The best of Europe: our top locations for 2014

There are few places that outshine Europe when it comes to the sheer variety of culture, languages and food on offer in such a compact space.

And for those looking for a break in the early months of the year, this is exactly what you need – warm, welcoming cafés, museums chock-full of treasures and galleries brimming with cutting edge art, all ready to work their charm regardless of the weather outside. Then as we creep towards spring these same European cities come into their own, offering up delightful mazes of cobbled streets, large green spaces and riverside or beachside walks to help us make the most of the longer days.

Look no further if you need inspiration for a European break over the coming months: here are our top 4 recommendations for the best language learning destinations in Europe.

1. Valencia, Spain


Spain’s third largest city sits on the Mediterranean coast and is blessed with a glorious climate, fun-loving inhabitants, delicious food (being the birthplace of paella) and an innate ability to throw a good party. Time your Spanish language holiday in March and you’ll be utterly mesmerised by the explosive Las Fallas festival, one of the world’s most impressive pyrotechnic displays accompanied in all its glory by sculptures, traditions, music and satire. This year’s dates are March 15th-19th. Outside Las Fallas, make sure you don’t miss a walk through the labyrinthine cobbled streets of El Barrio del Carmen, not just to admire the imposing medieval buildings of this charming district, but because by night this becomes one of the liveliest places in the city to go out. Frequented by tourists and students alike, this is the perfect place to practise your Spanish over a plate of tapas! Valencia also boasts a long list of must-sees (including Veles i Vents by the port and the Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencias), a flourishing restaurant scene, lively nightlife, great shops and, of course, miles of golden beach. Little wonder this is fast becoming our hot new place to learn Spanish.

Spanish courses in Valencia

2. Berlin, Germany


It’s over twenty years already since the fall of the Wall, and although Berlin will always have huge historical and political significance, this is a city that has unreservedly thrown itself into its future with barely a backwards glance. What we have now is an energetic, modern and edgy capital city that is the epitome of ‘cool’. Whatever you want, you have it. An open-air museum with famous landmarks at every turn, world class museums and galleries, striking street art, insatiable nightlife, hip flea markets, food of all ethnicities…in Berlin you can do what you want and, above all, be who you want. The great thing is you can take a German course in Berlin for as little as a week and this will give you a brilliant insight into this fascinating city – even more so if you stay with a local family. This is our most popular place to learn German and you’d be hard pushed to find somewhere more exciting to learn a language.

German courses in Berlin

3. Aix-en-Provence, France


Ohh, we sigh, as we think of Aix. As the days start to stretch out, thoughts of a languid provençal lifestyle trigger something deep in our psyche, the part that yearns to pluck sun-warmed fruit from a local market, sip steaming coffee from an umbrella-decked ‘terrasse’ and wander carefree down cobbled streets and leafy boulevards. Artists such as Cézanne have long been known to settle in Aix for its stunning landscapes and light. Linguists have long been attracted here as you cannot help but want to learn French in Aix’s inspiring surroundings. Find out what all the fuss is about with our French & Discover Provence Course, the perfect opportunity to learn the language and meet like-minded people whilst enjoying all that the city has to offer. Or why not indulge your passion for French cuisine with a French & Provençal Cooking course (next start date 17th March) or enjoy the finer things in life with our French & Wine Tasting course. Santé!

French courses in Aix-en-Provence

4. Paris, France


Paris has, and always will be, a magical city. It’s a chic European capital often chosen as a weekend escape, but scratch the surface and you’ll find it’s so much more than the picture-postcard Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe we all know and love. Bohemian Montmartre, avant-garde Montparnasse, the high-brow Latin Quarter…each arrondissement tells a different story, local bistros and hidden bookshops as essential to Paris’ personality as the high heels and short skirts of the Moulin Rouge. Year after year Paris is one of our most popular locations to learn French, partly thanks to our vast range of French courses across three schools which ensures we have the right course for you. From intensive mini-group courses to Saturday courses and A Level Revision courses (next start date February half term), studying French in its iconic capital city has never been so easy.

French courses in Paris

Cactus offers language courses for all ages and levels in locations across the world.

