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A place and a time to do your own thing

Don't just flop when term ends, says Renata Rubnikowicz. Indulge your ruling passion

By the time the bell rings for the beginning of the holidays - whether it's Easter, half-term or summer - many teachers just want to flop.

"I've given my all to those kids," they say. "I am a husk of my former self. I can do no more." If that's how you feel, you might be tempted to make straight for the beach. But that's not the only way to put you in touch with yourself again.

Doing something you find absorbing can be a much faster route to relaxation. Here are just a few ideas for some real re-creation: Art for art's sake

Many mainstream tour operators now run holidays in charming locations for amateur artists. Unfortunately, few of these are useful to teachers as the resorts revert to their normal roles come the school holidays. This is where Anne Hedley's Painting Holiday Directory is invaluable. First produced in 1992, the pound;5 paperback has now spawned a website which, when I looked, was offering as its "holiday of the day" a summer school at Missenden Abbey in Buckinghamshire: weekends working in gouache, pastels and drawing are pound;174 (pound;73 tuition only) and there are also arts and crafts courses. Anne Hedley's intention is simple:

"to provide the best and most useful information to anyone who wants to enjoy painting in a different environment, with different people and with a selection of tutors". Not only does she fulfil her brief admirably, her book is crammed with school holiday opportunities in more than 100 places from Ireland to Nepal and Guatemala. Details: Anne Hedley, PHD Publications, PO Box 1, Ponteland, Newcastle upon Tyne NE19 2EB (tel, 01830 540 215);;

Cooks' tours

As with painting, many tour operators will run special courses only in term-time. One that breaks the pattern is Headwater. Its Italian Flavours of Amalfi tour is mouth-watering. From a base at the four-star Hotel Bonadies in Ravello the group pays morning visits to local dairies, fishermen, vineyards and olive oil producers, before coming back to join the chef Salvatore in making the most of the ingredients. The inexperienced can learn alongside more confident cooks and the finished dishes appear as part of the evening meal. For instance, the course begins with a visit to Maddalena, the local mozzarella maker, a tour of Ravello to see Greta Garbo's love nest at the Villa Cimbrone, and the Moorish cathedral, while the afternoon is spent learning how to make antipasti - perhaps mozzarella plaits mixed with fresh anchovies and fried. At the end of the week, before the final dinner, there's a free day to explore one of the nearby sights such as Pompeii, Capri or Sorrento. The price of pound;1,378 for the week beginning August 22 includes accommodation (based on two sharing), return flights from Gatwick to Naples and all cookery lessons and local visits.

Details: 01606 720033;

Operatunity, Italian-style

Where can you find 14,000 fans crammed into an open-air arena and be sure that no one's about to shout "goal"? At the Verona Festival, where opera buffs are prepared to queue for hours for the chance to elbow their way in to hear music under the stars in the ancient Roman amphitheatre. If you don't fancy the crush, specialist tour operator Martin Randall Travel has a very few places left on two of its tours in the summer holidays, which include reserved seats, scheduled return flights, hotel rooms a few minutes' walk from the amphitheatre, dinners with wine, and an art historian to guide guests round the splendours of the city by day.

The price of the July 24-28 tour (Nabucco and Aida) is pound;1,190; August 21-25 (Carmen, Rigoletto and Aida) costs pound;1,250. The company also recommends the Martina Franca Festival in Apulia, with performances of Massenet's Werther, Meyerbeer's Gli amori di Teolinda and Wolf's Spanish Songbook between July 28 and August 2, from pound;1,240. Details: 020 8742 3355;

Stars in your eyes

The play's the thing, but in London's West End you'll see the stars, too.

American talent is queuing up to appear there and the list of home-grown actors now in Hollywood who got their big break in the West End is long - Oscar nominee Catherine Zeta-Jones, who first made it big in 42nd Street, for one. Whether your taste runs to David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago (opening at the Comedy in May with Matthew Perry of Friends and Minnie Driver) or Chicago, the musical, a trip to the theatre is a sure-fire antidote to grimy reality. Highlife Theatre breaks will organise tickets for two shows (matinee and evening) plus bed and breakfast in a central London hotel from pound;98 per person. The company will also organise rail travel at extra cost. Details: 0870 9019633;

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