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.

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 Worldwide Monthly Blog: November 2013

Welcome to the November edition of the Cactus Worldwide blog! This month we’re bringing you ideas and inspiration for the fast-approaching festive season…

Hello, and welcome to November’s 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 options that we have available for language study over the fast-approaching Christmas period! As the vast majority of the private language schools out there close for a few weeks around this time, it can be difficult to find the right option for a special seasonal getaway – so here are our recommendations.

If you have any questions about anything you read here, please feel free to contact me directly via and I’d be happy to answer any questions.

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English in Brighton with Cactus Language – Christmas 2013

Regent Language Training, one of our partners here in Brighton on the south coast of the U.K., are keeping their doors open during the festive period (closing only for the Bank Holidays on the 25th and 26th of December, and January 1st) – and they are offering a very special package of classes, host family accommodation and activities for any students who would like to spend the festive season in England, and enjoy a unique cultural experience! You can click on the link here for more details, and please feel free to contact us via to check availability, or if you have any questions.


Regent is an academically-focussed language school, which places emphasis on helping students to achieve their goals in terms of English language. As a medium-sized school, students here benefit from a family-feel environment, excellent facilities and large, bright classrooms, and also receive a personalised learning experience where all teachers really get to know each student and are happy to help with any issue.

Also, why not come to Brighton a day or two early, so you can see the traditional ‘Burning The Clocks’ ceremony on December 21st! The event is a winter solstice festival unique to Brighton, created in 1993, and known for its alternative carnival atmosphere. (Image at top of page)

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German in Berlin with Cactus Language – Christmas 2013

Alternatively, why not spend the holiday period in the second-biggest European city, and arguably the must-visit destination of the decade? Everybody seems to be talking about Berlin at the moment – so why not take the opportunity to visit our partners, GLS, for a very special ‘Christmas Culture Special’, and take the time out to experience the best that this incredible city has to offer.

The full seasonal course is priced at a reasonable 950EUR (£819) all inclusive, or 650EUR (£560) without residential accommodation, and the site opens on December 22nd and closes on January 4th 2014. The course attracts students of all shapes and sizes from across the world – between 40 and 80 students each Christmas, made up of solo travellers, couples and small groups – so you can be assured of plenty of company from friendly, like-minded people!


Image: the ‘unofficial logo’ of GLS Berlin, who are based on Kastanienallee.

Here’s the full schedule:

22nd:  Arrival, check-in, plus a traditional 3-course German Christmas dinner at the school
23rd: 4 German lessons, plus a Pergamon Museum visit
24th: A guided walk along the famous Under den Linden boulevard, plus movie night at the school
25th: Christmas market shopping at Gendarmenmarkt, plus an evening organ concert at Konzerthaus Berlin
26th: Day trip to Potsdam, a visit of Park Sans Souci, Neues Palais, plus coffee in town
27th: 4 German lessons, free afternoon, plus ballet (Der Nusskracker) in the evening
28th: Guided day trip to Dresden
29th: Visit to Berlinische Galerie, plus a traditional dinner at Max und Moritz
30th: 4 German lessons, shopping, plus a visit to the Johanna Keimeyer art studio
31st: Guided walk in Treptower Park, plus Opera del Futuro & a NYE party at Radialsystem
1st: Ice-skating, plus an evening concert at Berliner Dom
2nd: 4 German lessons, plus a guided visit to the Topographie des Terrors museum
3rd: 4 German lessons, a guided visit of the Jewish Museum, plus farewell drinks and tapas
4th: Departure


Image: a panoramic view of one of the high-quality studio rooms in the on-site student residence at GLS.

If you like what you see, you can book online here – or feel free to contact us if you have any questions, via!

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European Portuguese with Cactus Language – Christmas 2013

Finally, how about a Christmas trip to Lisbon? Our partners, CIAL, also stay open throughout the festive period, closing only to observe the Bank Holiday on December 25th, and what they offer here isn’t a full package of activities and excursions, but an affordable closed group course for a maximum of 12 people, either at Beginner level or Intermediate (two groups). This makes it much more suitable to the independent traveller, and the cost is very reasonable at £401 for the fortnight, so great value in comparison with the high season.

Eirill Søiland, from Norway, spent 4 weeks with CIAL back in August, and she has been kind enough to provide us with some great photos and a brief personal review of the school, her course, and the surrounding area:


“I did a 4-week Intensive Course at CIAL in Lisbon. I originally wanted to live with a host family, but applied too late for this so did my whole stay in a hostel close to the school, Unreal Hostel. This turned out for the best, as other people from the school also stayed here.

I do not have any Latin language background at all, so found it a bit frustrating to be placed in a Beginners’ class where 5-8 students spoke (almost) fluent Spanish. I felt a bit uncomfortable in this class, so I asked to move, and was placed in a new class which was much better for me.