Las Fallas: not your average fireworks display

If you’ve not heard of Las Fallas, let its meaning of ‘the fires’ in Valencian give you a clue. True to its name, Las Fallas is a spectacular pyrotechnic festival like none you have seen before; it is one of Spain’s most famous and certainly one of the world’s most unique. Taking place in the usually calm city of Valencia each March, be warned that this is a fiesta for those who like noise and little sleep.

Dates to note for this year are 15th – 19th March 2014, which mark five wild days of fireworks, fires, explosions, parades and, in true Spanish style, partying long into the night. All this is held in honour of St Joseph, which marks Father’s Day in Spain, and in celebration of the arrival of Spring as the long days of Winter draw to a close. Paella contests and beauty pageants even find their way into the celebrations.

Centre stage at Las Fallas, however, are the ninots, giant papier-mâché figures that are paraded through the streets and left to tower up to 20 feet over the crowds for the duration of the festival. Often exaggerated and ranging from playful to grotesque, these figures satirise political figures, bullfighters and all kinds of tv, sports and film personalities, who appear in colourful caricature across the city for all to see – at least, that is, until the final night.

Having been pain-stakingly created in the months leading up to the festival, the climax of Las Fallas is the burning of these monumental effigies in one fell swoop at the very end. Known as the cremà, this ritual sees some 300 firemen on standby and ambulances ready to whisk the faint-hearted off to hospital – a dramatic but necessary precaution, given the extent and exuberance of the fires.

It is a similar situation with the mascleta, which takes place in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento at 2pm each day of the festival. In this event different neighbourhoods of Valencia compete for the most impressive display of fireworks, firecrackers and rockets, culminating in the terremoto (literally, earthquake), as everything explodes simultaneously. It may come as no surprise that pregnant women are unable to attend the mascleta, for even regular healthy people have been known to succumb to the ‘heat’ of it all.

Valencians wouldn’t have it any other way though. This is their festival and they are rightly proud of it. Each year they channel energy, life and extravagance into Las Fallas, resulting in a 5-day-long fireworks party matched by no other. You could take your ear plugs, but then that would ruin half the fun…

Cactus offers Spanish courses in Valencia and in other locations across Spain.

Language course review: a week of German tuition before Christmas

Ernesto Forner, Head of Corporate Language Training at Cactus, tells us about his German course in Berlin in December

This was probably the best time to spend a week of German immersion in Berlin, enjoying the celebrated Christmas markets around the city and all the winter delicacies like Lebkuchen, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts or Stollen to name a few. The school is strategically situated in the district of Prenzlauer Berg, just walking distance from Mitte, the centre of Berlin, and very near different means of transportation. When walking around the streets near the school, one gets the feeling of a vibrant young city which is orderly and designed to be lived in and enjoyed. Bicycles, trams, pedestrians and cars all share a very well defined structure in a harmonious and respectful approach. It is far from the madness, chaos and overcrowding that can be experienced in the bigger European cities of Moscow, London, Paris or Madrid. Berlin is a city made for its citizens: it is ample, green, quiet and harmonious.


(Image: Ernesto’s favourite shop in Berlin – Ritter Sport chocolate!)

When you walk into the school, you also get a feeling of efficiency and harmony. The staff are very friendly, helpful and pro-active and I always felt I knew what I needed to do and be. The building is modern and quite original, with an inner courtyard (a common and famous type of construction in Berlin) consisting of gardens and residential buildings for students. The rooms are also modern, big and clean, creating the perfect environment for learning the language.

I took a 20 hour general language course. I had 2 hours of learning with a teacher, a 30 minute break and another 2 hours or learning with a different teacher. This exposed us to two different teaching styles, accents and approaches to language learning. I was placed in a level a bit higher than what my level really is, and even though this took me out of my comfort zone, I must say I learnt probably more than if I had been placed at my right level. Once you reach Intermediate level, it is easy to follow the language being taught regardless of whether you are placed higher than where you really belong. It’s a way to push yourself harder and it is important not to lose self-confidence when realising everyone else in the classroom has a better level than you.

