Escaping winter to head for a sun-kissed beach has gained greater relevance for both couples and families in recent years. Thanks to the momentarily increased value of the ‘Silver Pound’ allied to the sheer economic situation in many countries, a lot of former summer holiday destinations no longer erect ‘Closed For Winter’ signs.
Of course, it is a position aided in no small way by an increasingly lengthy festive season for many working people. However, travelling anywhere, just for Christmas, can work out every bit as costly as our more usual ‘high season’ summer expectations, so do be aware that opting for Xmas on Hawaii, Gran Canarias, Morocco, Dubai or even the Spanish Costas might work out more expensive than a ski vacation.
While it might be termed an ‘old favourite’, southern Spain is still worth a punt during the winter months, whether you wish to enjoy either a lively or family atmosphere. Malaga should have resolved its late-summer flooding issues by now and with warm days and light pullover nights, the coastal attractions of the Mediterranean are varied enough to
suit both party animals and pockets.
Heading west to the Atlantic coastline, notably the Costa de la Luz, can mean that the water is a touch chillier than The Med but it is worth bearing in mind that a lot of Spaniards take their winter vacations here. If it is good enough for the locals…you know the rest. While lacking the major urbanisations that have arisen on most of Spain’s coastline, holidaymakers can experience greater tranquillity, with plenty of tempting diversions (especially food) and entertainment for the whole family. Enchanting back streets, friendly artisans, historic buildings and plenty of golf should satisfy most travellers’ needs.
My personal favourite destination is The Algarve, which benefits from satisfyingly warm sunbathing weather between October and March, without the searing heat of midsummer. While you might land in Faro, anywhere from there to Lagos can offer Portugal’s customary benefits of an occasionally rugged coastline, delightful fishing villages and a warm welcome from our oldest allies in the world. Of course, the wines are superb and the culinary delights are worth tracking down.
Naturally, your budget will determine your accommodation for the holiday but flights to both Malaga, Spain, and Faro, Portugal, are exceptionally good value off-season. Hotels that vary in star rating, apartments and villas that provide a more authentic appeal, should you wish to be immersed in the regional culture, are among a host of residential
possibilities, which can be arranged directly or via your preferred travel agent.
Alternatively, a Balearic island break to Ibiza, Menorca or Majorca can provide a raft of potential. Although both Ibiza and Majorca have a repute for drawing a younger, noisier and sometimes rowdier crowd, both islands have extremely beautiful areas that are quiet and restful, even within the main centres. I have enjoyed winter holidays on Majorca, in Port d’Andratx (great beach), Valdemossa (good hill walking), Deia (spectacularly rocky coastline) and Port de Pollença (lovely harbour and miles of sandy beaches), between
October and March and simply not bumped into the ‘yobs’, of which I had been previously warned.
It was a similar situation on Ibiza. I resided at a lovely hotel at Portinatx, in the north, miles away from the Club Med set in the south of this Mediterranean jewel. While I cannot deny that my views of the Balearics had been coloured by past reputations, they have altered. Incidentally, Menorca does not have quite the same variety of restaurants and parks, its nocturnal activities are less frenetic and, as a retreat, its slower pace of life suits people of all ages.
Not so far away …
North Africa falls into the short-haul category and, if you have never been before, an all-inclusive trip with Thomson Holidays might land you at the ClubHotel Riu Tikida Dunas, at Agadir, Morocco’s most popular Atlantic coastal resort. Enchantment is part of the deal. There is even a choice of salt or freshwater pools, nightclub, a ‘kid’s club’, tennis
courts, volleyball, a gym, horse and camel riding, waterpolo and cycle hire.
Marrakech is close to the northern reaches of the Sahara Desert and is one of the most thrillingly traditional, yet also exceptionally modern cities. Its Medina and the renowned Jemaa el Fna square will ensnare you day or night with spectacular colours, smells and attractions of the market. Yet, within five minutes of the bustling old centre is the tranquil oasis of Tikida Garden, which could be a million miles away from the clamour, so peaceful is it.
On Morocco’s west coast is the stunning resort of Essaouira. It is not as bustling as Marrakech and does not attract the big crowds, although its more sleepy outward appearance conceals a wealth of history and artisan activities tucked away down its narrow back streets. Packed with fascinating architecture and some of the finest restaurants, it is an Atlantic coastal dream destination. Its huge expanse of beaches will guarantee privacy and, with some of the best surf waves in the northern hemisphere, it is a water baby’s ultimate treat.
