Firing Up Creativity

Want to write a novel? Learn to paint? Speak Spanish? Here are getaways where you can learn something new and have fun doing it—from photo safaris to cooking classes to fly-fishing.

Travel > Nearby Getaways > Great Weekends 

Discover Hidden Talents at an Art Escape

Spark creativity during a weekend jewelry-making or ceramics class at Jacksonville Center for the Arts in Floyd, Virginia. Blacksmithing—which isn’t just about forging horseshoes—is popular, especially among women. “A lot of people are excited about working with fire and banging on hot steel,” says John McEnhill, the center’s director.

Classes—which also include fiber art, glassblowing, and painting—are in an old dairy barn; many are suitable for beginners. See or call 540-745-2784.

Between classes, visitors can hike the Blue Ridge or explore the town of Floyd, five hours from Washington. The Friday Night Jamboree at the Country Store features live bluegrass. At ecoconscious Hotel Floyd (, nearly everything from bathroom tiles to furniture is by local craftsmen.

Art on the Water

Closer to home, create a stained-glass masterpiece at Chestnut Cove B&B in Farnham, Virginia (; 804-394-3142). This weekend course in the Northern Neck takes you from start to finish in developing a design, cutting and grinding glass, and soldering and assembling your creation. The cost is $200 a person; lodging is $200 to $220 a person for two nights, double occupancy, including breakfasts and lunches.

Weekends That Make Great Photos a Snap

Do you come back from vacation with hundreds of photos—and just a handful of great shots? Consider taking a photography workshop.

“We teach how to shoot correctly the first time. Not just shoot, shoot, shoot and spend hours behind the computer sifting through photos for one good shot,” says Linda Lane of Bill and Linda Lane Field Photography Workshops. The Virginia couple—freelance photographers who have taught for more than a dozen years—offer weekend workshops in outdoor and nature photography. Courses typically cost $600 to $700 with lodging and some meals. For more details, see or call 804-883-7740.

Washington Photo Safari leads trips to photograph everything from waterfalls and covered bridges in Pennsylvania ($430 with two nights’ lodging and breakfasts) to the beauty of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge ($595 with two nights’ lodging and meals). For details, see or call 202-537-0937.

Horizon Photography Workshops focuses on nature photography, with getaways to such places as West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. Three- and four-day workshops cost $375 to $525 plus lodging and meals. See or contact 410-885-2433.

Recipes for Adding Spice to Life

Mercersburg Inn (; 717-328-5231), a turn-of-the-last-century B&B 11⁄2 hours from Washington, offers French-cooking weekends in partnership with Bethesda’s L’Academie de Cuisine. Hands-on classes with L’Academie chefs are held Saturday and Sunday mornings, followed by lunches featuring the food that has been prepared. Participants get a break from the kitchen on Saturday night at a dinner prepared by the inn’s chef ($85 a person with wine). The May weekend is full, but you can plan ahead—the next dates are September 12 to 14 and November 14 to 16. Classes are $175 a person, plus the room; rates start at $140 a night.

The Eastern Shore seems an odd place to learn Thai cooking, but chef Andrew Evans has spent years studying it and recently opened Thai Ki restaurant two blocks from his acclaimed Inn at Easton (Evans no longer cooks there). On two Sundays in May, when Thai Ki is closed to diners, Evans offers cooking classes from 3 to 7 pm. Stay the weekend at the Inn at Easton and spend Sunday making authentic Thai street food. The next classes are May 11 and May 18; call 410-310-2380 for reservations. The cost is $125 a person including dinner and wine. Rooms at the Inn at Easton (; 410-822-4910) start at $640 for two nights, including breakfast and one dinner for two.

Men, rejoice! The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia (; 304-536-1110), will host three Masters of BBQ weekends this summer—June 29 to July 2, July 13 to 16, and August 17 to 20. The fired-up escape, priced at $2,305 a person, includes three nights’ lodging, daily tastings, and half-day classes taught by Ray Lampe, a.k.a. Dr. BBQ, and Chris Lilly, winner of ten World BBQ Championships.

Every Saturday morning at Pennsylvania’s Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (; 800-422-2736), chef Dave Racicot of the resort’s acclaimed French restaurant, Lautrec, leads an intimate cooking class and tasting for 12 guests. $99 a person; book in advance. At 4 pm, catch a free cooking demonstration, then have dinner at Lautrec or at one of the resort’s other restaurants: Aqueous, a steakhouse, and Italian-focused Autumn. Rooms start at $469.

Standing over a hot stove may not be your vision of summer fun. But at Poplar Springs Inn in Casanova, Virginia (; 540-788-4600), summer cooking weekends focus on light, refreshing food: seafood (July 11 to 13) and local tomatoes and vegetables (August 8 to 10). Chef Howard Foer leads hands-on classes on Saturday morning, followed by lunch. That afternoon, activities include a winery tour, lavender picking, or a visit to a farm to sample homemade ice creams. On Sunday, guests can use the pool or get a treatment at the spa. The package is $962 a couple, including two nights’ stay, classes and activities, and a Friday reception. Spa treatments extra.

Dabble in farm-to-table cooking at Charlottesville’s Boar’s Head Inn (; 434-296-2181), where chef Mark Gallaudet leads classes centered on produce from the inn’s garden. “Roots and Fruits From the Boar’s Head Garden” weekends include a welcome bottle of Virginia wine, a dinner and reception on Friday night, and a cooking class with lunch on Saturday. The next scheduled weekend is July 18 to 19; $960 a couple including two nights’ accommodations.

Inspire Your Inner Writer

At the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing in California, Maryland (; 800-510-1049), the essayist, poet, and author of two books says she “breaks the process down and shows people how to write.”

A four-day, $975 Chesapeake Bay Retreat on Smith Island includes lodging, meals, workshops, and excursions to natural settings to collect impressions “and make descriptions come alive.” Classes are

co-taught by Tom Horton, a Baltimore Sun journalist who occasionally writes for The Washingtonian. A two-day retreat on Solomons Island is $245 plus lodging.

Learn a Language in a Weekend? Bien Sûr.

Want to brush up on your French or Spanish before heading to Paris or Madrid? Think about a language-immersion weekend in New York City, May 16 through 18 or June 20 through 22, run by the State University of New York at New Paltz (; 845-257-3500).

No books or studying—it’s all about having fun while practicing conversation. Programs in 20 languages, from Arabic to Ukrainian, are offered at all levels, even beginner, with participants divided into small groups according to ability. Sessions—which start Friday evening, run all day Saturday, and wrap up on Sunday at 2 pm—are at the Affinia Dumont Hotel (212-481-7600). The fee is $350; students make their own hotel arrangements.

Go Fish

Fly-fishing fans say the sport is wonderfully Zen—that there’s nothing better for the soul than spending hours on a river, bite or no bite.

If you’d like to make a genteel weekend out of learning this somewhat genteel sport, stay at Keswick Hall (; 800-274-5391) near Charlottesville and sign up for a half- or full-day lesson on its stocked lake or a nearby river; instruction is by Albemarle Angler ( A full day of instruction and fishing is $295, with lunch, for up to two people.

Can One Weekend Change Your Career?

Ever think about running a bed-and-breakfast or a bookstore? Dream about being a park ranger or winemaker?

Before you quit your day job, let Vocation Vacations offer an opportunity to try out a new career. Clients spend a few days shadowing a mentor in their prospective field, whether that’s brewmaster, sports announcer, or comedian. Fees range from $550 to $3,000. Most of the current offerings involve traveling outside the Washington area; see or call 866-888-6329.