Winter holidays: follow the sun
Whether you're mourning the summer we never had – or want to escape the big chill ahead – Chris Leadbeater has the hottest spots for winter holidays
Wednesday 26 October 2011
What's the attraction?
The Incas and the Mayans held it as a focal point. Arch-narcissist Louis XIV adopted it as his symbol. But this coming weekend marks the departure of the sun – or at least much of its warmth – from Britain for a few months. On Sunday at 2am, clocks will go back an hour – and so will begin our hunt for winter sun. Between now and Christmas is the ideal time to seek out a warmer corner of the planet. November is a fine month to visit the Caribbean – prices reflect the mild possibility of wet weather. You can also find solid-value sunshine escapes closer to home. Holidays listed here are per person and each costs under £1,000.
Huddled 200 miles west of Morocco but less than four hours away by air, the Canary Islands have long been the simple choice for winter sun. Options are myriad. At the cheap end of the scale, a self-catering week at the three-star Malibu Park Apartments in Tenerife's Playa de las Americas starts at £324 via Thomas Cook (0844 879 8406; www.thomascook.com), with flights from Gatwick on 19 November. At the pricier end, Destinology (0800 210 0422; destinology.co.uk) offers a week's B&B at the chic Abama resort on the island's west coast for £869, with the same options.
In the Red
With the political tensions that reached a boiling point in March now reduced to a low simmer (the main beach resorts, along the shore of the Red Sea, were mainly unaffected by the revolutionary fervour), Egypt is back on the holiday map. Breaks in the Red Sea resorts tend to be leisurely, drama-free affairs, with plenty of opportunity for snorkelling and diving on the impressive reefs. An all-inclusive week at the five-star InterContinental Taba Heights, flying from Gatwick on 19 November, costs £593 through Longwood Holidays (0844 770 4877; longwoodholidays.co.uk), transfers included.
Egypt is not the sole option for African sunshine. A six-hour flight from London, Gambia is the leading West African beach hotspot for British travellers. There is not much of this narrow slice of a nation – the smallest country on the African continent, a thin wedge driven into the side of Senegal – but what there is comes dotted with unfussy retreats such as the four-star Ocean Bay Resort, near Banjul. A week's stay with breakfast, flying from Gatwick on 19 November, costs £425 through Direct Holidays (0844 879 8173; directholidays.co.uk), including transfers.
A Caribbean classic
Antigua, a little smaller than the Isle of Wight and considerably warmer in winter, is a glorious option for a sun-kissed escape. There is a distinctly English feel to this Caribbean island, with its narrow streets and quaint villages. Choose between the sheltered coves of its south and west flanks, or the Atlantic-hemmed contours of the east. Tropical Sky (0844 332 9349; tropicalsky.co.uk) offers inexpensive breaks to the isle, with an all-inclusive week at the four-star Grand Pineapple Beach Hotel on the east coast, flying from Gatwick on 19 November, for £959.
Somewhere that calls itself the Sunshine State clearly has no doubts about the warmth of its climate. But there is more to Florida than Orlando and Miami, even if your only wish is to relax on the sand. There is a hint of the undiscovered to its westerly Gulf Coast – where, for example, the small city of Naples has been voted by the Travel Channel as having the best beach in the US.
A week here at the four-star Bellasera Suites on a room-only basis, flying to Miami on 19 November, costs £845 through Virgin Holidays (0844 557 4321; virginholidays.co.uk), with car hire.
Logic suggests that the paradise isles of the Maldives are out of reach if you are planning to stick to a budget. After all, it is a destination that has marketed itself as honeymoon haven for the last decade. But in a place where the main attraction is the undoubted beauty of the setting, luxurious accommodation is less crucial than you may think. And bargains can be found.
Kuoni (0844 488 0483; kuoni.co.uk) sells getaways to the three-star Biyadhoo Island Resort. A week's full-board, flying from Heathrow on 26 November, costs £969 (online bookings only), including transfers.
Cities in the sun
There is no rule that says a winter sun holiday must involve a week of mere lazy slumber. To combine good weather with a dash of culture, several cities make likely candidates. All prices listed below are per person, based on two sharing for a three-night weekend break between 24–27 November.
Beirut is an increasingly vibrant metropolis on the Lebanese stretch of the Med – staying at the five-star Le Bristol Hotel, room-only, with Pegasus flights via Istanbul from Stansted costs £381 with Expedia (03301231235; expedia.co.uk).
Nearer to hand, Mallorca's elegant capital Palma will still be warm in November – Lastminute.com (0800 072 1795; www.lastminute.com) asks £310 for a break at the four-star Puro Hotel, with Monarch flights from Gatwick, and breakfast.
Malaga has the Museo Picasso to go with its Costa del Sol temperatures; a B&B stay at the four-star Malaga Centro hotel costs £198, including flights from Gatwick, with easyJet Holidays (0843 104 1000; easyjet.com/holidays).
And Marseille, the most interesting city on France's south coast, will have hints of summer sparkle as well as fine restaurants – the three-star New Hotel costs £168, room only with Travelocity (0871 472 5116; travelocity.co.uk), including easyJet flights from Gatwick.
"Egypt is always a favourite for winter breaks, as it offers a fantastic choice of high-quality resorts and high temperatures within a short flight time. Those looking for something different should consider Cape Verde, a collection of islands off West Africa. In India, Goa is an excellent option."
Grant Fern, Holiday Adviser, Thomson ( thomson.co.uk)
Who said that?
"On the green of the hill/ We will drink our fill/ Of golden sunshine/ Till our brains intertwine/ With the glory and grace of Apollo."
– John Keats, 'A Draught Of Sunshine'
"I need something to remind me that there's something else/ You need a holiday, somewhere in the sun."
– Blur, 'Advert'
"After the on-off summer and the hint of a late revival, it seems that the weather has finally come back into line and decided that it's autumn after all."
– BBC Online weather report, 17 October
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