Remaining in North Africa, you might consider residing in Tunisia. With a choice of culturally mature and beautiful holiday spots, including the palm-treed Dar el Said, Souani el Adari, Mellita, Hammamet, Al Haddadah, Mezraia and Medinine Governorate, all offer first-class amenities, great variety and surprisingly low costs.
Perhaps a bit further…
Personally, I have always enjoyed the charms of Cyprus, north or south. It is one of the few places in the world, where I have been able to ski in the morning (Troodos Mountains) and to sunbathe on the beach (Paphos) in the afternoon of the same day. Of course, it has changed a lot in the past couple of decades, although you can still bump into Fr. Papadoupolous, or natter with locals over a coffee taken in a quiet mountain village, while indulging a few hours later in the vibrant nightlife of Nicosia or the other coastal resorts.
Renting a villa is a good option, although I have stayed at the 5-Star Amathus Beach Hotel in Limassol, which is a truly wonderful place to while away a vacation, served hand and foot by excellent staff, the venue being complete with spa, immaculate pools and an easy stroll to its private beach.
Yet, Northern Cyprus, the Turkish side, offers not dissimilar appeal, allied to even cheaper hotels and costeffective flights to Ercan Airport. Using the popular bases of Kyrenia or Famagusta, package tours can range from £350 per week, inclusive of all taxes, for half-board at the 4-Star Riverside Holiday Village in Kyrenia. The northern part of Cyprus is building a great reputation for quality breaks at the moment.
Of course, mainland Greece or Turkey can also offer pleasant winter temperatures but for near guaranteed sun, you are better to stick to the Greek islands, Cyprus or even a shift across the Med to Sardinia or Sicily. Sardinia’s glistening greeny-blue Costa Smeralda is not known as such without good reason. Although the east coast of the island is popular with the glitterati of the world (I was fortunate enough to stay at Cala di Volpe, which has its own protected bay, a picturesque small marina and luxurious surroundings fit for royalty), a holiday on this rocky and fascinating island need not be so costly.
Most of the large international hotel chains offer accommodation in the key tourist spots on the Italian dependency, such as San Teodoro, Olbia, Sassari, Alghero and Cagliari. Sardinia is served by three airports, in the north, east coast and south of the island.
The Middle East has a wealth of opportunities and you might contemplate Aqaba, Jordan, and the Red Sea (taking a desert trip to the Dead Sea is recommended, just watch out for errant camels that enjoy lying in the roadway), while Abu Dhabi, Dubai (both in the UAE) and Muscat (Oman; flights from £287 return) are all worth closer inspections. While the former is a teeming metropolis, displaying its extreme wealth with glass and chrome skyscrapers, Dubai is more of a man-made haven but no less entrancing all the same. The greatest attraction is the 30C+ temperatures for much of the year.
…And so far away
Seeking the sun within two to six hours of departing Heathrow might not be far enough for you. Yet, your seasonal choice is not restricted to the northern hemisphere, as the antipodes is already putting spring behind it, coursing well into summer by this time of the year.
If you want to avoid jet-lag, then I can recommend South Africa strongly. I took a holiday there in January (£500 return flight) and enjoyed temperatures of up to 35C. Staying at the 4-Star Lanzerac Manor and Winery was a great choice. Its staff were ever-attendant and thoroughly charming and the wine was fantastic. While it costs around £160ppn, an excellent choice of other classy local hotels ranging from little more than £45ppn are dotted around the foothills of the Stellenbosch region.
Inexpensive car hire from Cape Town airport is recommended and you can soon travel into the hinterland, with its wild animals and vast reserves, or travel along the coastal highway to sight sharks and whales. Multicultural Cape Town is fabulous and taking the skilift to the top of Table Mountain is a must. The views from there to Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) and beyond are to be seen to be believed.
Flying to Buenos Aires in South America is possible for little more than £500 return fare. Argentina, no longer under its oppressive military rule, offers a European-style holiday and, away from the chic boutiques of Palermo Viejo, or the cobbled streets of San Telmo, you can dine on the finest beef steaks in the world.
Of course, the Caribbean and Jamaica offer an African heart, with a reggae soul, some of the whitest beaches and bluest waters of any resort locations in the world and return flights from around £450 as a possibility. The ‘Sunshine State’ of Florida can be reached for around £300 (return) and there are innumerable resort locations and theme parks worth exploring for all-in rates this winter.
