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AS THE school summer holidays reach their peak this month, all the European hotspots are teeming. More distant destinations aren't such a good idea in August either, with the threat of hurricanes in Florida and the Caribbean. Finding quiet, relaxing hideaways beside the sea becomes a major challenge.

Now is the time to head for the last three Canary Islands unspoilt by the package firms (who have now snapped up all the hotels in Grand Canary, Tenerife, and even Lanzarote and Fuerteventura). But you'll need to persevere; the three islands in question - La Palma, Gomera and El Hierro - don't have international airports. Nor do they have sandy beaches, but they do have mountains, cliffs, volcanic craters, forests and a quiet, dignified way of life.

La Palma is the green island, beautiful but often wet. Its highlights include a huge crater, and the capital, Santa Cruz, with its balconied colonial houses. Gomera is the island Columbus set sail from on his journey west in September 1442; until then, El Hierro was the end of the world - the tiny volcanic full stop that still rarely features on the map.

Further afield, the Seychelles beckon in August. South-easterly winds bring cool, dry weather to the islands until October, when it can turn wet and squally. Green turtles rest on Bird Island, which beachcombers will find themselves sharing with two million terns. Fraslin is the botanists' Garden of Eden, with wild orchids,mangoes, palms, bamboo and coco-de-mer trees.

Only on the main island of Mahl are the beaches at all built-up, and it's easy to island-hop between completely unspoilt destinations; it's 30 minutes or so by air to Fregate, Bird, Praslin and Denis islands, or three to four hours by inter-island schooner to Praslin and La Digue.

In Africa this month, a tide of wildebeest and antelope sweeps from the burnt plains of the Serengeti to the lush pastures of the Masai Mara, returning south again in October. The migration is one of the world's great natural dramas - often harrowing, as the death rate is high, but nevertheless unforgettable.

Back in mainland Europe, it's take a gamble time as travel firms clear their shelves at bargain-basement prices. The mechanics are simple: the holidaymaker chooses the resort or area, and the tour operator picks the last-minute accommodation, which is often not allocated until after the flight lands.

Away from the popular resorts, France still has hidden backwaters - the oyster and cognac country of Charente, the secretive villages of the Vercors plateau, the valleys of the Cevennes, and the vineyards of Languedoc - where gites or cottages attract holidaymakers on a budget.

August is also the month when parents wonder what to do with the children. Summer camps in the UK and abroad offer canoeing, computing, abseiling and pony trekking - enough to challenge the liveliest eight- to 18-year- olds. A word of warning: until there is statutory regulation, it is up to parents to check each centre's safety standards, and each operator's financial standing.


Canary Islands: Air Fares (0171-707 9000) offers charter flights for pounds 230-pounds 300; look out, too, for advertised last-minute bargains. Accom-modation and ferry information is available from the Spanish National Tourist Office (0171-499 0901).

Seychelles: return flights from STA Worldwide (0171-361 6262), and economical last-minute b&b packages from Kuoni Limited Editions (01306 743000).

Serengeti: return fare of pounds 547 to both Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Nairobi in Kenya, booking through STA (number above).

France: Gites de France (0171-493 3480) has more than 2,300 gites for rent, graded according to comfort, from approx pounds 150 per week per property (there is a pounds 3 membership fee). The company will also book the ferry passage for you.

Summer camps: PGL Adventure Holidays (01989 768 768), the largest, longest- established organisation, has a big choice of camps in the UK and abroad. Prices from pounds 250-pounds 300 a week, all-inclusive.