Able to travel in November? Lucky you. From sunbathing and swimming to watching wildlife and chasing adventure, next month offers few crowds and great value, says David Orkin

WHEN IS THE LOWEST OF SEASONS?

November. Cole Porter might have loved Paris in the springtime and the Isley Brothers were big fans of the summer breeze. But experienced travellers (at least those unconstrained by school-age children) rarely get to enjoy Guy Fawkes Night at home. They know that November is the best of months to jet off for anything from a long weekend to an extended stay abroad.

Flight and holiday prices shoot up for departures during school holidays. In November, the opposite applies: this is the one month which never has UK school holidays, so departures to most worldwide destinations are priced as low season. Schools are also in session in southern-hemisphere favourites such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. So, unlike late December and January, British visitors won't be competing with the domestic market for accommodation, rental cars and flights. Book a fly-drive holiday from Sydney to Melbourne with ebookers (0870 814 0000; www.ebookers.com) and the November price is £746, including Qantas flights from Heathrow and a midsize car. On the same trip in December you'll pay £1,279.

"Escape the wind, the rain, sweeping up the leaves and scraping the ice off your windscreen, and instead enjoy some early winter sunshine," says Steve Allen, managing director of the travellers' club Wexas. "Set yourself up for the winter, and give your beachwear its last outing of the year."

Chris Nixon, director of the leading price comparison website travelsupermarket.com, agrees: "November is a great month to travel if you like to be in destinations such as the Canary Islands but prefer to avoid being there with the summer crowds. It's a perfect time for people travelling with pre-school-age children, as you avoid the hot summer sun, but it is still warm enough for the beach."

Cities that are usually overrun with tourists are notably empty in November. Venice is at its best. With Cities Direct (0870 4421820; www.citiesdirect.co.uk), £245 will get you three nights at the five-star San Clemente Palace, just a 10-minute boat ride from St Mark's Square, including flights from Stansted to Treviso on Ryanair.

You could combine some pre-Christmas shopping with the New York Marathon on 6 November or the Thanksgiving holiday on the 24th to add some extra spice (or at least turkey). Or blend warm winter sunshine and exotic shopping on a trip to Mexico, Dubai or Rio. Closer to home, many Christmas markets around Europe open in November, and tend to be less busy than in the last few weeks before 25 December; see page 17.

WHERE'S BEST FOR WEATHER?

Try Malta and Gozo. The average temperature in Malta in November is 22C and you should expect six hours of sun per day. A three-night bed-and-breakfast package at the three-star Osborne Hotel, within the city walls of Malta's capital, Valletta, costs £183 including flights from Gatwick on Air Malta and transfers with Malta Direct (020-8561 9079; www.maltadirect.com). The same duration at the five-star Kempinski San Lawrenz Resort and Spa on the adjacent island of Gozo starts at £246.

WHERE CAN I GO FOR AN INDIAN SUMMER?

India, silly. By November, the monsoon is over. The onset of "the dry" allows ready access to previously closed-off areas in National Parks and heralds new opportunities to see wildlife - notably India's "Big Five": tiger, lion, elephant, rhino and leopard. Wildlife Worldwide (020-8667 9158; www.wildlifeworldwide.com) offers a fortnight's Kerala Classic tour from £2,595. The price includes flights from Heathrow or Gatwick via Dubai on Emirates, hotel and lodge accommodation, all meals and guided wildlife viewing.

I NEED SOME ISLAND LIFE

Head for Montserrat. If Mother Nature behaves herself, November should mark the end of the hurricane season for the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Get in before the start of peak season and you'll find much more reasonable prices and fewer crowds than in the Christmas season. For a change from mainstream, consider laid-back Montserrat (020-7031 0317; www.visitmontserrat.com), an island with fantastic hiking, wildlife, nature and diving opportunities. Partially destroyed by a volcano a decade ago, Montserrat is rebuilding its place on the tourist map, and visitors can walk around a modern Pompeii, the buried capital of Plymouth. To reach Montserrat, first fly to Antigua - accessible on British Airways, BWIA or Virgin Atlantic - and connect to a short flight on Winair (001 268 462 2522; www.fly-winair.com).