Off the eastern US seaboard is Bermuda, which sounds like a solitary island but is actually no less than 181 land masses of various sizes, although the Main Island, also known as Bermuda, is where most vacationers visit. Its sub-tropical climate is a major attraction,
although it can become humid at times. It is also a very wealthy place.
Its pink sandy beaches and crystal clear waters have been settled by lovely hotels along its south coast, although there are plenty of hideaways elsewhere in Bermuda, for romantic and private breaks. Apart from the reef and sunken vessel diving, the country is packed with sightseeing attractions and St George’s status as a World Heritage Site provides additional tourist interest. There is no car rental but most visitors opt for scooters, or use the excellent public transport.
It is said that you visit Bermuda once, as a friend; twice as family. Golf is fantastic on the island and the range of accommodation, from all-in hotels, to boutique style, cottages, chalets and apartments will suit most budgets. Packages at the Fourways Inn start at around £430, rising to £750 at Rosewood Tucker’s Point, for three nights, including green fees. Kuoni can offer all-inclusive holidays from under £1,000 for up to
nine nights, so an exclusive vacation can prove eminently affordable.
Barbados is always a joy, at any time of the year. Part of the British Commonwealth, it retains strong ties with the UK and is much-loved by visitors, who return time and again. While the east coast is popular, Elegant Hotels Group operates a collection of five luxury hotels along the west and south coasts. Its moderately tropical climate, cooled by sea breezes, is a key attraction.
Colony Club caters for luxury seekers and couples renewing their marriage vows. Traditional, timelessly elegant and exceptionally relaxing, a holiday spent here would be soporific, yet far from dull. Crystal Cove and Turtle Beach, which is conveniently close to the airport, are aimed at family enjoyment and the atmosphere at both hotels appeals to groups and people who enjoy mixing, while being treated to an all-inclusive and most enjoyable vacation.
On the other hand, Tamarind offers a level of privacy expected of an exclusive beach location, where you know where the children are and indulging in various watersports, swimming or diving helps to expand young minds. Alternatively, The House is a luxurious home away from home, catering for the grown-ups alone. The thirty-four guest suites were recently refurbished to the highest levels and this is an ultimate getaway, dining at
Daphne’s Restaurant, also on Payne’s Beach, or just paddling on the water’s edge. Barbados ought to be on your shortlist.
If you want to spend a little more (from £740 return), then head for Australia or New Zealand. Perth, in Western Australia, is renowned as the sunniest city in the world (more than 300 days of sunshine) and is far less bustling than Melbourne or Adelaide. Flying into Auckland, New Zealand, can be as ‘inexpensive’ as £560 return. The Seychelles or Bali may be more up your street, if you desire tropical paradises, although the resort costs can work out more expensive.
The bottom-line is that seeking winter sun, whether it be within two hours of London or much further afield, just as the summer suntan starts to fade, can be tremendously uplifting to both body and soul.
Wnter sun facts
Packages - Most of the main tour operators offer cost-effective winter sun holidays. First Choice (www.firstchoice.co.uk) offers a wealth of opportunities, from The Canaries (prices starting at £129/head) to Cuba, the Maldives, Seychelles or Goa (from £452/head). Voyager Travel Direct (www.voyagertraveldirect.co.uk) has been advertising deals to Tenerife from as little as £529 all-inclusive, for seven nights at the 5-Star Bahia Costa Adeje, while a 5-Star luxury week (half-board) at the Maratim Grand Azur hotel in Marmaris is £459/head (two persons sharing).
Monarch Airlines (www.monarch.co.uk) is offering tremendous value packages to the 3-Star Dom Pedro Garajau, on Madeira, for as little as £203/head for up to four nights stay, with breakfast. The same company can do seven nights of B&B at the Gaddis Hotel in Luxor, Egypt, from as little as £245/head. A seven nights Nile cruise is possible from as
low as £342/head.
Car rental - It is best to book your transport requirements in the UK, if you want to be sure of using a safe, good quality car, although surprisingly inexpensive deals can be struck at the point of arrival. Whatever you do, take note, with the agent present, of all scrapes and knocks on the vehicle. Check the oil, water and fuel levels and do not get ‘ripped off’ on the mileage front. Ensure that you have everything in writing and notify your own insurer of your intentions. It helps to check on-line what the local road laws are before you reach your destination, as there can be little worse than facing up to an on-the-spot fine on your first day of the holiday.
Barbadian hotels - Elegant Hotels Group offers all-inclusive to familyfriendly and even adults only accommodation on the west and south coasts of the island. www.eleganthotels.com for more information.