TRAVEL / Hobby holidays: Holistic

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'THE balanced integration of mind, body, spirit, nature and community' is how one centre sums up the 'holistic' approach to life. In fact, the term is often used pretty loosely to describe almost any course, holiday or activity that involves an 'alternative' dimension - from aromatherapy to Zen Buddhism, meditation to massage.

Broadly speaking, there are two main approaches. Some centres or course leaders focus on a specific discipline: an introduction to the Alexander Technique or yoga for instance; others develop their own somewhat homespun philosophies with emphases on 'the wellspring of life' or 'a deepening affinity and harmony with all the levels of our own nature'. The theme common to most is the chance to relax, get rid of stress and spend some time reflecting on life - for many, in theory at least, an ideal holiday. But, given the wide range of theories and activities, it's wise to make sure you know what you're letting yourself in for before booking. Most places are more than happy to talk about what they do, so it's quite easy to get a feel for a place before making a commitment.

Prices quoted are per person for 1993 (including overseas travel unless stated) and are likely to increase for 1994.

THE HOLISTIC FACTOR: Atsitsa (071 267 4424), on the Greek island of Skyros, develops the holistic concept in perhaps its purest form. The tiny hamlet, on a rocky, pine-

fringed shore, is essentially a holiday commune with teachers and programme leaders in residence. There's a choice of around 20 activities, including T'ai Chi, stress management, dreamwork and juggling - you can choose up to three per week. Holidays cost between pounds 400 and pounds 700 for two weeks, excluding travel.

For those who prefer Spanish mountains to Greek islands, Cortijo Romero is an old farmhouse in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and a centre for courses such as the 'Joy of Letting Go', 'Reflexology and Facial Massage' and the 'Sacred Art of Clowning'. This year's prices are pounds 305 per week, but the new brochure is due to be published soon (0532 374015).

Back in Britain, HF Holidays (081 905 9388) has a 'Mind and Body' programme of two- to seven-night holidays in different locations on specific themes including the Alexander Technique, positive thinking and aromatherapy (from pounds 89 to pounds 350). At the Wolfcastle Pottery in Pembrokeshire (0437 87609), you can plan a holiday around pottery or yoga classes in the morning and Swedish massage or aromatherapy after lunch ( pounds 300 per week). The Centre of New Directions at White Lodge, in Kent (0892 863166) runs a wide range of courses, classes and lectures from spiritual psychology and colour therapy to circle dancing and 'the addict's path to God'.

TAKING IT EASY: No holistic-

style holiday is likely to be a physically exhausting experience, but perhaps the most relaxing of all are the spiritual retreats. The Madhyamaka Buddhist Centre (0759 304832) near York runs retreats and refuges with 'guided meditations' as well as study and 'empowerment' courses (some including yoga). A week's retreat costs pounds 126 in a single room; pounds 70 in the dormitory. Smoking, alcohol and eating meat are banned. Inter-Church Travel (0800 300444) runs a series of contemplative holidays for Christians in sacred destinations from Galilee to Assisi, from pounds 170 to pounds 700 per week. An alternative to religious retreats is offered by the Eden Centre of Creative Development (0598 53440) in North Devon, 'to help us understand the close relationship between mind, body and spirit'.

SPLASHING OUT: Water treatments have been 'in' since the Romans. Nowadays sea-water therapy and spa holidays are usually aimed at those who want relief from stress, rheumatic, dermatological or breathing problems. VIP Health Holidays (081 952 2059) offers treatments in the warmth of the Dead Sea. Two weeks cost from around pounds 700. La Grange (071 371 6111) puts together packages in France convenient to spas and therapy centres - prices vary widely.

FAMILY FAVOURITES: Not many of these holidays are run with the family in mind - it's hard to relax and explore the soul when you've got to cope with the demands of the children at the same time. The Mill on the Brue Activity Centre (0749 812307) does provide one way around this, however - send the kids on one of its 'self-development' courses for teenagers in Somerset or the Isle of Mull, and head off for a holiday of your own. Cortijo Romero (see above) does accept children and 'non-participating' guests by arrangement.

GOING SOLO: No problem here - most of the courses described above are ideal for those who want either to spend time alone or to meet other like-minded people.

CUTING COSTS: The Madhyamaka Centre in York (see above) offers free dormitory accommodation and food (plus free study courses at evenings and weekends) in return for 35 hours' work (decorating, gardening, etc) a week. The Eden Centre (above) may be able to arrange holiday retreats at around pounds 10 per day, if you supply your own food.

THE INDEPENDENT SOUL: There are numerous books and manuals on the different philosophies and disciplines covered here (many bookshops now have a separate section on New Age or Alternative Health), but to get a true feel for them, you really need some hands-on guidance (this is especially true of the Alexander Technique, or guided meditations, for instance). Local adult-education evening classes are probably the best way of doing this, but teachers and local treatment centres often advertise in Yellow Pages.

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