How far would you go for a first taste of sun in 2014?

From beach breaks to exotic family holidays, Sarah Baxter selects the best in Europe and beyond

Beach breaks

Southern Europe is starting to heat up, so short-haul beach breaks are a possibility. But for guaranteed sunshine – and to mix in wildlife, temples and extra bragging rights – go further afield.

Perfect Mexico

The Yucatán peninsula is marvellous in March – highs of around 30C, the New Year crowds have left and hurricane season is still months away. The boutique hotel specialist, i-escape, is offering seven-night stays at Hotel Esencia on the Mayan Riviera throughout March and April for £1,004 per person, excluding flights (i-escape.com). Set on a perfect powder beach, the Escencia is wave-lapped luxury. Its 29 cool-white rooms have private terraces, where pastries appear each morning; other perks include your own Havaiana flip-flops, morning yoga, a spa and thatched palapas for two on the beach. Thomson (0871 231 4787; flights.thomson.co.uk) has return flights from Gatwick to Cancún from £677 in March.

Balmy Balearics

For a short-haul sun boost, try Mallorca – by mid-April, the temperatures are hitting 20C, with nine hours of sunshine a day. In addition, you'll be in time to witness the celebrations of Spain's holiest week, Semana Santa (11-20 April). The clifftop Jumeirah Port Soller (jumeirah.com) is an excellent perch. All rooms have a terrace or balcony looking over the sea or at the Tramuntana Mountains; pathways through the gardens lead to the fishing town of Port de Sóller. Destinology (01204 823589; destinology.co.uk) is offering a four-night March stay from £599pp, including flights.

 

Indian Ocean idyll

For guaranteed warmth, try Mauritius. The main cyclone period (January and February) is over, and the late-summer weather is nice and hot, averaging 30C. Western & Oriental (020 7666 1234; westernoriental.com) offers a week at the five-star Residence Mauritius from £1,675pp, including flights, for departures in March and April. This colonial-styled hotel sits on one of the island's best beaches, perfect for windsurfing, snorkelling, kayaking or lolling. Rooms come with shutters, wood-and-marble bathrooms and your own butler.

Crowd-free Amalfi

Quick! Make a dash for Italy's Amalfi Coast. This popular spot is a little bit less so in April, right at the start of the season – so you can see its classic clifftops, daubed with wildflowers, before the masses arrive. The classy, antique-filled Le Sirenuse, the grande dame of pretty Positano, re-opens its doors for the season on 24 March. To get you in the spring spirit, the hotel offers flower tours of its jasmine and frangipani-draped grounds and lessons in making limoncello from the region's abundant lemons. La dolce vita indeed. Kirker Holidays (020 7593 1899; kirkerholidays.com) offers three-night spring stays from £1,048pp, including flights.

Borneo's wild beaches

Combine the seaside and wildlife on a tailormade two-centre trip to Borneo with Audley's Hidden Beaches (01993 838250; hiddenbeaches.co.uk; 13 nights from £2,088pp including flights). The wild South-east Asian island is ideal in March and April when it's largely dry and sunny. Make the most of conditions at the Shangri La Rasa Ria Resort, a good base for exploring Mount Kinabalu and visiting the orang-utans, before retreating to Gaya Island. This resort, which is set in a marine park, is an ideal spot for jungle walks, sub-aquatic exploration with marine biologists, or just relaxing by the beach or pool.

City breaks

Spring is super for wandering around city sights without getting hot and bothered, yet it's warm enough for park picnics and pavement cafés.

Paris in springtime

Ah, a wonderful cliché: but the French capital truly is splendid in spring. It's quieter, cooler and growing greener; alfresco tables demand your presence, and a blockbuster exhibition, "Paris 1900 la Ville Spectacle" will examine the City of Light during the Belle Epoque at the Petit Palais (2 April -17 August; 00 33 1 53 43 40 00; petitpalais.paris.fr; €11). And why not stay opposite a famous icon? Homestay specialist OneFineStay's Rue Gaston de Saint-Paul apartment is over the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, which marks its 125th anniversary this year. Le Tour is visible from its balcony (020 3582 2351; onefinestay.com; from €507 per night).

Germany by train

Eurostar now sells through-tickets to six German cities – Aachen, Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf and Bonn – valid from London St Pancras for any connecting Deutsche Bahn train at Brussels or Paris on the day of your chosen Eurostar departure (08432 186 186; eurostar.com). You can reach Frankfurt from £79.50 one way, where the Dippemess spring folk festival takes place on Ratsweg from 11 April to 3 May, with fairground rides and food stalls (frankfurt-tourismus.de). In Munich (reached from £97.50 one way), the Bavarian State Opera stages its Ballet Festival from 4-13 April (00 49 89 21 85 01; bayerische.staatsoper.de).

