Learning Holidays To Love

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Always wanted to write a book or improve your cooking? Use your time away to indulge in a favourite pastime or learn a brand new skill in beautiful surroundings.

Amanda Swift travelled to St Lucia to hone her writing skills. This article originally appeared in Woman & Home magazine.

Most of my family holidays for the past 20 years have involved camping, self-catering, hiking – and lashings of UK rain. So the idea of an all-inclusive writing holiday in a luxury Caribbean resort sounded like heaven, especially as I’d also have the chance to crack the novel I’ve been wishing I had time to work on for the past 20 years.

And from the moment we stepped off the plane into the brilliant sunlight of Saint Lucia, I felt transported into a totally different world. We drove through the bustling capital city of Castries and past banana plantations before arriving at the gorgeous East Winds resort, where we were welcomed with fresh fruit smoothies and cool flannels for our faces.

A warm sea breeze wafted as I unpacked in my Ocean Front cottage-style suite, and outside I could hear the tuneful croak of tree frogs. Home could not have felt further away. I was hopeful that here, I’d finally have the time and mental space to get creative. Early the next morning I was splashing in the sea before breakfast, which quickly became my favourite meal, with a different natural therapy drink and smoothie each day. I also loved the homemade natural yogurt and platter of honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon, with pineapple, mango, guava and papaya, and a slice of lime to squeeze over it.

The creative writing course is led by editor Victoria Pepe. We began with entertaining icebreakers, such as Pot Luck, where you write a story using four given words, and Alphabet Soup, a mini story of 26 words, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet. Over the week we also explored the vital elements of successful writing, including finding the story, structure, point of view/characters, voice and dialogue, plus how to edit your own – and other people’s – writing. We worked on exercises to develop our skills, and it was good to share our writing and hear feedback from Victoria and the group. Some writers built on an initial idea and developed it through the week. Others, who’d begun or finished their first novel, had the chance to hone their skills and prepare to pitch to agents and publishers.

Tuition was in the mornings, so there was plenty of time to enjoy activities in the resort in the afternoons. I tried the complimentary yoga and Pilates classes, and explored the walking trail through the 12 acres of tropical garden. I’d got to know my way around after head gardener Sylvanus’s fascinating garden tour, where he explained the names and uses of 100 plants, and shared tips on herbal remedies. Other more active types used the outdoor gym, which has workout stations dotted along the route. Kayaking, snorkelling, paddleboarding or Hobie Cat sailing were also on offer. I preferred the giant hammock – perfect for reading, writing or even a little post-lunch snooze. I love trying local ingredients wherever I am and was delighted to attend a cooking demonstration by chef Harry, who showed us how to make salt fish and green bananas, the St Lucian national dish. I also tried the banana pancakes made in front of me by Paula, who adds almond essence and nutmeg to the batter and makes her own syrup. Truly delicious.

The resort’s kitchen garden supplies seasonal fruit and vegetables for meals, and fish was often on the menu, sometimes from the resort’s barbecue, and even on the private boat trip we took to the Pitons – St Lucia’s famous pair of mountains – to experience the sulphur mud baths and squeal in a nearby waterfall. By the end of our course, the stunning vase of violet bougainvillea that had welcomed me to my room, was just starting to wilt, and the handmade chocolates, which had delighted me on my arrival were a distant memory, but I hoped that I would take a bit of St Lucia home with me beyond the banana ketchup, local spices and handmade soap I bought as gifts. I had a notebook full of tips and ideas to propel my writing. But I was suddenly struck by a thought.

I remembered the garden tour, when I’d asked Sylvanus if he’d ever been to England.
‘Oh yes,’ he said – he’d stayed in Camberwell and visited Kew Gardens.

‘I live near Camberwell,’ I said.

What if… that conversation had continued?

What if… a middle-aged holidaymaker met up with a Caribbean gardener in Kew?

What if… I’ve just had another idea for my novel?

Thanks, Saint Lucia, for the inspiration. I hope I’ll be back for more. >>

Find Out More

East Winds, Saint Lucia: save up to 20% per person and enjoy complimentary inclusions on a Creative Writing Retreat. Carrier (0161 492 1354, carrier.co.uk) offers seven nights from £2,515 per person (including discount) based on two adults sharing a Superior Cottage on an all-inclusive basis, including complimentary Garden Tour, one cooking class per stay, one private meditation session per stay, one private boat trip to see the Pitons and the sulphur mud baths, with snorkelling and lunch on board. Return flights from London Gatwick with British Airways and return private transfers. Offer valid 9-16 November 2019. Based on departures 9 November 2019.

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