Dream of doing more than reading a novel on when you go away? This year's hottest hols teach you new tricks in seriously stunning surroundings

‘I’m heading on an American adventure'

Jessica Richley mixed a back-to-the wild tour of California's stunning landscapes with a taster of San Francisco's nightlife

Description: Landscapes

I have mixed feelings about being at one with nature. I like the countryside as much as the next girl, especially if it involves a pub lunch, but hiking up steep canyons in Yosemite National Park with bears and chipmunks as my companions is quite another thing. So I’m wondering what I’ve let myself in for as I arrive at San Francisco airport, ready to find out who else has signed up for this Wild West adventure. But any nerves are immediately banished by the warm greetings of Becky, our Great American Adventures tour guide.

The first night is a chance to sample San Fran, Our destination, the boutique Hotel Vertigo (hotelvertigosf.com), is brilliantly located near some great bars and clubs, so some of us head out to Chinatown, First up. a drink at the Vesuvio bar at 225 Columbus Avenue, a favourite drinking hole of Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac, followed by a Chinese meal at House of Nanking (919 Kearny St), which comes recommended by none other than Jamie Oliver.

The next day starts with an indulgent breakfast at Dottie's True Blue Cafe (522 Jones Street), and then it's time to get the adventure under way. It's a four-hour drive to our first stop, kayaking at Lake Tahoe, but luckily the time goes quickly as we wind our way through sweet old American towns dating back to the Gold Rush.

Description: Lake Tahoe

Once at Lake Tahoe, we have a quick lesson before leaping into action. I'm in the front which means I'm doing the motoring, while my kayak mate does the steering. My arms feel strained within a few minutes, but I'm hoping it will be a bit like running, where it gets easier after the first painful ten minutes! We follow our guide across the lake, stopping now and again to gaze at the stunning mountains which form fantastic ski slopes in winter. As the sun sets, the view from the middle of the lake is jaw-dropping.

After a night's sleep at the Montbleu casino resort (montbleuresort,com) - think 1980s Dynasty bling with in-room Jacuzzis - we're back in the minibus for the drive to Yosemite National Park, We're staying at the Wawona Hotel (yosemitepark.com), a traditional Victorian-style lodge house. The rooms are fairly basic but they suit the setting perfectly. It seems quiet without a TV in the room, but it's a joy to sit in the rocking chair on the porch reading a book.

It’s an early start for our day’s hiking in order to avoid the worst of the strong midday sun. As we begin our trek up the granite cliffs, carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago, we're stunned by beautiful waterfalls and incredible rock formations, such as the remarkable Half Dome where the top of the mountain looks like it’s been sliced in half. The hike is tough going as the temperature rises, and we're disappointed not to see any bears, but it's worth it when we arrive at Nevada Fall to see a rainbow arcing over the crashing waters. The steep descent tests my knees to the max - no wonder I sleep so well on the drive back to San Fran.

Back in the city, there's an evening cruise around the Bay with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and f decide to stay an extra night so I can explore more the next day. Being back in the big smoke makes me realise just how exhilarating the past few days getting back to nature have been. In fact, it all seems a bit tame in comparison!

Travel facts

Grand American Adventures run similar tours throughout America starting from $382 pp, or from $1,450 pp including flights, accommodation, private transport, park entry fees, guided walks, activities and sightseeing tours, plus a tour leader (grandamericanadventures.com; 0844 576 1406).

'Watch out, Williams sisters - I'm having a grand-slam holiday!'

Could tennis coaching in Lanzarote make Lyndsey Heffernan a player?

As and grew once Wimbledon girl for the Williams sisters, there's really no excuse for the fact I don't know my ace from my elbow. I long to hit the local courts, but it’s not much fun when I spend the entire time picking up missed balls. I've been put off lessons by the thought of learning with six year olds. Ah, but jetting off to be taught in the sun is a whole other, ahem, ball game. Here at the super-luxe Los Jameos Playa hotel in Lanzarote, there's not a child in sight as I arrive at the courts for my first lesson with coach Xavier. He starts me off with some ball-control exercises before teaching me the correct way to hold the racket (not as obvious as you'd think!) and we move on to hitting the ball. When the ball flies a mile into the sky and lands in next door's court, it becomes clear my Serena-inspired thwacks need some professional help. Xavier tells me not to put so much power behind my swing and explains the racket will provide the resistance if I angle it correctly. And he's right! Before long, I'm actually hitting the ball into the box, and we even have a few rallies that go into double figures.

Description: Los Jameos Playa hotel in Lanzarote

I was worried I'd exasperate Xavier with my novice status, but he's the most patient man ever. He changes the exercises as soon as I've mastered them, so the hour-long lessons fly by, after which I make full use of the hotel's other Zesty amenities; yoga, pool, gym, aqua aerobics classes and a much-needed massage. I also explore what the island has to offer, sampling the delights of both the oldest and most modern wineries, before sobering up with a volcano-steamed meal at EI Diablo in Lanzarote's National Park.

My trip to the Canaries ended all too soon, but given another week, I swear I'd be sharing a court with Venus and Serena again - racket in hand this time.

Travel facts

Classic Collection Holidays offers seven nights at Seaside Los Jameos Playa, from $1,077 pp (classic-collection.co.uk; 0800 294 9315) inc flights and transfers. Private tennis lessons, provided by PBI, cost from $54 (book: seaside- hotels.com; 00 34 928 511717).

Top search
- 6 Ways To Have a Natural Miscarriage
- Foods That Cause Miscarriage
- Losing Weight In A Week With Honey
- Can You Eat Crab Meat During Pregnancy?
- Grape Is Pregnant Women’s Friend
- 4 Kinds Of Fruit That Can Increase Risk Of Miscarriage
- Some Drinks Pregnant Women Should Say No With
- Signs Proving You Have Boy Pregnancy
- Why Do Pregnant Women Have Stomachache When Eating?
- Top Foods That Pregnant Women Should Be Careful Of
- 6 Kinds Of Vegetable That Increase Risk Of Miscarriage
- Is WORRIED your default setting?
- I am giving men the wrong signals...
- How to be a success of EVERYTHING! (Part 3)
- How to be a success of EVERYTHING! (Part 2)
- How to be a success of EVERYTHING! (Part 1)
- How To Avoid Office Politics
- What’s fueling team?
- Wanted: the most beautiful scent in the world
- Will this be London’s first female MAYOR?
- Ready, Steady death run
Top keywords
Miscarriage Pregnant Pregnancy Pregnancy day by day Pregnancy week by week Losing Weight Stress Placenta Makeup Collection
Top 5
- 5 Ways to Support Your Baby Development
- 5 Tips for Safe Exercise During Pregnancy
- Four Natural Ways Alternative Medicine Can Help You Get Pregnant (part 2)
- Four Natural Ways Alternative Medicine Can Help You Get Pregnant (part 1)
- Is Your Mental Health Causing You to Gain Weight (part 2) - Bipolar Disorder Associated with Weight Gain