Regardless of your religious beliefs, the holiday season always involves exchanging gifts with friends, family, and colleagues. It’s nice to know the people in your life got something specifically for you, but it’s likely you don’t really need or want another nice shirt. Once the craziness of the season comes to an end, give yourself something you do want by taking a vacation. Instead of going for a stay at your regular destination, try something truly memorable like cooking in Italy or scuba diving off the coast of Australia. These six getaways are special enough to make up for any lackluster gifts.
1. Taste beer in Belgium
Wine-specific trips have been popular for years, especially in Napa Valley, and it’s about time beer caught up. You can easily find great beer all over the U.S., some probably pretty close to where you live. But if you really want to experience something unique, you’ll want to book a trip to Belgium. This country is all about beer, which is evident from its continued standout performance at the World Beer Awards.
Get a bit of a history lesson while indulging in some great brews by visiting the famous Trappist monasteries. Here, monks have been brewing some of the most respected beer on the planet for centuries. USA Today Travel recommended some of their top picks to check out. Keep in mind, not all of the monasteries allow visitors, so check before just showing up. If you’re feeling uneasy about planning the whole trip yourself, plenty of tour companies offer packages designed for the beer lover interested in visiting Belgium.
2. Stay at an upscale ranch in California
The cowboy lifestyle sounds both appealing and too rough at the same time. You can get the same sense of adventure in a much more luxurious setting if you book a room at The Inn at Newport Ranch. Along the coast in Fort Bragg, Calif., this stay brings the country feel of a ranch to the modern day with gorgeous suites and phenomenal guest service. Of course, you can also go horseback riding or enjoy a meal in the great outdoors. And forget about packing fancy duds, because the dress code here is as casual as you’d expect at a ranch.
You’ll never have to leave the inn to have great meal, but you really should. Thrillist recommended some great places to eat and drink around Mendocino County. Anderson Valley Brewing Company is a must.
3. Master Italian cooking in Tuscany
You know you love Italian food and you’ve always wanted to learn how to cook the cuisine, so a trip to the source is your best bet. Head to Tuscany to immerse yourself in the culture surrounding some of Italy’s most delicious eats. Instead of dining out for all of your meals, try a cooking-intensive experience with FoodArtisans.com. Cookbook author and experienced instructor Pamela Johns leads multi-day culinary workshops that will have you cooking like an Italian in no time.
Choose from week-long courses or a variety of three-day options. You can choose a package based on particular interests like bread making, preserving, or making homemade cheese. Many of the ingredients you’ll work with come from a number of nearby farms, which gives local food a whole new meaning.
4. Go on Safari in Africa
Admit it, you’ve wanted to go on safari since the second you watched The Lion King for the first time. Though you can find tons of bargain safari options on every corner of the web, an excursion dealing with wild animals is not the type of vacation where you want to save a buck. The best tours tend to be expensive, but they’re a lot safer and you often get to accompany animal experts. National Geographic offers some incredible packages, including a 13-day long excursion to encounter mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.
You can score something cheaper, as long as you’re smart about it. Travel + Leisure recommended choosing a smaller camp because they’re less well-known, which means they don’t carry the same price tag. The article suggested Botswana’s Pelo Camp.
5. Ski without the crowds in New Mexico
Gliding down a snow-covered mountain loses a lot of its appeal when the slope is jam-packed with people. Forget about heading anywhere near Colorado when you want to ski this winter. Instead, head to Ski Santa Fe in New Mexico. This ski destination is just 16 miles outside of Santa Fe and boasts 79 trails that offer options for beginners as well as experienced skiers.
You’ll find plenty of accommodations in the area ranging from inexpensive to pricey. For those interested in luxury, Condé Nast Traveler recommended lodging at the Inn and Spa at Loretto.
6. Scuba dive in Australia
It’s just a happy circumstance that our winter is the middle of summer in Australia. This means January through March is the best time to take a trip down under. While the bustling cities have a lot to offer, the Great Barrier Reef might be the best reason to visit. Donning a mask is the best way to see the coral formations and sea creatures, so check out Sport Diver’s list of favorite places to explore.
If you’ve never been scuba diving before, you’ll have to take a course to get familiar with all the equipment and learn safety procedures. You’ll receive your license at the end of the course, which is usually good for life. If all that sounds like too much work, consider snorkeling.