couple wine tasting in south africa

Sharpen your wine tasting know-how in South Africa. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

Pearl Diving, Zanzibari Cooking and More — 6 Skills to Master in the Middle East and Africa

Forget run-of-the-mill vacations; seeking meaningful experiences and authentic cultural immersion while on vacation is now on the rise. Also known as “upskilling,” this burgeoning travel trend lets travelers pursue their passions, reconnect with forgotten hobbies or take the plunge and try something completely new.

From learning the ins and outs of an ancient Bahraini maritime practice to hopping on a vino-fueled tram in the verdant valleys of the Cape Winelands, these six notable classes across the Middle East and Africa will not only leave you with a camera full of Instagram-worthy memories, but a new skill — or two! — to boot.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Wine Tasting in the Cape Winelands of South Africa

A two-hour drive inland, east from Cape Town, takes you to South Africa’s best wine-growing region, the Cape Winelands. Surrounded by rugged peaks, this viticultural epicenter is home to several lush valleys and towns, including Stellenbosch, the country’s second-oldest town.

Hop on the Franschhoek Valley wine tram to start your wine-tasting adventure — eight different tram lines take you to 24 wine estates and cellars throughout the region. Favorites include Allée Bleue, an award-winning estate dating back to the 17th-century. Wine-tasting options here feature experts who not only teach you the right way to taste wine, but also provide a history lesson of the surrounding area.

At Middelvlei Estate, a 395-acre estate with a rich 100-year history, a unique wine blending workshop teaches the nuances behind blending different grape varietals. Attendees of this one-of-a-kind experience — booking in advance is a must — learn how to blend their own styles of wine, partake in a wine tasting, and leave with a bottle of their own individually blended wine at the end.

Embark on a Spice-Fueled Farm Tour and Cooking Class in Zanzibar

grilled food on table at zanzibar market
Savor the spices at a traditional market. (Photo: Getty Images)

Off the coast of Tanzania lies Zanzibar, an archipelago of several windswept islands most known for their lush spice plantations. Experience the best of what the islands have to offer with a spice farm tour and cooking class on Unguja, the largest isle in the chain.

Begin with a walk through Stone Town’s thriving main open-air bazaar, Darjani Market, for fresh ingredients before heading to one of the island’s renowned spice farms to discover how spices like nutmeg, cardamom, pepper and cloves are grown and harvested.

A cooking demonstration led by a local chef teaches you how to expertly use these fragrant ingredients to make traditional Zanzibari dishes such as sambusa (samosas) and meat pilau.

Learn How to Dive for Pearls in Bahrain

The centuries-old maritime practice of pearl diving put the tiny island nation of Bahrain on the world map. In its trading heyday, the archipelago was famed for its ability to supply up to 80 percent of the global demand for pearls.

Today, visitors to Bahrain can delve into the country’s heritage by signing up for an immersive pearl-diving experience. Departing from Ras Rayyah harbor on Muharraq Island, licensed dive companies take divers to four different locations abundant in oysters, coral reefs and endemic marine life.

Once back on the boat with your oyster haul — it’s not uncommon to collect more than 60 oysters in a single dive — the pearl-diving instructor will teach you how to pry the top shell off and search the interior for pearls. Be sure to have any of the elusive pearls you found appraised for quality and value.

Learn the Ancient Form of Bottle Sand Art in Aqaba, Jordan

sand art in bottles
Can you replicate this detailed sand art? (Photo: Getty Images)

Inspired by the area’s multicolored sands and rocky formations, the practice of sand art dates as far back as the fourth century, when the Nabataean kingdom flourished in Jordan. Today, the city of Aqaba continues this ancient form, with dozens of shops selling unique pieces since the early 1930s.

Book a hands-on experience to master this ancient art form yourself. Attendees, led by a traditional sand bottle artist, learn how to create their own unique designs using colorful layers of sand — ancient symbols, camels, desert scenes and sunsets are all common designs.

Take a Calligraphy Class at the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar

Housed in a striking, Cubist-inspired building designed by renowned architect, I.M. Pei, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha is a treasure-trove of Islamic culture and heritage.

In addition to the vast collection of Islamic art from the seventh to 19th centuries, this sprawling museum also plays host to a regular selection of courses and workshops for visitors of all ages.

Improve your penmanship with a calligraphy workshop that teaches the basics of Arabic calligraphy — an ancient form of art used in communication, design and architecture. Seek inspiration from the centuries-old Islamic Art that adorns the museum’s walls and cavernous spaces in order to create your own piece of decorative fine art.

Master the Art of Making Kunafa and Other Arabic Sweets in the UAE

kunafa on a plate
Enjoy whipping up kunafa. (Photo: Getty Images)

Made from rosewater-syrup-drenched shredded phyllo pastry filled with a salty, soft cheese interior, kunafa is a must-try dessert in the Middle East.

Dessert aficionados can learn the art of making this beloved local treat and other classic Arabic sweets at an intensive three-day workshop hosted by Richemont Masterbaker, a leading international baking and pastry school.

Focusing on both traditional and contemporary pastry-making techniques, the workshop also makes sure to discuss popular variations in fillings and preparation methods. An internationally accredited certificate is presented to attendees on completion.