Together with the language school I had signed up for 10 surfing classes, which were well organised and really fun! The whole experience was really good, and the only thing I would have done differently would be to change my class a bit sooner, as I think I would have learned even more this way. Lisbon is an amazing city and I would love to go back.”

Again, I hope this has been of interest, and may have given you some ideas for a great way to end the year! Although availability tends to be good on seasonal courses until late on, I would still suggest early booking, before those holiday flight prices shoot up.

Any questions, please feel free to contact me directly and I’d be happy to help.

Happy planning! 😉

Best Wishes,


Oliver Donovan
Agency Product Manager

Top 10 FREE things to see and do in Berlin

Here’s our pick of the top ten free things to do during a visit to the city:

1. Go to see Checkpoint Charlie

When the East and West were divided, Checkpoint Charlie was the name given to the manned crossing point where you could officially pass from one side to the other. Although the wall came down in November 1989, the checkpoint remained an official crossing for foreigners and diplomats until German reunification in October 1990, when the guard house was removed. A copy of the guard house and sign that once marked the border crossing now stands where Checkpoint Charlie once was, and serves as a great indicator of how life was during the Cold War era.

2. Take a stroll around Potsdamer Platz

Lying about one kilometre south of the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz is a public square where the old road from Potsdam passed through the city wall of Berlin at the Potsdam Gate. Throughout the cold war it was left as wasteland, but since reunification, has been extensively re-developed. These days it consists of three developments known as Daimler City or the DaimlerChrysler Areal, the Sony Centre and the Beisheim Centre.

3. Take a free walking tour of Berlin

A great way to learn about Berlin and its history is to join this free tour. It begins at Starbucks Cafe on Unter den Linden and takes in all the sights within the area, including the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, and more. Start times are 11am, 1pm and 4pm every day.

4. Make the most of ‘free admission Sundays’

On the first Sunday of every month, tourists can take advantage of free admission to all the state museums, including the Pergamon, Alte Nationalgalerie, Altes Museum, Ägyptisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, Neue Nationalgalerie, Sammlung Berggruen, and the Museum for Gegenwart. You’ll have to be prepared for crowds, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to see some of Berlin’s best museums.

5. Visit the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate

Germany’s impressive Parliament building, the Reichstag, is well worth a visit. Entry is free, and you can wander round on your own, as there are no guided tours on offer. Climbing to the top of the glass dome will give you some great views of the city, and the exhibition of black-and-white photos portraying the history of the Reichstag since its birth in 1894 is fascinating. Once you’ve taken a look around the Reichstag, you should head to the nearby Brandenburg Gate and take a photograph of Berlin’s most iconic structure.

6. Walk around the Holocaust Memorial

This might not sound like an especially uplifting thing to do during a visit to Berlin, but the Holocaust Memorial is definitely worth visiting during your stay. Although horrific, the holocaust is nevertheless an important part of recent European history to learn about, and the information centre under the memorial will allow you to do just that. The memorial itself though is worth seeing quite in its own right – opened in May 2005, it occupies a huge site just south of the Brandenburg Gate, and is made up of more than 2,700 giant concrete slabs. It’s a very unique sight to behold and has attracted more than a little controversy over the years. Designed by architect Peter Eisenman, it is intended to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere and represents a ‘supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason’.

7. Take a look around the Volkswagen showroom

Of course, this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for any car lovers it’s an absolute must. Located on Friedrichstrasse at the corner of Unter den Linden and spread over three floors, the VW showroom contains every type of car under the Volkswagen brand for you to see. In the basement, you can also find information on the developments in space travel which the company has been involved in.

8. Explore the Eastside Gallery

Showcasing 1.3km of undisturbed Berlin Wall, the Eastside Gallery contains more than a hundred pieces of art – all painted directly onto the Wall. The gallery is open-air, so not one for a rainy day, but it’s definitely worth a look.

9. Walk around the Treptower Park

Located in former East Berlin, this massive park’s central area is dominated by the huge 1949 Soviet Memorial. Treptower Park’s burial ground is said to contain the remains of five thousand soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin, and is lined by marble sculptures depicting scenes from the war.

Berlin actually has a lot of parks and green areas to enjoy, all of which are free.

10. Head out to the Berlin hinterland

Admittedly, this may cost you a small train or bus fare, but once you arrive at the hinterland you can enjoy all that nature has to offer for free. Consisting of forests, lakes and beaches, the hinterland has long been popular with city dwellers who want to soak up some country air and enjoy the Great Outdoors.

Currently, Cactus works with two German schools in Berlin, each offering a range of courses at a variety of levels. Included in the course offerings are General, Intensive and Individual German, and the more specialist options of Teacher Refresher courses, Juniors course and Christmas/Advent courses. Find out more on the Cactus Language website.