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The old photograph that filled my screen took my breath away, even choked me up a little. It was a restored image of the grandfather I’d never met and knew little about – but the face! It could have been my father, my brother, my son.
Genealogist Lorna Maloney paused a moment to let this sink in. She’s used to these kinds of reactions as the in-house genealogy expert for Dromoland Castle in County Clare, Ireland. I’d asked for her help tracking down the lesser-known Irish side of my family, but I was also drawn to the majesty of the historic five-star castle hotel with roots to the 16th century. At this point in my travel-less life, I’m long past looking at photographs and videos – what I need is something more tangible and concrete to sate a never-ending wanderlust.
For my one-on-one genealogy session, Maloney worked with the scant names and dates I provided and did her research, bringing me a colourful online presentation complete with records and photos and family lore I never knew before. The 45-minute session (usually held over tea and scones in one of the castle’s grand rooms) gave me a lot to go on as I now plan trips to seek out my ancestral stomping grounds in Ireland and throughout the U.K. I may be from “downstairs” stock, but I’ll definitely be wandering the grounds of Dromoland Castle as soon as I can. Maloney’s genealogy offering (for €220) is one of many ways would-be travellers can interact with a destination before they can actually be there.
From Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, a Belmond Hotel in Oxford, England, you can buy two-hour cooking classes with top chefs. Shopping and equipment lists help you get ready, and a chef’s apron and a copy of Raymond Blanc’s book Foolproof French Cookery are mailed out. Guests can join a larger group at £90 per person or book a private session starting at £1,000; shipping to Canada is available.
Local tour guides who normally shepherd Intrepid Tours guests around their cities now welcome them into their homes online with everything from cooking lessons to a Bolivian cocoa leaf reading ceremony. An hour-long Polish pierogi cooking class from Krakow, for example, begins with a list of ingredients to buy before the session starts. The guide cooks along with you in English, slipping in Polish phrases and facts as you work, and then you and your host enjoy the meal together. From $36 per person.
The majesty and opulence of the Tudor court is explored by curators and academics at London’s Hampton Court Palace. The free hour-long talk includes an early look at the museum’s upcoming exhibition Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King, noted for unveiling a rare tapestry of the period. March 24, donation suggested. For more details, visit hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/whats-on.
Art history classes from Victoria & Albert Museum in London are thoughtful time fillers that also help you prepare for your next gallery visits overseas. Expert-led courses on European masters in art, Islamic art and glassmaking are on offer. Start dates run through April, with fees starting at £120.
Jamie Oliver’s Cookery School in London has moved online. There are over 30 live classes, from all-day master classes to quicker hour-long lessons in all sorts of cuisines and meals. With all the home cooking, perhaps by now you could use their Knife Skills class? From £59.
Bespoke 90-minute birdwatching “walks” and safari “drives” can be booked with &Beyond. Wing-clipped travellers can watch at home as guides wander through the bush or head out on daily Jeep drives through Ngala and Phinda Private Game Reserves, Djuma Private Game Reserve, Tswalu and Karongwe (Pridelands) Game Reserve. Guides can respond to your questions and try to fulfill animal-viewing requests. Bespoke live tours from US$250 (with links for six devices). Note that spotty WiFi and time-zone issues can mean some tours are edited from the day’s exploration. But you can also watch highlights from past safaris online. For more details, visit andbeyond.com/andbeyond-tv/wildwatch-live.
Wander the markets of Marrakesh with your own personal shopper, who also happens to be an expert guide. Sweden-based Local Purse is working with Intrepid Travel tour guides and local retailers to help homebound travellers get their retail-therapy fix. Looking for a Berber rug? Or just the right spice? Find them in the souks – in real time – and meet the artisans as they explain their craft. From €80, shipping and duty costs for purchases are not included; localpurse.com.
Exclusive wine tastings from Napa Valley, anyone? Import a case from Hall winery and it comes with a half-hour live tasting session with a senior wine educator. The winery also helps guests choose the wine and sets up the online sessions.
Auberge Saint-Antoine in Quebec City offers Zoom en Cuisine: Culinary classes and meal kits with farm-fresh ingredients shipped to your home – if you live within a 20-kilometre radius of the hotel. If you don’t, you’ll receive an ingredient list and online link so you can still cook with head chef Alex Bouchard from the hotel kitchen. Saturday workshops in snow crab, lobster, parent and child pastry sessions and Easter brunch are on the schedule.
Inspired to paint away the COVID-19 blues? From his Mexico City studio, an Intrepid Travel tour guide and artist teaches watercolour classes inspired by Frida Kahlo. Work with your own paints while he talks about her wild life and times; lessons are offered in English or guests can work on their Spanish. Classes for all ages and skills. From $38 a person.
Talaysay Tours takes guests into Vancouver’s Stanley Park for an Indigenous history lesson, but also into Squamish and along the Sunshine Coast for more live storytelling and cultural immersion, such as totem pole art talks and how the forest has long been used for medicine, food and technology. From $30 a person; aboriginalecotours.com
Macaws, tapirs and jaguars, oh my! The Belize Zoo is offering live zookeeper walks. Staff will answer your questions and take specific animal requests. Half-hour, US$50; 90 minutes, US$100 for up to groups of 20. A recording of your Belize Zoo Live tour is also included.