I DON'T WANT SUMMER TO END

Our winter means summer in the southern hemisphere. David Wickers, of Bridge & Wickers (020-7483 6555; www.bridgeandwickers.co.uk), says: "You may think that there is no such thing as a perfect time for Australia, because when it's sunny in the south it's rainy up north, and vice versa. However, in November you can get the best of both worlds; it's just coming into summer in the south, yet the rains have yet to break in the north."

Wickers' company offers "The Golden Triangle", a trip that combines Lizard Island in the tropics of Queensland, plus Sydney and Uluru (Ayers Rock). The price of £3,319 includes domestic flights and private transfers, five nights' half board on Lizard Island, five nights at the Park Hyatt Sydney, two nights' full board at Uluru's Longitude 131, and some tours. Flights from London (to Sydney, from Cairns) start at just below £1,000, but you should be able to find a much cheaper "special". This is also an ideal time to travel to Western Australia, particularly the state's vibrant capital of Perth and the coastal areas of the south-west.

AND FOR ENDLESS DAYS?

If the long sunny days and blue skies of Australia aren't enough, aim further south: November is an ideal time to visit Antarctica. This is when the region has fresh snow, the best ice conditions and long hours of daylight allowing maximum opportunities to see the magnificent scenery. Norwegian Coastal Voyage (020-8846 2666; www.norwegiancoastalvoyage.com) offers cruises operated by Voyages of Discovery to Antarctica with opportunities to visit penguin colonies and to try out the icy waters before jumping into a hot pool dug into the ground of an extinct volcanic crater.

The voyages also include a cruise along the Chilean coastal region of Patagonia for snow-covered mountain scenery, majestic fjords and mighty glaciers. You can fly from Heathrow on 2, 9 or 30 November; prices start at £3,842, including flights from Heathrow, on Iberia, accommodation and a range of excursions and landings.

WHERE CAN I SEE THE BEST SEA LIFE?

Arguably, the Galapagos. Bales Worldwide (0870 752 0780; www.balesworldwide.com) suggests this archipelago for November, saying that the seas are at their calmest and it is the dry, cold season. This means it's the perfect time for snorkelling. Not only will visitors see sea lions pupping and brown noddies breeding, but it's likely that the sea lion pups will be playing aquarobics next to snorkellers. The company has also reduced prices for two November Galapagos trips: £200 off the Isabela Cruise, departing 12 November, making the new price £3,560, and £120 off The Enchanted Isles departure on 26 November - now costing £2,250.

I NEED SOME EXCITEMENT

Head for Victoria (the state in Australia, not the London rail terminus). The Emirates Melbourne Cup ( www.melbournecup.com.au), as Australia's leading race is now called, is held at the Flemington Race Course on 1 November.

The new Racing in Style package from Tailor Made Travel (0845 456 8050; www.tailor-made.co.uk) enables British fans to join the carnival atmosphere that engulfs Melbourne. This five-day package includes four nights at the city's Windsor Hotel and tickets to the Victoria Derby Day. Entry to the racecourse and The Banks area for the Melbourne Cup Day and complimentary race books are also included. The package costs £559, excluding flights - which could be on Emirates or one of a dozen other airlines.

Even without the Sport of Kings, the state of Victoria is a great place to visit in November. Besides Melbourne's café culture, you can take in the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships ( www.gymnastics.org.au), staged in the city from 21 to 27 November. At Moonah Links, south of Melbourne, you can watch the world's top golfers battle for the Australian Open ( www.australianopengolf.com) between 24 and 27 November. Elsewhere in the state, 19 and 20 November see the Brown Brothers Wine and Food Festival ( www.brown-brothers.com.au), at Milawa Vineyard, north-east Victoria.

ANY GOOD ANNIVERSARIES?

