Christmas breaks: Make an organic getaway

Let someone else worry about the cooking while you take a break in the lap of eco-luxury, says Rosalind Ryan

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Christmas is the one time of the year that is normally steeped in tradition; turkey dinners, a house full of relatives and children demanding batteries for new toys. But there is a growing trend to escape from it all over the festive season and let someone else worry about your sprouts. "We have noticed a massive increase in the number of enquiries through our site," says Krissy Pentland from responsibletravel.com.

Your first step is to decide what kind of break you would like are you worried about air miles? Do you want a spa that cares as much about the environment as they do about your epidermis? Have you got an urge to spot exotic wildlife or spend the days walking off some delicious organic Christmas dinner?

A good starting point for holidays in the UK is the whyorganic.org website run by the Soil Association. You can search for B&Bs that offer organic meals, organic farms where you can camp and buy food from the organic shop, or a farm cottage that has an organic food box regularly delivered.

One of the Association's "organic heroes" is Hindon Organic Farm in Exmoor. Owners Roger and Penny Webber raise mixed livestock on their 500-acre farm, but also offer farm walks, B&B and self-catering accommodation. Hindon was also named Organic Producer of the Year at the Organic Food Awards in 2003. As if that wasn't enough, the farm has earned celebrity status too, being recommended by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and featured as a "Food Hero" in Rick Stein's television series.

If your passion is to eat organic during your winter break, visit www.organicholidays.co.uk, run by Linda Moss. "I was a local coordinator for an organic delivery box scheme when I decided I wanted to go away somewhere that offered organic food," says Moss. "Eight years ago there was nothing, and I thought, 'there must be people who run accommodation and also offer organic food,' so I made it my mission to find out. In the last couple of years, there's been a huge upsurge in interest." Now, Moss's site has listings from all over the UK and across the globe, and she has published a guidebook on organic holidays too, Organic Places to Stay in the UK (10.95, Green Books).

Looking for somewhere special this Christmas? Moss's personal recommendation is The Austwick Traddock Hotel in the Yorkshire Dales. The Traddock won Best Organic Restaurant of the Year at the Soil Association's Organic Industry Awards last year. With dishes like roast hand-dived Scottish scallops and local pork belly medallions, it's not hard to see why. After gorging yourself on an organic festive feast, enjoy the stunning scenery with a walk through the Three Peaks of Whernside, Pen-y-ghent and Ingleborough. Although, undoing your belt and taking it in from the comfort of their lounge is just as satisfying.

Green-thinking beauty fans have always struggled with the idea of escaping to a spa. Not only do they use chemicals in their pools and slather you in over-priced goo, their monsoon showers are a true eco-evil; they use roughly 50 litres of water a minute, more than three times the rate of a normal shower.

But this holiday season you can indulge your dual desires to look after yourself and the planet. The Titanic Spa near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire is calling itself the UK's first eco-spa; the building itself is a converted textile mill and it boasts a chlorine-free pool. All the electricity is provided by photovoltaic roof tiles, while the heating comes from a biomass generator that burns chippings from sustainable trees. All the water for Titanic comes from the mill's very own bore hole, 100 metres below the ground, which draws up pure Yorkshire water rather than relying on the mains system. "We get a mixture of people at Titanic, from typical spa goers to those who really care about the environment," says Christine Page, director. "But because we are carbon-neutral you don't have to feel guilty about indulging yourself."

Titanic offers spa day packages, including lunch in their bistro which, naturally, uses food from local producers, or you can stay in one of the 12 residential apartments with views of Bront country from your balcony. The owners of Titanic are planning to build a boutique hotel on site in the near future and are also looking to expand the Titanic name, so keep your eyes peeled for more green spas near you soon (see the gift guide on page 12 for more details).

However, if months of cold weather and office Christmas parties have made you feel like leaving the country, you could do worse than head to Queensland in Australia. Half way between Townsville and Cairns is the resort of Mission Beach, where you can find the Sanctuary retreat hidden away in the treetops of the tropical rainforest. The retreat is an affordable, accredited eco-lodge, set in 18 hectares of protected rainforest overlooking the Great Barrier Reef. Guests can stay in luxury cabins or smaller "forest" huts built from natural timbers, high among the trees. Settling down to sleep at night, with only mesh walls separating you from the rainforest as it slowly comes alive around you, is an experience unlike any other.

The Sanctuary's main long house has an excellent restaurant and surprisingly good wine list, although you can self-cater if you prefer. Once you've unpacked, you can choose to attend yoga lessons, have a massage, walk through the rainforest down to the beach, spot the local wildlife, including the rare cassowary bird, or simply imagine your colleagues back home, frantically shopping for last-minute presents or stuck on a motorway. Peace and goodwill to all feels much easier to manage when you're not pulling yourself to pieces...

Further information

For a huge range of green holidays here and abroad, visit www.responsibletravel.com. You can also calculate your carbon emissions and pick up tips on how to be a more responsible traveller.

B&B breaks at Hindon Organic Farm start at 35 per person per night. See www.hindonfarm.co.uk

The Austwick Traddock Hotel is offering three-night packages over Christmas from 560 per person; www.austwicktraddock.co.uk

Sharing a hut at the Sanctuary costs at 14 pppn. Luxury cabins start at 63 per person per night. See www.sanctuaryretreat.com.au

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