Head to the Med for some decent weather

No crowds, lower prices - and do take your shades, says Susan Marling

What a pathetic summer we have had! Wet in May and June and only grudgingly, sporadically sunny the rest of the time, the summer ended with torrential rain, thunderstorms, eight inches of hail, snow and a tornado in Hull. Ever the model of restraint, the Met Office pronounced 2000 the dullest summer for 13 years.

What a pathetic summer we have had! Wet in May and June and only grudgingly, sporadically sunny the rest of the time, the summer ended with torrential rain, thunderstorms, eight inches of hail, snow and a tornado in Hull. Ever the model of restraint, the Met Office pronounced 2000 the dullest summer for 13 years.

Now, with October upon us, it is only the leaves on the trees that are turning brown. We feel cheated. We want the sun on our backs. One last swim. One last picnic. Time to throw a bit of cash at the situation and head to the warmer Mediterranean.

And here's where the web can help. The Good Web Guide to Travel, published last week, leads me into quality surfing of sites which give top news on the sunshine front. In Majorca this week, according to weather.com and www.bbc.co.uk/weather, I can expect clear days - along with some partly cloudy ones too - but a temperature high of 80-83F.

Of course, that isn't the only reason for going. It's sunny in Riyadh, and no one's suggesting a holiday there. On this page and the next, we highlight two places which are beautiful, warm in autumn and not full of other Brits: the Aeolian islands off Sicily and Çirali in south-east Turkey.

But there are many other possibilities, particularly for those of a more urban bent. I've always been a fan of Majorca in the low season and especially the island's charming capital. Palma is a greatly undersung Mediterranean city, known to too many British people only as the airport destination for 18-30 clubbers and stuffed-donkey-carrying tourists. In fact it has much more than transfer buses to recommend it.

Palma is layered with the remnants of Roman, Moorish and Christian empires. It has a royal palace, an Alcazar, to rival anything in Seville, a Gothic cathedral as fine as any in Spain, boulevards and parks like Madrid, even a modernista (art nouveau) hotel that could hold up its head in Barcelona. There's a Moorish bathhouse, a Jewish quarter, several more than halfway decent art galleries, a compelling and busy waterfront (part naval, part fancy yachts) and a market where food is rich, fresh and plentiful and where workers come for their morning brandy. And, yes, there's still opportunity for wearing shades in pavement cafés in October. You can also manage a swim before your hotel closes the pool.

This year, indeed, Majorca is smartly playing the winter card, promoting the idea of enjoying not just Palma but the beaches and mountains and countryside hotels without the pressure of summer crowds. There's a special emphasis on cultural events and developing local festivals. A season of more than 300 concerts is planned across the island. Walkers and birdwatchers, shoppers and wetsuit wearers are encouraged. The message is that, with its mild winter weather, the island is very much open for business.

Mdina, which was the capital of Malta before the Knights of St John dug themselves in at Valetta 10 miles east, is another overlooked Mediterranean city, perfect for a late summer visit. Often called the Silent City, it's a slightly faded aristocratic place tucked inside massive ramparts. Next weekend the silence is broken, however, as Malta's equivalent of the Sealed Knot prepare to re-enact the bicentenary of the French blockade of the city. A huge fiesta locally, it will provide an excuse for much outdoor music-making. The weather forecast is for clear skies and 82F temperatures.

The poshest hotel in Tunisia, the Residence, is right on the Mediterranean coast, just north of Carthage. While the majority of Tunisian hotels are fine for a late-season souk-shopping and flopping holiday, this one is a special treat for British summer-starved travellers wanting to make up for lost time. No need to swim in the Mediterranean - the thalassotherapy spa offers a close encounter with the sea in the form of bubbling seawater baths, hydro massages and the kind of flashing power showers which make you wonder if the local fire brigade hasn't arrived on a training day.

The hotel is a comfortable retreat from which to explore the walled Medina and the Bardo Museum in Tunis. The Bardo has an exceptional collection of Roman mosaics which make it clear that frolicking in the late summer sun is nothing new. In October the average temperature here is 79F with an average of eight hours of sunshine a day. Later in winter the temperature drops a little, but the weather is still bright and the pools swimmable by hardy northern Europeans.

Finally, consider Palermo. Sicily's battered fighter of a city, its gangsterish features slightly the worse for wear, is not the choice of the fastidious tourist. Sitting out in the sun eating squid and mixed fried fish by the Vucciria market may introduce you to new ways of clearing your plate (on to the pavement, into the local cat). But the Byzantine buildings here, and the gilded mosaics of the Cappella Palatina in particular, are alone worth the visit. And the Aeolian islands are within easy reach.

Comments