After 5 full days of lessons, I was impressed at how much I had learnt and I would have loved to have been able to continue learning such an amazing language in such a great school with such fantastic teachers. Unfortunately, it was time to leave, but I will most definitely be going back to the amazing city Berlin is, and make sure I continue with my learning experience at that same school.

Ernesto took a German course in Berlin with Cactus. Cactus offers German courses in other locations across Germany, as well as part-time and evening courses in German in the UK and the US.

Cactus Teacher Awards, Jan-March 2014: WIN a course & reward your teacher

The Teacher Awards are your chance to let everyone know how great your teacher is!

The Cactus Teacher Awards were launched in January 2013 and run each term of our evening and part-time language courses in the UK and the US.

If your teacher wins, he or she will receive a £100 or $100 voucher prize and you will receive a FREE 10-week evening language course!

The winning teacher will also receive a certificate stating that he or she has won the Cactus Teachers Award.


To enter your teacher in the Teacher Awards, simply visit and ‘like’ the Cactus Language Teacher Awards page on Facebook and submit your comments on:

“My teacher deserves to be nominated because…”

Terms and Conditions Apply.

The closing date is Friday 28th March 2014.

Good luck! We look forward to receiving your comments and to awarding the course and prize money at the end of term!

Cactus Worldwide Monthly Blog: January 2014


Hello, and welcome to the first 2014 edition of the Cactus Worldwide blog! My name is Ollie, and I am the Product Manager for our agency – Cactus Worldwide. Our team of experienced course advisors are here every day to discuss options with you and help set up a varied range of unique language-learning experiences, all over the globe, throughout the year, for all of our wonderful students.

This month’s blog is aimed at letting you know about some of the best special offers and early bird discounts that are available to you this January, including some big birthdays and the birthday deals available to help celebrate them! If you have any questions about anything you read here, please feel free to contact me directly via and I’d be happy to help.

1.       Thinking about taking a German course in beautiful Vienna this summer? Call or e-mail us to book any adult course for between June 1st and August 31st this year, and we’ll give you a discount of £100! Valid until the end of January.

German Courses in Vienna with Actilingua and Cactus Language


For anybody out there thinking about taking some time out to learn German abroad this summer, this is a deal well worth checking out! Our partners in Vienna, Actilingua, are offering a discount of £100 off any adult course booked during January for the summer months of June, July and August – and all you have to do is call or e-mail Cactus quoting ‘Early Bird’ and we can apply the discount to your enrolment straight away.


The must-visit city of Vienna has a historic cultural tradition and the Actilingua Academy can help you learn not only the local language, but also find out much more about Viennese literature, famous Austrian painters, the local film scene, and the fascinating architecture of what is perhaps also the safest and cleanest city in Europe.


To make things easier, the school also own and operate their very own clean and modern student residence, which consists of 20 tidy en-suite apartments in a renovated Art Nouveau building just 10 minutes away from the school on foot (photo above and below). The residence fills up quickly, so it’s worth book early to avoid disappointment. Click here for more info.


2.       Happy 25th Birthday to IH Lacunza in San Sebastian, Spain! Call or e-mail us and say ‘Happy Birthday Lacunza!’ before booking, and we’ll discount £30 off the total price – on all bookings until the end of April.

Spanish in San Sebastian, Spain, with IH Lacunza and Cactus Language


Perhaps one of the most significant birthdays being celebrated amongst our colleagues in Europe this year is that of IH Lacunza in San Sebastian on the northern coast of Spain, who are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their inception in 1989! To celebrate, they themselves are giving away the presents, by offering Cactus students an immediate discount of £30 off the course price just for wishing them a ‘Happy Birthday’ – and then a further surprise birthday present on arrival at the school, which could be a free dinner, tour, excursion, or ticket for a local activity! The offer is valid on all courses starting in 2014, and is valid on all bookings until the end of April – so plenty of time to get organised.


