"Spanish Collection", a programme of self-catering holidays from Ilios Holidays, offers gracious living and a glimpse of the working life of a finca or country estate.
Majaloba, a country house set within the peach orchards and olive groves of an estate four miles from Seville, has a pool, lovely gardens and all mod cons. The Andalucian exhibition horses bred on the estate are, however, to be admired only. Maja-loba accommodates eight, and costs pounds 1,484 per week until 25 August and pounds 1,215 after (travel excluded).
Holidaymakers who'd like to ride can hire horses at two other Anda-lucian properties: Las Corchas, a house on an estate 10 miles from Carmona, sleeps 10 and costs pounds 1,350 a week until 25 August and pounds 1,150 thereafter; the more luxurious Fuenteluenga, on an estate 20 miles from Seville, can accommodate 12 guests and costs pounds 1,620 a week until 25 August, pounds 1,350 afterwards (travel excluded in both cases).
Ilios Holidays 01403 259788
RUGGED LAND, HOT SPRINGS
Sherpa Expeditions' backpacking walking trips to the largely uninhabited Torfajokull region of southern Iceland use tracks that are totally inaccessible to motor transport. They take in giant rivers with spectacular waterfalls, volcanic landscapes and hot springs - this is the most powerful thermal area in the country.
This trip is for the adventurous and adaptable: there are several days when the party may not see another soul, accommodation is in simple huts, and participants are expected to muck in with jobs. It costs pounds 748 for two weeks, with 10 days trekking and four days sightseeing around the capital, Reykjavik. Most meals, flights and accommodation are included.
Sherpa Expeditions 0181-577 2717
NOT JUST CUCKOO CLOCKS
Kandersteg, a picturesque mountain village in the Bernese Oberland which is traditional rather than touristic, is the base for Inntravel's Swiss Discovery weeks. Customers stay at the family-run, four-star Hotel Victoria, and the package includes half-board accommodation, free cable-car and chair-lift tickets up to the glacial Oeschinen Lake and Allmenalp, guided mountain walks, and medals for those who visit as many of the surrounding mountain huts as possible. The self-drive price starts at pounds 448 per person for a party of two; by air it costs pounds 638 each, with some good reductions for children.
Inntravel 01653 628811
WHERE OTHERS DON'T REACH
The villages and countryside of Les Petit Pays, the name the French use for hidden parts of the country with distinctive identities, are the setting for the traditional houses that can be rented from La France des Villages.
The treasures of Poitou-Charente, for example, its Romanesque churches, vineyards, oyster beds and Cognac, are frequently overlooked as holidaymakers hurtle south. At the small port of Marans on the River Sevre, an 18th- century merchant's house on a stone quay at the water's edge costs a total of pounds 1,166 for two weeks, a price that includes ferry fares for a car and up to five passengers, though the house can cope with up to seven people.
The same travel group also operates "Secret Spain", with farms and village houses mainly in the north in Asturias, Cantabria, La Rioja and Galicia. A lovely old stone cottage in Vendejoo, high in the Cordillera Cantabrican mountains, costs pounds 425 each for two adults for two weeks in August (less in September), including the ferry fares, with cabins, to northern Spain.
La France des Villages (01449 737664)
A 10-day holiday exploring rural Hungary by canoe, on foot or in a small bus is on offer from Explore Worldwide. Travellers head across the vast open landscapes of the puszta, the Great Hungarian Plain, to the Tokaj wine region, stopping off at several of the old villages nestling in the hills. From there, they descend into the wilderness and canyons of the Aggtelek cave system, visiting the forested Bukk National Park, skirting the volcanic Matra mountains, and spending the night in one of several village houses in the small hamlet of Holloko, with a stunning view of the Carpathians Mountains.
There are nights of sightseeing in Budapest at the beginning and end of the tour. The holiday costs pounds 596 per person for return flights, transport in Hungary, and b&b, largely in village houses and small hotels.
Explore Worldwide (01252 319448)
CHIANTISHIRE ON THE QUIET
Italy is a popular destination this summer, due in part to favourable currency rates. It's still possible to unearth some highly desirable holidays - even in Tuscany, the English favourite, and in Umbria - although there's little left in high season.
Simply Tuscany and Umbria has self-catering holidays available in old stone farmhouses, country houses and converted mills in late September. La Torre, an 18th-century farmhouse in the countryside near Chianti, is available from 23 September. One week costs pounds 411 per person, including flight and car hire.
Citalia still has some holidays available in August. Castelnovo, a 16th- century abbey near the hill town of Gubbio, was converted last year into self-catering apartments, with pool, barbecue and facilities for eating al fresco. A week costs pounds 399 per person, including flights and car hire.
Simply Tuscany and Umbria 0181-995 8277; Citalia 0181-686 5533
STUDENTS SAY 'YES'
A newly introduced European Air Pass, called "Yes Pass", is aimed at the under-26s and full-time students under 31. It allows a rate of pounds 59 per flight, purchased in multiples of between four and 10, on Lufthansa's network of 85 cities in 31 European countries. Passes are available from Campus Travel and STA.
Under the scheme, a route from London to Frankfurt, then Moscow, with surface travel to St Petersburg and flight back to London via Frankfurt, costs pounds 236 (four legs). For pounds 472, you could go from Manchester to Dusseldorf, Malaga, Frankfurt, Naples, Munich, Moscow and Berlin, finishing in London. Travel must be completed by 30 April 1996; stopovers are permitted, but the country of origin may be visited only on the first and last legs of the flights.
Campus Travel 0171-730 3402; STA 0171-937 9921
THE INTER-COACH PASS
As an alternative to the popular Inter-Rail pass, the scheduled coach operator Eurolines has introduced its own pass. It offers unlimited travel for either 30 or 60 days, across 10 European countries. Prices for the 30-day pass start at pounds 189 for the under-26s and senior citizens, pounds 209 for a full adult pass. The 60-day passes cost pounds 229 and pounds 259 respectively. Only the first journey out of London must be booked in advance.
To get to a single destination, coach is probably the cheapest form of travel, though times and distances can be formidable. Krakow, at pounds 96 return, seems a bargain, even if the journey takes 31 hours. Three new routes for this summer include Luxembourg (12 hours) for pounds 67; Split in Croatia (42 hours) for pounds 169; and Fatima in Portugal (39 hours) for pounds 140, all return. There are youth reductions on most routes.
Eurolines 0345 626452
CRYPTS AND CLOISTERS
While many visitors don't explore much of Rome beyond the main tourist sights, Italian specialist Citalia offers them a chance to see the subterranean world of the city's crypts. The tour starts in the nuns' cloisters at the Colosseum and takes in not just the secret underground chambers, but various spectacular churches above ground as well. But the crypts, where Romans have been entombed over the centuries, are the main focus. The tour guide, David, an entertaining raconteur, is an authority on the lives of the saints. Departing late August, the three-night break to Rome costs pounds 357, including return flights, b&b accommodation and half a day's guided walk.
Citalia 0181-686 5533
BURGUNDY BY BIKE
Fresh air, gentle exercise and wonderful scenery are the attractions of Headwater's six-night cycling tour in Burgundy. You travel independently, at your own pace, with maps provided for a route that includes abbeys and vineyards near the historic town of Auxerre. Cycling on every other day, which allows the opportunity to relax, you visit pretty medieval villages and can sample some of the local wines on the way. Any wine you buy (and don't drink) is moved along with your luggage. The tour costs pounds 507 including flights, half board, bike hire, transfers and the service of a representative. Departures are every other day from the
beginning of August onwards.
Headwater Holidays 01606 48699
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