Great Olympic escapes
Feeling inspired by the Games? Then plan some athletic endeavours of your own
What's the attraction?
You may have noticed: there's a bit of sport going on at the moment. It's fun to watch, but if London 2012 is to succeed in its legacy promise, the Olympics is also meant to inspire: to get us off our sofas and out running, riding, rowing or archery-ing.
"We're seeing the best of the world on our screens," says Olwen Law of horse-riding holidays specialist In The Saddle (01299 272997; inthesaddle.com). "Who can fail to be inspired by the stories of those who sacrifice all for their sport?"
Luckily, there are many options for travellers who want to give Olympic sports a try, whether it's a gentle immersion to a new sport, or a week of intensive focus to improve your technique.
Swim like Rebecca
Swimtrek (01273 739713; swimtrek.com) runs open-water swimming holidays that encourage both novices and waterbabies to swim historic straits (the Hellespont, Alcatraz) and shores (Lycian Coast, Sea of Cortez). The seven-day Short Swims Croatia trip (departs 15 Sept; £810pp, excluding flights) combines island-hopping and coastal swims, as well as stroke analyses to help you improve.
Swimming Without Stress (01239 613789; swimmingwithoutstress.co.uk) runs four-day residential courses in Pembrokeshire for complete beginners or experienced swimmers, for £360pp based on two sharing.
Gybe like Ben
When Weymouth & Portland's National Sailing Academy (01305 866000; wpnsa.org.uk) reopens on 14 September, there are courses for all abilities, including a two-day RYA1 Adult Beginner Course for £190.
Or consider the Caribbean. "The British Virgin Islands are known as the sailing capital of the world thanks to the weather and constant tradewinds," says Chris Lait, founder of Drake Academy, which runs luxury sailing trips around the BVI (020-7117 6375; drakeacademy.co.uk; 14 nights from £2,499pp, excluding flights). Learn how to tack, gybe and helm, or simply snorkel, swim and laze.
Pedal like Wiggo
While we're fast becoming a nation of cyclists – thanks to role models Wiggo, Hoy, Cavendish and Pendleton – France remains the sport's spiritual home.
Cycling specialist Velo Vercors (00 33 4 75 71 35 50; velovercors.com) is based in the French Vercors. The company's 600km Alpe d'Huez self-guided tour (22 Aug, 9 Sept 2012; £850pp excluding flights) tackles some of the Tour de France's most notorious climbs, including the Col de la Croix de Fer.
For something a little less daunting, the Healthy Holiday Company (020-8968 0501; thehealthyholidaycompany.com) offers a four-night road-biking trip in Mallorca. The price of £1,165pp includes flights, half board, expert guiding and three massages.
Run like Mo
To run like a champion, train where they train. Ethiopia produces some of the world's greatest long-distance runners – and amateurs can join them for hill reps and track sessions at the high-altitude Running Across Borders camp in Addis Ababa (0131 441 7399; runningacrossborders.org; US$80/£53 per day including accommodation and training, excluding flights).
Closer to home, Adventures in the Alps (0845 519 3101; adventuresinthealps.com) will sort out your stride patterns in the French mountains. The tantalisingly titled Running Made Easy trip (1-7 Sept 2012; £999pp, excluding flights) is for beginners and improvers, and includes advice on stretches, daily runs and motivational hypnosis.
Ride like Zara
The Azores is a good destination for novice riders. "Quinta da Terca has excellent horses and patient instructors," explains Olwen Law from In The Saddle. Its Azores Instruction week (£834pp, excluding flights) combines expert instruction,plus Azores Instructionwhale-watching.
Or try polo. Last Frontiers' week in Los Potreros, in Argentina, will see you riding Criollos like a gaucho (01296 653000; last frontiers.com; £2,690pp including flights). The family-run estancia, in the northern Sierra Nevada, offers rides through its 6,000-acre farm, camp-outs in the hills and polo lessons.
Get ready for Rio 2016
Olympic sports come and go. The 2016 games in Brazil sees windsurfing out, kitesurfing in. Which is apt, says Simon Williams of Bespoke Brazil (01603 340680; bespokebrazil.com): "Consistently strong winds in the north between July and January make for perfect kitesurfing conditions".
Bespoke Brazil's Kitesurf Brazil trip (from £2,130pp including flights) will get you ahead of the games. Spend 10 days on the country's north coast, exploring the dunes and lagoons. Pros can hire boards (up to £60 for up to three days) while three-day kitesurf courses (£338) are available for beginners.
Who said that?
"Sport is singularly able to give us peak experiences where we feel completely one with the world and transcend all conflicts as we finally become our own potential." George A Sheehan, American sport writer
"It may be that all games are silly. But then, so are humans." Robert Lynd, Irish writer
"Playing polo is like trying to play golf during an earthquake." Sylvester Stallone, actor
Sporting days out
No time for a long-haul Olympic-type trip? Then spend two days learning the ropes at Falmouth School of Sailing (01326 211311; falmouth-school-of-sailing.co.uk; from £165) or getting trail-running tips on Snowdonia (01286 872641; runsnowdonia.co.uk; weekends from £160). You could cycle the scenic Surrey Hills, location of the men's Road Race (020-3286 1407; just-pedal.com; weekends from £249), or paddle the Lee Valley White Water Centre after the canoeists have left (08456 770 600; visitleevalley.org.uk; from £10 per hour). To bend it like Beckham, head to the new National Football Centre in Staffordshire, opening 15 August, for fancy footwork coaching (01283 576200; thefa.com/St-Georges-Park; around £30 for two hours).
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