Distilling the pleasures of the Holiday Courses is difficult. What is it that makes them so enjoyable that people rebook year after year?
Some would mention the support they receive and the warmth and friendliness of the rest of the group. Many feel that they are returning to a group of friends who have become almost family yet new people attending the courses for the first time are welcomed and included (whatever the age, gender or type of person). If this sounds too oppressive or too sociable it isn’t: both Fingals (pictured) and Villa Pia have lots of space – inside and out – so course members have no difficulty finding places to be alone to read, write, paint, think or just to soak up the atmosphere. I spend a lot of time doing all of those things – usually with a glass of wine or a herb tea in my hand.
Steve and myself (Ways With Words directors) are there to make sure that all is running smoothly, to talk, to be available for anyone at any time. We also run book groups and discussion groups throughout the courses and we collect the group together on the first day for introductions to each other, the staff, the place and the timetable. We are always struck with the intelligence, the kindness and the humour of the groups. It makes our work such a pleasure.
There are other treats: the ample and delicious home-cooked food that appears each day; the mist rising over the vineyards each morning in Italy or hovering over the River Dart at Fingals; the inviting, rolling countryside perfect for strolls or more challenging walks; the warm swimming pools. It would be a serious omission not to mention the huge, hissing, cappuccino machine at Villa Pia. There is usually someone around to help but once mastered any type of coffee or tea can be made at any time. For those who want something cold the fridge is stacked with fruit juices and beers for course members to help themselves; ditto several well-stocked fruit bowls. Wine and other alcohol is also freely available.
Both places take the fortunate visitors away from the pressures of daily life and offer a chance to discover a different side to themselves, to live creatively, becoming more alert to the world around, listening, looking, asking “What if ?”, thinking, speculating, exploring ideas, being innovatory.
Maybe these are some of the attractions of the Holiday Courses or maybe they remain elusive and impossible to define.