Providing their guests with comfort and service is the goal of most
hotels. But cooking classes? Flower-arranging workshops? Fly-fishing
school? You bet!

“We\’ve seen a significant increase in educational travel in recent
years,” says Dean Andrews, vice president of Orient-Express Hotels
Trains and Cruises, North America. “Today\’s sophisticated travelers
expect a beautiful place and great service…but many are also now
looking to walk away with even more lasting impressions beyond photos
and memories of sunsets and vistas.”

What that means is that you can now, for example, learn Italian
cooking, at the source, in one of Orient-Express\’ hotels in Italy, or
study botanical painting in Charlottesville with Thomas Jefferson\’s
heirloom plants as your guide.

“Programs such as these allow clients to walk away not only with new
knowledge, but also with a closer connection to the destination or
culture they have encountered,” says Andrews.

And what\’s more, you don\’t even have to be a guest to take advantage of
many of the special programs so many hotels now offer. That\’s how a
friend and I happened to find ourselves learning to arrange flowers one
Saturday morning at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City in Arlington,
Virginia. Looking on the hotel\’s website for directions to the hotel\’s
tea (as elegant as it sounds!), I saw a notice advertising an upcoming
flower-arranging workshop. This seemed like a great way to learn what
to do with those flowers I love to have at home (but, if truth be told,
have no real interest in growing myself). The $125 fee for the
three-hour class sounded a bit pricey…but at the end of the class, the
dozeon or so students had not only learned a lot (who knew you were
supposed to peel the outer petals off a rose and gently blow it open),
had each created two arrangements beautiful enough to elicit oohs and
ahs from friends and family at home, were given a gift bag complete
with flower arranging supplies to keep us inspired, and had enjoyed a
delicious buffet lunch to boot. And this all took place not in some
sterile classroom, but in one of the Ritz\’ beautiful ballrooms.

Whether you want to travel near or far, learn a language, arrange
flowers (or paint them), become a wine connoisseur, or cook alongside a
professional chef, there\’s bound to be a hotel that\’s offering a
program you\’d be interested in. Here are a few….

For the Gourmet
Not surprisingly, programs on food and wine are a natural fit for
many hotels. Where better to learn Italian cooking than in Italy? The
Orient Express\’s Hotel Cipriani in Venice has created a Laboratory of
Venetian Cuisine, in which the Cipriani chef, Renato Piccolotto, and
three famous culinary experts research old, traditional recipes, and
adapt them to contemporary tastes (and ingredients!), teaching them in
the Cipriani\’s Cooking School. In Florence, the Orient-Express\’s
five-star Villa San Michele also recently opened a permanent cooking
school to teach the secrets of Tuscan cooking, with some courses
concentrating on specific dishes, such as pasta, wines and cheeses, and
desserts, and others covering more general subjects such as
entertaining and dietetic cooking. There will also be classes held by
celebrated and foreign chefs.

On the eastern coast of Sicily, in a valley of orange and lemon groves,
Don Arcangelo all\’ Olmo, formerly a private home and now a luxury
boutique hotel, offers intimate four-hour cooking classes and meals
with a private chef.

In New York, once a month the Millenium Hilton\’s executive chef, Joseph
Verde, hosts a class of 15 guests and teaches them various dishes from
across the country, from New England clam chowder and Yankee pot roast
to New Orleans gumbo and Carolina pulled pork. At The Balsams Grand
Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, “Cooking School” is
offered three times a year, offering a hands-on opportunity for
recreational chefs to learn from The Balsams\’ own nationally recognized
chefs and culinary educators. The “Cooking School” training sessions
take place at Beaver Lodge, headquarters for The Balsams Culinary
School, Inc., an accredited, degree-granting education center
affiliated with the American Culinary Federation and the New Hampshire
Community Technical College.

Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, which has a
culinary arts program, owns and operates several hotels; among the
school\’s most popular offering is cooking tips for bridal showers at
the Radisson Airport Hotel in Warwick, Rhode Island. At the Johnson
& Wales Inn in Seekonk, Massachusetts, you can also bring your
office with you to split into teams, prepare your own lunches, and dine
on your creations…a tasty alternative to traditional corporate
team-building retreats!

And in South Florida, the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach offers the
Four Seasons Wine School on the second Saturday of every month from
April to December; each class focuses on a different wine-making region
from around the world and includes wine tastings, light food, and
take-home literature. Offered on the last Saturday of every month is
the Perfect Seasonings Culinary Programs; executive chef Hubert Des
Marais focuses on a special theme each month (root vegetables and crab
one month, for example, asparagus and risotto another).