Low-cost Lisbon

Western Europe's cheapest capital is arguably one of the most interesting. Lisbon has myriad small pleasures: rickety yellow trams, the tumbling Alfama district, port tasting and late-night revelry in the lively Bairro Alto, and espresso at just 60¢ a shot. Sunvil (020 8568 4499; sunvil.co.uk) can arrange tailormade breaks; three nights at the Hotel Heritage Lisboa Plaza cost from £507pp, with flights. Or combine three cities: fly into Porto, train it to medieval Coimbra, then on to Lisbon (seven nights from £627pp including flights).

Tokyo in bloom

Spring is spectacular in Japan, where cherry trees explode into full-bloom and there are high-spirited hanami (blossom parties). InsideJapan's eight-night Neon and Temples trip combines Tokyo and Kyoto, for two bites of the cherry (0117 370 9751; insidejapantours.com; £2,380pp with flights). Join celebrating salarymen in Tokyo's Ueno Park or view Miyako Odori (geisha blossom dances) in Kyoto; and there's the Studio Ghibli animation studios and a stay in a traditional ryokan.

Refined Riga

The Latvian capital, as joint European Capital of Culture for 2014, is in celebratory mood. Go now to catch the Windstream Festival (20 March-20 April), a profusion of concerts in halls and churches across the city. However, Riga is always rewarding. Amble through the Old Town, admire Europe's largest collection of Art Nouveau architecture, join locals haggling in the Central Market and pack a picnic for Bastejkalns Park. Regent Holidays (020 7666 1244; regent-holidays.co.uk) has three-night break from £305pp, with flights.

Family breaks

Use Easter to take the children somewhere exotic: prices are hiked for this holiday, but it's still cheaper than the summer break. Or head to Europe – Easter (20 April) is late this year, so the Continent will be warming up nicely.

Get more from Morocco

Cultured and child-friendly, the new Fellah Hotel, just outside Marrakech, makes an excellent Easter base. Come April, with temperatures pushing 25C, it's warm enough to splash in the outdoor pool, which has views towards the Atlas Mountains. But better still are the activities: children can help on the hotel's farm by milking the cows and herding goats; there are classes in soap-making, pastry baking and there's children's yoga. The over-12s can take writing workshops, DJ classes and boxing lessons. Book via Smith & Family (0845 313 9007; smithandfamily.co.uk) to get a free donkey-and-cart tour. Deluxe rooms, which accommodate a cot and child bed, start at £180 per night, room only.

A Greek play

New for Easter 2014 is Activities Abroad's Meteora Family Adventure (01670 789991; activitiesabroad.com). It's geared towards all ages having fun together in the natural playground of central Greece. On a seven-night stay, you'll hike amid wildflowers, canoe Lake Plastira, mountain-bike, rock climb, canyoneer and learn a little about Ancient Greek mythology. The trip departs on 11 April and costs from £1,045pp, including flights, as well as some meals, all activities, equipment and guides.

Cycle around Spain

Burn off a few Easter eggs on Headwater's six-night self-guided Contrasts of Catalunya Cycling trip (0845 154 5250; headwater.com) which costs from £1,037 per adult and £779 for under-12s, excluding flights. This ride is gentle enough for the whole family, sticking to almost traffic-free roads to explore the rolling countryside of northern Spain. Armed with quality bikes and detailed route notes, you'll pedal past pretty hamlets, spring blossom, sandy bays and fishing villages. Each night, an upmarket hotel (all with pools, usually close to the beach) awaits you, and there are two nights in a castle.

Last of the lights

Catch the tail-end of the Nasa-predicted peak of Northern Lights activity in Iceland. March tends to be one of the best months for aurora-viewing; plus, the weather is getting warmer and the days longer, ideal for exploring Iceland's waterfalls and weird landscapes. The Hrisateigur Residence, offered by family-rental specialist Kid & Coe (001 212 905 6065; kidandcoe.com), is a beautiful base in Reykjavík's family-friendly Laugardalur neighbourhood, walkable from a geothermal play pool as well as the city centre and beach. This 100-year-old four-bed Icelandic house has had a bright modern makeover too, and comes with lots of toys and an open fire. Rental starts at $368 (£230) per night. Flights not included.

Kick back in Kerala

For an exotic Easter, head for the Backwaters of Kerala with Families Worldwide (01962 737560; familiesworldwide.co.uk; departures 5 and 12 April). The 12-day trip costs from £1,729 per adult, £1,629 per child, including flights. Temperatures here are rising but the brood can keep cool by floating along palm-fringed channels on a rice barge, exploring Periyar National Park looking for elephants, then retreating to the leafy hill station of Munnar. Learn to cook a curry and throw some Keralan martial-art moves too.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Casual Visitor Experience Assistants

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To work within the Visitor Experience Departm...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created