Aim for Zambia. The 150th anniversary of Livingstone's first sighting of the Victoria Falls will be celebrated on 16 November when, over four days, Sir Ranulph Fiennes will travel 180km along the Zambezi River to recreate Livingstone's original journey. He will travel by foot and Zambian dugout makoro canoe, from Mwandi to the Victoria Falls. On reaching Livingstone Island, Sir Ranulph will get his first view of the falls, as Livingstone did, and will unveil a commemorative plaque in honour of the pioneer who introduced "the Smoke That Thunders" to the wider world.

The place to stay is the five-star Royal Livingstone Hotel, which stretches luxuriously along the banks of the Zambezi. It consists of a series of 17 colonial-style buildings, with deep verandas. Wexas (020-7838 5980; www.wexas.com), of which Sir Ranulph Fiennes is an honorary president, offers five nights at the hotel for £1,317, including flights from Heathrow (via Johannesburg), breakfast, transfers and one year's membership of Wexas.

November and Zambia are made for each other. It's a time when rivers are full, wildflowers are in bloom, migrant birds arrive, and the air has a special dust-free clarity. Electrical storms and towering thunder clouds will certainly be in evidence too, but their presence adds to the elemental feel of the bush at this time of year.

WHERE'S A GOOD VIEW

The first day of November sees the reopening to the public of the Observation Deck on the 70th-floor summit of Manhattan's Rockefeller Center ( www.topoftherocknyc.com). Stay a few days and on 6 November you can watch the 36th New York Marathon ( www.ingnycmarathon.org). Between 10 and 13 November runners can replenish spent calories at the Chocolate Show ( www.chocolateshow.com). With tastings, demonstrations and even a fashion show featuring apparel and accessories made of the stuff, this event allows you to see, taste, learn about and explore the world of chocolate.

IS IT TOO EARLY TO GO SKIING?

With southern hemisphere skiing possibilities winding up in October, for early-season skiing head for California or western Canada. Opening dates depend, of course, on snowfall. Among the earliest proposed start dates are 10 November for Mammoth in California ( www.mammoth-mtn.com), a day later for Lake Louise and Sunshine Village in the Canadian Rockies ( www.skibig3.com), and 24 November for Whistler/Blackcomb ( www.whistler blackcomb.com) in British Columbia, north of Vancouver.

I NEED A LONG WALK

The Everest region has arguably the most dramatic scenery in the world. As the monsoon clouds disperse, November is the month that offers the clearest, most breathtaking views of the mighty Himalaya. The mountain kingdom of Nepal is one of the world's great trekking destinations - but is in the midst of guerrilla insurgency. However, in September, Maoist guerrillas agreed a ceasefire until 3 December, so consider lacing up your boots while the going is still good. Peregrine Adventures (01635 872 300; www.peregrineadventures.co.uk) has a good range of trips.

AND SOUTH OF THE EQUATOR?

Deep in Latin America there's more superlative trekking. Walks Worldwide (01524 242000; www.walksworldwide.com) has a departure on 18 November for a fully supported 17-day Chilean walking tour combining trekking in the superior landscapes of Torres del Paine, the Lake District and the Cordillera, with an ascent of 2,840m volcano Villarrica. The price of £2,795 includes scheduled flights from Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham, via Madrid, on Iberia and LAN Chile, transfers, hotel/camping accommodation, most meals, park entry fees, porterage of baggage and guiding.

Across the Andes, let your horse do the walking. November is the time to visit Argentina. The landscapes of Lanin National Park are fresh and ablaze with wildflowers.

On Estancia Huechahue, sold by Equine Adventures (020-8667 9158; www.equineadventures.co.uk), preparations are being made to round up cattle for the drive to summer pastures - riders may have the opportunity to help with this. And elsewhere, condor activity is visible. This 11-day tour costs £1,995, including flights from Gatwick, via Madrid, on Aerolineas Argentinas, estancia and camping accommodation, most meals, horses and tack, and guides.