There\’s no shortage of food and wine programs out West either. The
Lodge at Keyah Grande, a new luxury wilderness retreat in Colorado\’s
San Juan Mountains has kicked off a weekend “gourmet cooking
experience” for guests who get to spend Saturdays working side-by-side
with executive chefs Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozawa. “Many of our guests
have a strong interest in gourmet cooking, and we wanted to give people
a rare opportunity to learn the latest, state-of-the-art culinary
skills in a unique and intimate environment,” says Talbot.

In Yosemite Park, an annual wine series, “Vintners\’ Holidays,” features
eight sessions, each showcasing four prominent wineries and industry
experts. The programs include informative seminars, panel discussions,
and wine tastings; each session ends with a five-course Gala Vintners\’
Dinner, highlighting wines from the participating wineries paired with
a custom gourmet menu. The annual “Chefs\’ Holidays” include a “Meet the
Chefs” reception, cooking demonstrations, behind-the-scenes kitchen
tours, and a five-course Holiday Gala Dinner.

For the Artistically Inclined
Because of a revival of interest in botanical and wildlife
illustration, Orient-Express Hotels have begun offering master classes
in botanical and safari painting. In 2004 the botanical and flower
painting classes will be held at Keswick Hall in Charlottesville,
Virginia; on safari in Botswana; at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape
Town, South Africa; at The Westcliff in Johannesburg, South Africa; and
at Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy. The classes will be taught by
well-known international artists Katie Lee, Jenny Phillips, and
Margaret Saul, and have been designed by Dr. Shirley Sherwood, a
renowned collector of botanical art and author of A Passion for Plants:
Contemporary Botanical Masterworks.

The Art of Flower Arranging
As part of their “April in Paris” celebration, Sofitel hotels are
offering flower arranging classes at select locations, including the
Sofitel Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. Every Thursday in the
month of April, hotel florist Angela Bonita will give a free floral
design demonstration.

Sports Enthusiasts Not Forgotten
Get your feet wet by learning to fly fish. The Marco Island
Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Florida offers a two-day
fly-fishing school with private instruction and a professional guide
who will lead you through the area\’s wetlands and scenic estuaries.
There is also a two-day sailing school covering courses in 101 basic
keelboat, or 103 basic coastal cruising. You\’ll learn to sail a 20-foot
keelboat in light to moderate wind and sea conditions.

More fishing instruction is available at the Grand Traverse Resort and
Spa near Traverse City, Michigan. The Orvis Michigan Fly-Fishing
School, one of only 10 Orvis Fly-Fishing Schools in the nation, teaches
never-held-a-fly-rod novices and seasoned fly fishermen alike to hone
their skills from casting to knot-tying to lure selection.
Two-and-a-half-day schools are conducted each week from late April
through mid-October and include fly-fishing in nearby streams. And on
Pine Island Sound in Florida, recently named as one of the 25 top
fishing spots in the country by Field & Stream, the new
Genmar/Evinrude fishing school, hosted by the Tarpon Lodge, includes
instruction by well-known Florida fishing guides; boating experts, and
a marine biologist.

And for the Younger Set
New York\’s legendary Plaza Hotel offers a special “Young Plaza
Ambassadors” (YPA) membership for young people ages 6 to 13. YPA
participants are granted special privileges at Manhattan\’s best
attractions as well as access to a variety of interactive learning
programs within the hotel itself. “Young Plaza guests of today are our
ambassadors of tomorrow,” says Tom Civitano, executive vice president
of marketing for the Plaza. “Families represent a large percentage of
our guests, so it\’s only natural for us to come up with a program for
our younger visitors, encouraging them to take advantage of the unique
experiences that make New York such a vibrant destination.” Among the
programs that YPA offers are the “Complete Etiquette Workshop,” and the
“Junior Vet Clinic,” which teaches the youngsters how to love and care
for the family pet with hands-on experience in canine training and
behavior.

For more information on any of the special programs mentioned here, contact the hotels at:
Orient-Express Hotels, www.orient-express.net
Don Arcangelo all\’Olmo, www.donarcangelo.it
Millenium Hilton Hotel, www.hilton.com
Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach, www.fourseasons.com
Johnson & Wales, www.jwu.edu
The Balsams, www.theBalsams.com
Yosemite Park, www.yosemitepark.com
Lodge at Keyah Grande, www.lodgeatkeyahgrande.com
Sofitel Hotels, www.sofitel.com
Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa, www.marriott.com
Orvis Michigan Fly-Fishing School, www.GrandTraverseResort.com
The Tarpon Lodge, www.tarponlodge.com
The Plaza Hotel, www.fairmont.com

Carol Sorgen is a nationally recognized writer, editor, and public relations consultant. Her articles—on subjects as diverse as travel, health care, education, architecture, interior design, the arts, and business—appear in both print and on-line publications including The Washington Post, DC Style, Resort Living, The Baltimore Sun, European Homes & Gardens, Decorating Spaces, Chesapeake Home, WebMD, Baltimore Jewish Times and Washington Jewish Week…to name just a few.