Kate Simon: From scorchio to squelchio – why I won't get burnt in Portugal

I'm just repacking my suitcase for our family holiday to the Algarve. Out go the flip-flops, in come the waterproofs. You see, I've just checked the five-day forecast for that part of the world and it predicts heavy showers followed by thunderstorms followed by more heavy showers – up until we step on the plane to go home. The word "disappointed" barely sums up the mood in our house as I write.

We thought the Algarve – right at the bottom of the Iberian Peninsula, within spitting distance of the North African coast – would be a good bet for sunshine at this time of year. We weren't expecting scorchio – but squelchio? Was it too much to ask for blue skies?

Yet, this isn't the first time we've been caught out by bad weather abroad during the Easter school holidays. A few years ago, we spent a week at this time of year enduring freak conditions in Sardinia. Within a day of arriving at our resort on the north coast of the Mediterranean holiday island, the wind picked up, black clouds closed in and freezing rain poured down. We learnt our lesson about leaving the coats and fleeces at home – which paid off a couple of years later when our Easter holiday in Sicily was similarly dogged by storms.

Truth is, the weather is always unpredictable in Europe at this time of year, even if you head to the southern reaches of the Continent. And, obviously, the earlier the Easter holidays fall, the dodgier your chances are of having a warm, sunny break.

A spokeswoman for the Met Office explained that the fine weather we're currently enjoying in Britain is to blame for the soggy prospects of our family's Algarve break. "The high pressure here means there's low pressure further south," she said. "Everything is shifting at this time of year, as the sun moves north, taking the jet stream with it, so it's a changeable time."

Still, we won't be alone in our misfortune. It's not just our family that sees Easter as the curtain-raiser to summer. Two million of us were due to head for the sun during the school holiday, according to the travel industry body Abta, which seized the moment to back Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign.

SunSmart seeks to promote awareness of UV exposure as a major cause of skin cancer and to reverse the upward spiral of the disease, and it has just released news that the baby boomers, now in their sixties and seventies, are more than five times more likely to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma than their parents would have been 30 years ago.

The days when sunburn was seen as the first step to a good tan are now taking their toll.

The campaign's message is an important one: it recommends spending time in the shade between 11am and 3pm; making sure you never burn; covering up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses; remembering to take extra care with children's skin; and using sunscreen which has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or more.

That's good advice – though I think there'll be little chance of us taking our coats off in the Algarve.

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