NATURAL PHENOMENA

While some 5 November firework displays can be quite impressive, nature does it better. It is best to head to northerly latitudes for the most spectacular sights. November is a brilliant time to see the Aurora Borealis - better known as the Northern Lights - before the higher latitudes get too icy.

The spectacular aerial display results from electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with gases in the earth's ionosphere, causing the sky to erupt into blazing streaks of whites, greens and reds. The good news is that you don't have to go to the wilds of Alaska or Siberia to see them: only three hours flying time from London and two from Glasgow, Iceland's close proximity to the polar regions makes the northern part of this awe-inspiring country perfect for viewing the spectacular display.

In fact, given the right conditions - a clear, starry night with an evening temperature below freezing - the light show can be seen from most parts of Iceland. The locals will tell you of an entrepreneur named Einar Benediktsson who tried to sell the Northern Lights to businessmen from Switzerland early in the 20th century. The sale did not go through.

Another good opportunity to see the Northern Lights is on a whale-watching break to Norway's Lofoten Islands. During November, huge shoals of herring move into Norway's Tysfjord, followed by attendant pods of killer whales; seeing these giant mammals is more predictable than the Northern Lights. You may even see one leaping clear of the water.

Naturetrek (01962 733051; www.naturetrek.co.uk) has a tour departing on seven dates in November with prices from £895 including flights from London, accommodation with breakfast, orca-watching boat trips and naturalist guiding.

Natural historians are spoilt for choice in northerly latitudes in November. The polar bear migration in Canada is one of the world's best wildlife spectacles. Bears gather every year, close to Cape Churchill, for the sea-ice to form and allow them to venture out to their hunting grounds.

TIME TO STOCK UP FOR CHRISTMAS AT GERMANY'S HISTORIC MARKETS

If it's November it must be Christmas - well, at least the fairy-tale backdrops and aroma of mulled wine that signal the Christmas market. These are held throughout Europe and offer more than just a chance to stock up on the Christmas gifts you won't find on the high street.

The original Christmas markets are thought to have been in Germany, developing out of the winter markets that had been held in towns and villages throughout central and northern Europe for many centuries. People could buy and sell local produce and homemade decorations crafted out of wood, straw or tin.

Traditionally, Christmas markets were held in the square in front of the local church, in the hope that those attending a service would also be enticed to buy something. The most traditional markets stay close to their origins, both in location and in the types of goods they sell, with the emphasis in most being on local produce, decorations, crafts and handmade gifts.

The most-visited market in Germany is the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg ( www.tourismus.nuernberg.de), held from 25 November to 22 December in the main square. There is plenty of entertainment for children in Nuremberg, too, with a double-decker carousel and Father Christmas's sleigh.

In Cologne, a floating market on board the MS Wappen von Mainz (00 49 221 2019875; www.k-d.com), one of the boats that usually cruise the river Rhine, is a variation on a traditional theme. It is moored on the Rhine Promenade, the main walkway along the river in the centre of Cologne. The opening date has yet to be announced. Cologne's other five Christmas markets take place outside the cathedral and in some of the main squares.

Several tour operators offer short breaks specifically tailored around visiting Christmas markets. The German Travel Centre (020-8429 2900; www.german-travel-uk.com) has a good selection of one-night packages, with 11 German destinations to choose from.

You can even experience a German Christmas in Chicago, at the Christkindlmarket, celebrating its 10th year, which is modelled on the market in Nuremberg. It takes place at Daley Plaza, and on Washington Street, between Dearborn and State Streets, from 24 November to 22 December.

In Schwabing, a chic suburb a mile or two north of the centre of Munich, there is a Christmas market devoted to selling original works of art. It was started by a small group of artists in 1976; now 120 painters, sculptors and ceramicists sell their works from wooden huts along Leopoldstrasse. A jury decides who will be allowed to exhibit, and all the works are sold by the artists themselves, rather than dealers. The market (00 49 89 338133; www.schwabingerweihnachtsmarkt.de) starts on 27 November and runs to Christmas Eve.

Cathy Packe

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