Sensational Summer Camps
When we were young, summer camp was the best part of vacation. Playing, having new experiences, making friends, being away from home...it was the most exciting part of summer (though more like school than we realized at the time). With summer vacation just started and everyone figuring out what to do with their vacation time, here's a list of experiential travel experiences that'll bring back the childlike wonder you thought you lost.
By Lena Katz
Cattle Driving | Chico Basin & Zapata Ranches
Of all the fun things to do while out playing cowboy, nothing has greater appeal than...the cattle drive. Surprisingly, what used to be a grueling job for rough-riding hard-drinking men has now turned into an "experiential travel" challenge that usually only lasts a day, and is followed up by a hot tub soak and a gourmet meal at fine ranches like Chico Basin and sister Zapata Ranch. The great appeal at these two Colorado ranches - aside from the vast acreage and stunning backdrop - is that guests can not only drive cattle, but bison like the shaggy herd pictured above.
Horseback Riding | Sugar & Spice Ranch
Not all ranch-goers are prepared to ride fences and drive cattle the first time they visit. In fact, some have never been on a horse. There are plenty of ranches that cater to beginners, but one of our favorites, Sugar & Spice, pictured here, caters to women - particularly mothers and daughters. Though there are a few special windows throughout the year when men are allowed, most of the time this is a comfortable, supportive place for girls of all ages to be as awkward and goofy as they like while learning to ride...or as windblown and wild as they want, galloping through Banderas, Texas ranch land. Men, if you're reading this, please note: A week-long stay at Sugar & Spice is a great bonding-time gift for the women in your life.
Elephant Driving | Mahout School
For animal lovers, there may be no more far-out and fantastical adventure than Mahout School at Tented Camp, Golden Triangle. This exotic Four Seasons resort offers an immersive course in elephant care as well as "elephant driving." Yes, it is hard to believe, but this is what it's called. Guests work with rescued elephants all day and bed down in tents so exotic-luxe, they make most hotel rooms seem shabby and mundane by comparison.
Winemaking | Landmark Vineyards
Animal experiences aren't the only ones where people are encouraged to get their hands dirty in a five-star setting. Immersive winemaking experiences have become all the rage in California. At Landmark Vineyards, pictured here, the half-day Esprit du Rhone experience offers guests the chance to get out in the vineyards, study the soil and the grapes, and then after a solid few hours of work, adjourn for a healthy lunch and barrel tastings. There are various four-day and week-long winemaking camps around, but this one is a good way to see if you like the work before you commit (offered by appointment or on select dates).
Epicurean Experiences | Winvian Resort
Thanks to Top Chef and its followers, the whole nation seems to have cooking aspirations these days. And cooking schools are springing up to accommodate the hunger for hands-on foodie experiences. Winvian, an exclusive and distinctive boutique country resort in Litchfield, Connecticut, has had great success with a series of cooking classes that teach everything from pasta-making to pastry-cheffing to selecting herbs from the garden. Some classes are open to non-guests.
Cooking School | Sazon at Casa de Sierra Nevada
Those who find the ingredient procurement as much a part of the fun as the actual cooking, will appreciate places like Casa de Sierra Nevada, a jewel-like Orient Express hotel in the artists' haven of San Miguel de Allende. Its cooking school, Sazon, offers market tours the day before the cooking class, so participants can get the entire experience, though only in two-hour chunks of time (so it doesn't run the risk of feeling like real work). The school specializes in regional cuisine - which is surprisingly diverse and sophisticated, as well as gourmet traditional.
Travel Photography | Lindblad Expeditions
Few professions are as coveted - or as competitive - as that of travel photographer. And while the intensive shipboard photography workshops offered by Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic can't guarantee anyone a foot in that career door, they can certainly teach you how to get a cover-worthy shot. A National Geographic photographer and a Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic certified photo instructor travel with every sailing. The current itineraries include Baja/Sea of Cortez, Galapagos and Costa Rica/Panama Canal - three of the most photogenic destinations in the word. Wildlife, dramatic terrain and epic blue seas will inspire you to new artistic heights, while the Nat Geo-certified instructor will make sure you don't go overboard (figuratively or literally).
Shopping | One Bal Harbour
For some, style is innate, and shopping is the greatest pleasure. For others, style is a mystery, and shopping fraught with awkward moments spent peering doubtfully at the dressing room mirror. One Bal Harbour's partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue allows guests to have an intensive shopping getaway that includes transportation to Saks, personal shopper consultation and a makeover. Equally fabulous fun for fashionistas or people who regularly risk winding up on the Glamour "Don't" page.
Perfume Blending | Ajne Organic
Started in Carmel, Ajne Organic's perfume-blending experience allows people to find their own personal scent by mixing several pre-formulated scents, all made of natural ingredients, many from the organic Carmel garden. A perfect balance between precision handcrafting and indulgent luxury, Ajne has experienced huge demand since it was introduced. In addition to the Carmel store pictured, it is offered in two dozen of the finest hotels, including many Four Seasons hotels and the Pebble Beach Resorts.
Heli-Skiing | Selkirk Tangiers
And here's a last one to keep you looking forward to winter: Already mastered the double-black-diamond runs at all your favorite ski resorts? Tackle the highest peaks of the BC backcountry with Selkirk Tangiers, an operator that offers steep camp three-day excursions and advanced heli-skiing day trips. For ski daredevils, this is the ultimate adrenaline rush - and with an experienced guide/instructor on your tail at all times, you lessen the risk of taking a spill that'll crush your ego...or worse.