa house, overlooking gardens and the tranquil Blue Heron Pond.
Between sessions led by Barbara Lazear Ascher, author of "Landscape Without Gravity: A Memoir of Grief," you'll have time to get the juices flowing with hiking, yoga, and meditation. The philosophy of the workshops, and the spa itself, is to provide a contemplative space where guests can let go of fear and allow their thoughts to flow freely. Of course, leaving with the beginnings of a best-selling memoir is added incentive. mayflowerinn.com
Try the "Japan" treatment, which incorporates sea algae, ginger grass, and cherry blossom rice products -- the perfect pick-me-up for when writer's block strikes.
Paint by the Beach
Surfing and painting may not seem to have much in common on the surface. But for Bev Sanders, who founded Artista Creative Safaris after years of running a women-only surf camp, the correlation is obvious: Each one appeals to time-starved women looking to bust out of their daily rut.
Her four-day painting workshops take place in California's Carmel-by-the-Sea, a bohemian haven for writers, poets, and artists for more than a century. It's fine if your efforts aren't quite MoMA-worthy -- yet. The classes attract many first-timers, and the "intuitive abstract painting" style taught (imagine lots of expressionistic flinging of paint) promotes an atmosphere free of judgment.
In keeping with the informal spirit of the retreat, guests are free to drop in and out of the all-day painting classes as they please to squeeze in a yoga class, share a cup of coffee with a friend, or get inspired with a stroll along the town's white-sand beach. artistacreative.com
After a few glasses of wine at the late-night painting party, you'll have no problem putting the finishing touches on your work of art.
Discover Italy's Textiles
Just when you thought Italy's charms had been covered from every perspective, Boston-based Tactile Travel came up with a unique way to see this storied country. Designed for lovers of knitting, quilting, and sewing, its weeklong tours serve as off-the-beaten-path guides to the Piedmont and Lombardy regions, both known for their textile history.
Daily activities range from discovering centuries-old weaving techniques at a silk museum near Lake Como to knitting "souvenirs in stitches" at a grand cafe in Turin. In an effort to keep the vibe intimate, founder Alanna Nelson limits the group to 12 -- more than enough knitters to engage in a little yarn swapping. tactiletravel.com
A visit to the town of Como's weekly market, where you can pick up some of the region's famed silk and then admire it over an espresso.
Take Perfect Pictures
If you've always hankered to train a lens on the world, you might want to make photography the theme of your next vacation. Try "Photography at the Summit" (for advanced amateurs and working pros) or "Capture the Season" (for beginners and intermediate amateurs), four- to six-day creative digital photography courses held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. You get the chance to learn from the pros (the program was founded by Rich Clarkson, an award-winning former National Geographic staffer) while trying out new techniques amid the peerless natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains.
Just don't expect to sleep late. Sunrise sees bands of photographers-in-training attempting to capture the perfect shot of the majestic Grand Teton mountain ranges, the craggy face of a local old-timer, or an inquisitive elk. Attendees gather late morning to review images from the day's shoot. Things don't slow down any come evening: For those determined to get in a few more shots before dinner, the last light offers the chance to immortalize the sunset. photographyatthesummit.com
If you're serious about taking what started out as a hobby to the next level, schedule time with a teacher for one-on-one career counseling and portfolio reviews.
Text by Emma Sloley