Lacunza is just 5 minutes’ walk from the centre of San Sebastian, a town less well-known than some of its bigger counterparts, but growing in popularity for its sandy beaches, surf, nightlife and a generally cool, laid-back and authentically Spanish atmosphere. The school itself offers everything expected of a large and successful language school, including 10 bright air-conditioned classrooms and an excellent range of study facilities. All Spanish teachers are native speakers and work alongside school staff to help students get the most out of their stay in San Sebastian via the social programme, and encouraging students to join their intercambio programme, to meet other students and local people! Lacunza’s success is in their experience, and they are well worth joining for a party this year if you find a spare week or two. More info here!

3.       And finally, Happy 20th Birthday to Intercultura in Heredia, Costa Rica! To celebrate, we can offer our students a discount of $50USD per week – again, just call or e-mail us to say ‘Happy Birthday Intercultura!’ and we can discount your booking for you (Heredia only, not valid for courses on Samara Beach).

Spanish in Heredia, Costa Rica, with Intercultura and Cactus Language


Throughout 2014, our partners in Costa Rica are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the establishment of their school in Heredia, in the capital area, close to San Jose. To share the celebrations with their students, they are offering a discount on all adult group courses of $50USD (approx. £32/37EUR) per week regardless of how long you stay in the town. Better still, this offer is valid all year long! You can call or e-mail us anytime, and as long as your course starts in 2014, the discount is all yours.


Why visit Intercultura in Heredia? From the second floor roof terrace of the school you can see the mountains to the north and the valley to the south; from the balcony you can see the colonial church spires and the palm trees of the central park, 4 blocks away, where bright green parakeets gather at sunset, singing so loud you can sometimes hear them all the way from the school! Nearby you also have Barva volcano, the Ojo de Agua natural spring pools, and the La Paz waterfall gardens, where you can hike down a path right next to 6 giant waterfalls. Enough said? Click here for more info.

We hope this selection has been of interest, and may have given you some ideas for some bargain study options for the year ahead. Any Qs at all, please feel free to contact me directly and I’d be happy to help.

Happy planning 😉

Best Wishes,



Oliver Donovan

Agency Product Manager


Cactus Teacher Awards Winners – Autumn 2013

Drum roll, drum roll…announcing the winner of the Cactus Teacher Awards!

As usual we ran our Cactus Teachers Awards last term and were delighted to receive wonderful comments about our teachers from many students. Thank you to our students for taking the time to tell us about your teachers, and congratulations and thanks to our teachers for consistently delivering such high quality and inspiring courses.

Our winning comment for the Autumn 2013 term was for Lina-Flore Beaujoie, who taught our French Beginner 1 course in London Holborn-Russell Square. Lina wins a £100 voucher and her student, Victoria Krivolap, wins a free 10-week evening course.

Here is Victoria’s winning comment:

“My teacher deserves to be nominated because she is the most creative person with her own approach to the learning process. Our lessons are very diverse: we read, listen, play different educational games, do quizzes and discuss different topics…so we cover not only the simple vocabulary.

Lina-Flore Beaujoie is passionate about her work and I, as her student, feel this passion and enjoy it. She puts her heart into the way she teaches the language.

I was really surprised by her methods and strategies because of my personal results in the French language in such a short period of time.

The best trait of character she has is that she keeps an eye on every student and treats him or her as if it was a private lesson! Each of us can feel like it is a one-to-one tutorial lesson and that is so great!

Every task that she gives shows how much she wants us to learn French really well. She encourages our efforts to go further than a textbook; we listen to CDs, view DVDs, etc. And she invites us to take part in funny language games which make the lessons so entertaining and interesting. Studying should be fun and Lina-Flore knows it!

Two hours of French lesson pass as one moment…I always feel sorry at the end of the class that now it is one more week to wait for the next one.

All in all, she is the best teacher I have ever had and if anyone asks me whom I can recommend for French tutoring, I would definitely name my teacher – Lina-Flore Beaujoie.”

On receipt of her award, Lina commented: “I feel very lucky to work for Cactus. The support and care you show for your team is truly commendable”. Alongside her voucher Lina has also received a certificate confirming her award.

Special mentions also go to the following teachers who received excellent comments from their students:

  • Lorea Acebes
  • Monique Baudet-Smyth
  • Anna Boratyn
  • Arek Arkadiusz
  • Emma Punchard

Congratulations to everyone and we look forward to another successful year of language learning and teaching!