Key chains are cool. Snow globes, classic. But for a souvenir you won’t lose in the back of the junk drawer, try learning a new skill on your next vacation. Lodgings in Alabama, from luxury resorts to New Agey inns to historic cabins, offer creative classes for guests who want to pick up a new skill or get better at their favorite hobbies.
Find more peace than quiet at one of Birmingham’s newest bed-and-breakfasts. Tucked into the Five Points neighborhood, The Treehouse offers guests a blend of guided meditation, yoga classes, and access to a licensed counselor.
That’s on top of high-quality linens, health-conscious breakfast bowls, and serious New Age vibes set in a five-bedroom historic Victorian home. “It’s just a conglomeration of all the things I love most: mental health, community, and hospitality,” says proprietor Renny Ratliff, who opened her doors just over a year ago.
As for the yoga itself, aside from spaces to practice inside the home, Ratliff leads two to three fast-paced Vinyasa sessions a week. “We get your heart rate up,” she says.
Nail the perfect steak temperature or master tapas at one of the state-of-the-art cooking courses at the Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook. Or learn the oenological art of wine blending from a trained sommelier. The art-filled luxury hotel in Birmingham is the second hotel in the country to offer wine-blending courses. Participants not only take home their own bespoke bottle, but design the label, too.
For something more intimate, Lucia Bleu Cottages, which opened in Fairhope in 2019, offers guests well-appointed kitchens, beautifully airy dining spaces, and optional private cooking lessons with chef Kristin Alpine of Wildflowers and Fresh Food. Choose-your-own-adventure menus run from mocktails to desserts and include entrées like Manchego with habanero peaches or roasted salmon with citrus salsa verde. “It’s fresh, healthy, simple—something people can make on a Tuesday night or serve to their in-laws,” says Alpine, a trained nurse with a wellness and catering background.
Nature classes and hikes
Travelers whose tastes lean more rustic can rely on the Alabama State Park system for lessons on Alabama’s famous flora and fauna. Joe Wheeler State Park’s naturalist leads regular educational hikes for guests staying on-site (along with day-use visitors). Among the most popular topics: the park’s “champion trees,” which include the biggest, tallest, and oldest in the state.
Farther south, inside Oak Mountain State Park, lessons get wild. Shelby, a glove-trained adolescent bald eagle, and her fellow feathered ambassadors teach visitors about indigenous raptor species at the Alabama Wildlife Center, which rehabilitates nearly 2,000 wild birds per year. “She’s probably the largest bald eagle our visitors will ever get the chance to see,” says Doug Adair, chairman and CEO of the center, who noted Shelby’s 8-foot wingspan. Another showstopper? The Eurasian eagle owl, the largest owl species in the world. Raptor chats take place every weekend. A boardwalk nearby offers a self-guided tour of other raptor enclosures.
Freshwater fans head northeast to Chesnut Bay Resort, where a community of family-size lake homes offer guests access to two beaches, kayaks, water bikes, and more on the 30,200-acre Weiss Lake. Starting around Memorial Day weekend, on-site boat and Jet Ski outfitter Weiss Watersports teaches amateur anglers and pros alike the best bait, hidey holes, and techniques for fishing in the “Crappie Capital of the World.”
For a saltier experience, hang ten at Perdido Beach Resort, newly revamped and reopened after Hurricane Sally. The full-service Orange Beach resort contracts with local outfitter Sail Wild Hearts to teach up to six guests how to surf, when conditions permit. Or hop on a six-person Hobie Cat, a small catamaran designed for newbie sailors, with an instructor to learn your starboard from your port, along with other small-craft fundamentals. Simply relaxing and enjoying the 30-minute ride is also allowed.
Twenty-six challenging courses designed by legendary golf architect Robert Trent Jones are sprinkled through Alabama in 11 locations, including eight with attached resorts. At Auburn Marriott Opelika Resort at Grand National, book a private lesson from a PGA pro and use the three-tiered driving range to get ready for the September reopening of the public club’s revamped Links course.
In Fairhope, the Lakewood Club at the Grand Hotel Golf Resort and Spa offers guests access to its expansive practice area, dubbed “The Experience,” which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. Challenge your skills on 2,200 square feet of USGA putting greens. And, of course, PGA pros are on hand to help you make the most of The Experience, with one-on-one instruction.
As an award-winning journalist and travel writer, Jessica Fender learns something new every day. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @TravelerBroads.
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