Q&A: In search of sun, sand and spirituality

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered


Q. We are looking for a sunny destination where we can practise yoga and where our children will be welcome. Can you help?
Jon Siddle,Southampton

Q. We are looking for a sunny destination where we can practise yoga and where our children will be welcome. Can you help? Jon Siddle,Southampton

A. Where better to adopt the lotus position and meditate than in paradise? Paradise Island, that is, in the Bahamas, just across the bay from Nassau. The Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat (001 242 363 2902; www.sivananda.org) is a semi-enclosed structure situated in an idyllic location, facing the twinkling Caribbean Sea and surrounded by swaying palms. This respected retreat welcomes children and allows the older ones to actually participate, while under-12s go for half price.

Each day is structured around two meditation sessions, two yoga classes - held on wooden platforms overlooking the spectacular bay - and two vegetarian meals. You start at dawn with early morning meditation, followed by an hour-and-a-half of asanas (physical yoga exercises) and pranayama (breathing exercises) and then, after a vegetarian brunch, you are free to relax on the beach, go snorkelling or play tennis or basketball. At 4pm the second asana/ pranayama session takes place and dinner, at 6pm, is followed by the second meditation period.

The holiday will definitely be more "Club Meditation" than "Club Med" though, and the regime may be too strict for those who aren't serious about yoga; the asana classes and meditations are compulsory and "lights out" is at 10pm. Accommodation is simple and you are asked to bring your own towels and exercise mat. A beachfront twin room costs $79 (£54) per person per night, while a dormitory with 3-4 beds costs $59 (£40), or you can camp for $50 (£33). These rates include accommodation, meals, classes and workshops.

To get there, you must fly to Nassau airport and then telephone the retreat to let them know you have arrived. Take a taxi to the Paradise Island Ferry Terminal from where the retreat's private boat will collect you. British Airways operates a service direct to Nassau from Gatwick from £580 per adult and £397 per child in March; you can save a fortune on an indirect flight, stopping over in the US. Trailfinders (020-7937 5400; www.trailfinders.co.uk) is offering American Airlines flights via Miami for £331 per adult and £206 per child.

Alternatively, find peace of mind on the neighbouring island of Andros at Small Hope Bay Lodge. Occasional yoga weeks are run here (the next takes place from 17-24 March) but the yoga is optional and there is more on offer in the way of excursions. Discover the Bahamas (01737 218803; www.discoverthebahamas.co.uk) offers a seven-night package here, including return flights, inclusive accommodation, yoga classes and two room-only stops in Nassau for £1,522 per adult, £1,061 for 13-17-year-olds and £568 for under-12s.

If you'd rather stay closer to home there are several options. Skyros (020-7267 4424, www.skyros.com), which offers holistic holidays (a wide selection of courses, including yoga) in Greece as well as Thailand, welcomes families during the summer season. At Atsitsa, set in a pine-forested bay on the Greek island of Skyros, the 19th-century stone villa is surrounded by gardens full of jasmine, bougainvillea and honeysuckle. Accommodation is in bamboo huts, and childcare and activities are arranged for children between the ages of five and 15 from 28 July to 7 September. The price for a two-week session is £925 per person excluding flights but including full-board accommodation and all courses. Children get a reduction of 40 per cent.

Another option is Travel à la carte (01635 863030, www.travelalacarte.co.uk) which specialises in villa holidays in Greece. This year the company is offering yoga on Paxos from 11-18 and 18-25 May and plans to run more courses in the early autumn. The price is £429 per person including return flights to Corfu, boat transfer to Paxos, self-catering accommodation in the pretty fishing village of Loggos and tuition. There are two 90-minute yoga classes a day and the rest of the time you are free to explore the island, sunbathe and swim in the sea.

Another retreat, Windfire (00 34 971 187996, www.windfireyoga.com) on Ibiza is keen to assert that it is not a holiday centre or hotel. If your main aim is to practise yoga and you would like to do it on holiday then this might well be the perfect choice for you. If you are looking primarily for a holiday with a bit of yoga thrown in, then it probably isn't. Accommodation is in large tents but you have to bring most of your own bedding. Retreats are run from the end of April to the end of October and start from £275 per person for a week including full-board accommodation and classes but excluding flights.

Finally, if you fancy a bit more luxury, a new company, Yoga In Italy (01829 771257, www.yogaitaly.com), is offering one- or two-week ashtanga yoga workshops in country houses in Umbria from April. Stays cost from £490 per adult, including full-board accommodation and daily yoga tuition but not flights or transport. Children sharing their parents' room go free.

Q. Can you help us plan a DIY trip to Thailand in the summer, with our teenage son and daughter? We backpacked around Asia 20 years ago, and more recently stayed in a four-star hotel in Phuket (without children) as part of a package. This time we have resolved to find something more "barefoot" and less expensive, and are thinking of Koh Samui, on the Gulf of Thailand side of the island. Basically, we just want a no-frills beach holiday, perhaps doing a bit of diving. Are we on the right lines with Koh Samui?

Audrey and Steve Briggs, Preston

A. Well, yes and no. Koh Samui still has its "barefoot" side and certainly offers greater scope for budget and no-frills travellers than Phuket. But the island is becoming increasingly developed towards up-market tourism, with concrete buildings rapidly taking over from the bamboo bungalows. Part of this trend is down to the fact that there are numerous daily flights to Koh Samui from Bangkok. This makes the island an ideal beach escape for tourists who want to see the sights in the city and then nip down to stay at swish hotels on Koh Samui's fully-fledged tourist strips, such as Chaweng Beach. These strips are complete with all the staples of tourism in Thailand - night clubs, cyber cafés, girlie bars and tattoo parlours among them.

The island also has a vibrant youth scene, with dance music pounding till dawn in the main resort areas. You have not mentioned how old your teenage son and daughter are but the nightlife might be a big draw for them. In these main tourist centres, you are unlikely to come across scenes such as those in the film The Beach, but you might want to consider the area's justified reputation for drug use before you take your children there.

The neighbouring island of Koh Phangan is reached easily by ferry from Koh Samui and is even more the preserve of hedonistic youths - especially Hat Rin beach where the legendary, but now very commercial, monthly full-moon rave parties attract thousands. However, there is much more to Koh Phangan than these pastimes. Thong Nai Pan Noi beach, reached via an hour's bumpy ride by minibus from the quay, is an idyll of surf, sand and coconut palms. You could hire a reasonably comfortable bungalow here for just a few pounds a day, and eat fresh fish and vegetables for a little more. And, inland, there are opportunities for trekking out to waterfalls, visiting bustling markets to haggle with the local farmers and seeing something of village life.

However, my stronger recommendation is that you head for the smaller and further-flung island of Koh Tao. If you're travelling on from Koh Samui, or Koh Phangan, the island is easily reached by an enjoyable ferry ride (you'll need to take sunscreen and plenty of water as you might not notice yourselves getting burnt in the breeze). Here, the backpacker scene is diluted with people who have come for the diving but the mix works. Beautiful beaches and tropical clichés abound, and there are numerous dive shops, with opportunities to dive the best reefs in the Gulf of Thailand, and to take PADI-qualified instruction (although most shops are reputable you should still check their instructors' qualifications). Simple but pleasant beach bungalows are plentiful, and you will eat well. The fish curries are particularly good.

As part of your research, I suggest you get two guide books: Thailand's Islands and Beaches (Lonely Planet, £9.99) and Thailand (Rough Guides, £12.99).

* Send your family travel questions to S F Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall,London E14 9RS Or crusoe@independent.co.uk

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