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Top 10 Learning Retreats
1. Read between the lines at a French house party
2. Earn your elephant driver's license
3. Thrill to the wildebeest migration on the Serengeti
4. Master the art of blending Scotch
5. Study tectonic plates
6. See the unreported side of modern Africa
7. Learn to gamble like Bond, James Bond
8. Study at the world's oldest English-speaking university
9. Study marine biology on the Great Barrier Reef
10. Walk in the footsteps of Alexander the Great
Read between the lines at a French house party
With a view of the Pyrenees upon opening the shuttered window of your 300-year-old farmhouse, you'll spend five sumptuous days drinking red wine, eating food from local farmers' markets (olives, cheese, pâtés, melons, and eggplants, to name a few), and studying a list of books that only an eccentric British literature major and her actor partner might come up with. Besides five or so books, you'll also study a play—handpicked by Masters, an accomplished actor and director who recently retired to France—that compliments the literary theme.
How to get in touch: French House Parties, 11150 Pexiora, France, +33 4 6894 9816, or call London office; +44 1299 896819 or +44 7900 322791; www.frenchhouseparty.co.uk.
Earn your elephant driver's license
During the three-day mahout—elephant wrangler—training course, you'll learn to bathe, feed, and care for your assigned elephant. You'll master basic elephant commands (around 70, at last count) and how to communicate with your three-ton steed by lightly touching him or her behind the ears. From the back of your jumbo beauty, you'll also explore the forests of northern Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, all of which are within elephant bugling distance from the camp.
How to get in touch: Anantara Golden Triangle, 229 Moo 1, Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai 57150, Thailand; +66 5378 4084; www.goldentriangle.anantara.com.
Thrill to the wildebeest migration on the Serengeti
Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History takes a modest approach to field research tours, only offering an average of 10 or so tours a year and most are led by curators and scientists who work for the museum. The "Tanzania Migrations Safari," one of the most popular trips often selling out all 16 slots, follows the soul-stirring spectacle of 1.5 million wildebeests charging through the wilds of Tanzania—the largest assemblage of grazing animals on the planet. It's one place—maybe the only one left—where the human species' much chastised hegemony over the world's creatures becomes dubious.
How to get in touch: Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605; +1 312 922 9410; www.fieldmuseum.org.
Master the art of blending Scotch
If you're one of those Scotch lovers who swears by having a wee dram every now and again, you may have already made the pilgrimage to the motherland. But, now, thanks to the Glengoyne Distillery near Loch Lomond in the Scottish Highlands, 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Glasgow, you can extend your whisky education even further. This prestigious distillery invites whisky pilgrimages in for one of two classes in learning how to blend Scotch. They call it "getting inside the barrel."
How to get in touch: Glengoyne Distillery, Dumgoyne, near Killearn, Glasgow, G63 9LB, Scotland; +44 1360 550 254; www.glengoyne.com.
Study tectonic plates
The Geological Society of America (GSA) offers an annual expedition to Iceland to study and observe plate tectonics. This highly volcanic country, which straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, is literally being pulled apart, offering scientists a natural laboratory for studying the relatively new theory of plate tectonics. It's one of the few places on Earth where you can actually see the plates separating. Granted it's only half an inch (one centimeter) or so a year, but it's enough to keep such volcanoes as Helka, Krafla, and Surtsey erupting and spouting.
How to get in touch: Geological Society of America, P.O. Box 9140, Boulder, CO 80301; +1 303 357 1005; www.geosociety.org/geoventures, or Holbrook Travel, a travel company that specializes in booking trips for zoos, colleges, and professional organizations, 3540 N.W. 13th Street, Gainesville, Florida 32609; 800 451 7111; www.holbrooktravel.com.
See the unreported side of modern Africa
If you've caught CNN International over the past couple of years, you know that Uganda is "gifted by nature," as the country's advertising slogan goes. You've seen lush jungle foliage, rugged river gorges, and silverback gorillas with biceps as big as telephone poles. But according to Maria Baryamujura, the founder of COBATI (Community-Based Tourism Initiatives), all the packaged safaris offer little benefit to the locals, 80 percent of whom live in rural areas. COBATI sets up homestay programs for visitors who want to learn about the real Uganda, whose economy has been based on small, African-owned farms since pre-colonial days.
How to get in touch: Cobati, Plot 6 Collville Street, P.O. Box 7493, Kampala, Uganda; +256 41 344613 or +256 77 506747; www.cobati.org.
Learn to gamble like Bond, James Bond
Monte Carlo has opera and ballet companies, a symphony orchestra, and an Oceanographic Museum that was directed for many years by none other than Jacques Cousteau. But the reason many people flock to this scenic principality between the French Alps and the Mediterranean is plain and simple: They like to gamble. But don't expect to rub elbows with any of the 30,000 Monégasques, as Monaco's citizens are called, because they're forbidden from gambling. Instead, you'll be gambling next to Arab oil magnates, tennis stars, famous actors, yachters, and other millionaires who have second homes in the fairy-tale city, because even part-time citizens are exempt from paying taxes.
How to get in touch: Casino de Monte-Carlo, Place du Casino, MC 98000 Principality of Monaco; +377 9216 2000; www.casinomontecarlo.com.
Study at the world's oldest English-speaking university
You don't have to be a Rhodes scholar to study at Oxford University. Thanks to the university's Department for Continuing Education, anybody can take classes at this prominent institution. The "Oxford Experience," a residential summer program, is designed for nonacademics who want to spend a week learning about, say, global warming or Victorian fiction while hanging out in the city Oscar Wilde, one of the university's many famous students, said was the "most beautiful thing in England."
How to get in touch: Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford, Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, England, OX1 2JA; +44 1865 270360; www.conted.ox.ac.uk.
Study marine biology on the Great Barrier Reef
If you're a scuba diver, Australia's Great Barrier Reef is your mecca. At 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers) long, it's like nonstop coral all the way from New York to Kansas City. It's the world's largest living organism and the only one that can be identified from space. AustraLearn, a Westminster, Colorado-based company that sends college kids to study at Australian, New Zealand, and South Pacific hot spots, offers ten-day to two-week learning trips to the Great Barrier Reef. Administered by the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of Queensland, these courses are geared for college students, but will happily admit anyone with a year or more of college credit under their belt—no matter what age.
How to get in touch: Centre for Marine Studies, Level 7, Gehrmann Building, Research Road, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, 4072 Australia; + 61 7 3365 4333; www.cms.uq.edu.au, or AustraLearn, 12050 N. Pecos Street, Suite 320, Westminster, Colorado 80234; 800 980 0033; www.australearn.org.
Walk in the footsteps of Alexander the Great
Peter Sommer, a British archaeologist who in 1994 retraced Alexander's march from Troy to the battlefield of Issus, may very well be one of the world's best messengers in telling the great man's story. Two years after Sommer's epic reenactment (without the pillaging and town besieging, of course), he started a travel company to lead archeology tours to the country he had fallen head over heels for and he has now been doing it for more than ten years. Once a year, he leads (yes, he personally escorts it himself) a 19-day "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great" trek across Turkey's Anatolia covering the first leg of the great leader's extraordinary 22,000-mile (35,406-kilometer) journey.
How to get in touch: Peter Sommer Travels, 96 Monnow Street, Suite 2, Monmouth, NP25 3EQ, England; +44 1600 88 220; www.petersommer.com.