Put away the feather boas, L-plates and novelty wigs; cancel the stripper and don’t get hung up on hangovers. Hen and stag breaks don’t have to spell an exercise in embarrassment and liver punishment, nor do they have to involve blowing the wedding budget in Las Vegas. There are now dozens of opportunities for groups of friends to get together for a celebration in intimate surroundings or out in the wilderness – you might return home having learnt a new skill, or even feeling refreshed.
In the woods
Spend the weekend out in the fresh air of South Devon or the Malvern Hills with Babes in the Woods (020 7193 8633; babesinthewoods.co.uk). Gentle activities include woodland rambles, foraging for seasonal goods to make anything from elderflower champagne to chutneys, bushcraft survival skills, yoga and campfire songs. There’s also the option to add massages. Rates start at £227pp including a night’s accommodation in a Californian dome tent, with all meals and activities.
For something a bit more pulse-raising, Tree Top Adventure (01690 710 914; ttadventure.co.uk) in Snowdonia offers an Adrenahen package. Navigate the high ropes course – including rope bridges and zip wires – then have a go at a parachute simulator from the top of a 100ft tower, and a five-man swing, suspended 80ft over the Conwy Valley. The day costs £70pp; accommodation can be arranged for an additional cost.
On a boozy break... with a difference
Hop to the heart of Germany’s brewing culture with UTracks’ Bavarian Beer Trail Cycle (0845 241 7599; utracks.com). This new, seven-day self-guided trip takes an easy route through the Aisch Valley – home to nearly a third of the nation’s breweries – with the option to stop for a sip after nearly every kilometre pedalled. You can also shorten the 60km circular route from Rothenburg to Bamberg via Nuremburg by using local trains and trams. With daily departures, the trip costs £695pp half board with bike hire, maps, luggage transfer and five vouchers for beer.
In France, Grape Escapes (01763 273 373; grapeescapes.net) offers a tour of Champagne from £341pp, which includes visits to family-run champagne houses to learn (and taste) the art of fizz production, plus a visit to the Moët et Chandon cellars for a tasting, a three-course dinner in Epernay, two nights’ accommodation and return Eurotunnel crossings.
At the last minute
The Magdalen Chapter hotel in Exeter recently launched a “Broom” package – essentially an opportunity for brides and grooms to gather their closest friends just before their wedding for a relaxing break. It includes two nights’ B&B with a three-course dinner in a private dining room, a cocktail-making class, access to the spa and two treatments, for £469 per wedding couple and £319 per additional guest. Bookings can be made for groups of between six and 12 people (01392 281000; themagdalenchapter.com).
On the water
Cruise the coastal waters – and drop anchor at the innumerable island beach clubs and bars – of Croatia with your pals on a skippered yacht. Seamaster Yachting (020 8127 1140; seamaster.co.uk) is one of a growing number of companies offering relatively affordable private yacht charter for novice sailors in the Mediterranean. A week on a five-cabin skippered yacht (sleeping 10) costs from £513pp including flights from Gatwick, transfers and accommodation. Food and drink for guests and the skipper are not included.
In the kitchen
Enjoy the sun-soaked flavours of Andalucia’s regional cuisine at Annie B’s Spanish Kitchen in Vejer de la Frontera (00 34 620 560 649; anniebspain.com). On the five-day Cooking, Sherry and Culture course, you’ll be tutored in the art of sherry tasting, visit a local fish market, take a tapas tour of Cadiz and learn to knock up paella, tortilla, fish stews and more during laid-back cookery lessons at an 18th-century country house. Private trips for up to eight guests cost from €220 per person, including classes, food and wine; accommodation and flights are not included; shorter and longer stays are also possible.