Winter getaways: Leave it all behind
Summer may have slipped away, but don't let the longer nights and chilly days get you down. Now's the time to book a cosy romantic escape, or chase the sun on a Caribbean cruise. From ski trips to last-minute half-term deals and budget-blowing Antipodean adventures, winter's never looked so appealing, as Kate Simon reveals
Kate Simon is the Travel Correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. She was Travel Editor of The Independent on Sunday from 2005 to 2011. Kate is also the co-founder of Little Black Book Creative (www.lbbcreative.co.uk), which offers editorial services, media relations consultancy and travel-writing training.
Sunday 07 October 2012
Late deals for autumn half-term
Half-term may be just a few weeks away, but there are still some good ideas and deals available for families in search of a break. A family of four can catch some sun on a beach holiday at Akyaka in south-west Turkey with Anatolian Sky Holidays (0844 417 1885; anatoliansky.co.uk). The total price for two adults and two children aged two to 16 years is £1,699, which includes return flights from Gatwick to Dalaman and a self-catering apartment at the Yucelen Hotel. Departs 22 and 29 October.
Or, take your crew on the waterways of Britain with Drifters (0844 984 0322; drifters.co.uk), which operates more than 500 boats out of 35 bases across the country. It's offering good availability this half-term at several departure points, including a week out of Trevor in North Wales to navigate the "Stream in the Sky", crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in the Dee Valley. From £580 for a week for four sharing, including boat-steering tuition and fuel.
Teach the children something they'll want to learn – surfing. The new Paradis Plage beachside resort near Agadir in Morocco has instructors on hand to teach anyone over the age of seven, and The Healthy Holiday Company (020-8968 0501; thehealthyholidaycompany.co.uk) can package a trip for £725 per person, based on four sharing, including return flights with BA from Heathrow to Agadir, transfers, B&B in a two-bedroom suite, and wetsuit and board hire.
Rather less exotic, though possibly no less fun, is the opportunity to learn to wakeboard at Away Resorts' Tattershall Lakes Country Park (01526 348 800; tattershall-lakes.com) in Lincolnshire. Complete beginners to pros can try out the new Just Wake park, which has a challenging course of obstacles, including pipe rails and quarter pipes, with tuition offered at £11 an hour. The resort has a spa and other leisure facilities, too. From £263 for seven nights' self-catering in a six-berth "value" caravan, arriving 27 October.
In Uganda, new regular direct flights between Entebbe and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in provide a handy alternative to the 10-hour drive previously necessary to visit the last refuge of the endangered mountain gorilla. Rainbow Tours (020-7666 1260; rainbowtours.co.uk) is making the most of the swift transfer with a new seven-night holiday combining time in the Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp and at Sanctuary Olonana, a small luxury safari camp overlooking the Mara River. From November to January, the price is £3,540 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights on Kenya Airways from Heathrow to Entebbe via Nairobi, domestic flights, transfers, three nights at each camp, all meals and local drinks, wildlife-watching and other activities, and one night's B&B in Nairobi.
October and November are the months to head to Canada to watch the polar bears migrate to the shores of Cape Churchill, where they wait for the sea ice to form. Prestige Holidays (01502 567222; prestigeholidays.co.uk) offers a five-night Ultimate Polar Bear Tour from £3,809 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes flights on Air Canada from Heathrow to Winnipeg via Toronto, domestic flights and transfers, two nights at an airport hotel and three nights' B&B at the Lazy Bear Lodge, two guided excursions in tundra vehicles and a cultural tour.
Exotic Vietnam, a new package from Bamboo Travel (020-7720 9285; bambootravel.co.uk), explores this emerging tourist destination in South-east Asia through its wildlife. Highlights include visits to the Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre, which has links to the East project at Monkey World in Dorset, and the Cat Tien National Park, listed last year by Unesco as a World Biosphere Reserve, and home to elephants, sun bears, gaur and scores of birds. The trip costs from £2,295 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights with Vietnam Airlines from Gatwick to Danang via Hanoi, transfers, 12 nights in hotels with breakfast, some lunches/dinners and an English-speaking guide.
Australia and New Zealand
Winter is peak season for trips to this far-flung corner of the globe, which is usually reflected in the prices. And you can add to that the punishing exchange rate of barely A$1.50 to each £1. But a visit to Australia or New Zealand, or both, is likely to be the trip of a lifetime, and there are plenty of new offerings to entice visitors this winter. For example, the Margaret River's first food festival, which highlights the gourmet credentials of this part of Western Australia. Gourmet Escape, 22-25 November, will feature wine-tastings, cookery masterclasses and appearances by top chefs including Heston Blumenthal. Bridge & Wickers (020-3642 9221; bridgeandwickers.co.uk) is offering an eight-day trip taking in the festival from £3,019 per person, including flights with Qantas from Heathrow to Perth, transfers, four days' car hire, three nights in Perth and four nights' room-only at the Quay West Resort Bunker Bay.
The ultimate whistlestop tour of Australia and New Zealand has been devised by Virgin Holidays Worldwide Journeys (0844 417 3448; virginholidaysjourneys.co.uk). The new 22-day escorted trip, Highlights of Australia and New Zealand, takes in Melbourne, Alice Springs, Uluru, Cairns and Sydney, before crossing to New Zealand to see Auckland, Rotorua, Christchurch, Queenstown and the Franz Josef Glacier. From £7,665 per person, with flights to Melbourne and out of Christchurch, transfers, mixed-board accommodation and a guide. The first departures leave in January.
Peter Jackson's first instalment of The Hobbit will focus attention on the landscapes of New Zealand once again when it's released in December. Discover the World (01737 214250; discover-the-world.co.uk). offers the chance to see "Middle Earth" and the Hobbiton movie set up close on a 13-night self-drive tour. The price of £1,477 per person includes airport transfers, accommodation, tours and car hire. International flights extra.
South American adventures
Dragoman (01728 885102; dragoman.co.uk) has added another trip to its collection of 50-plus journeys across South America. The Trans Amazon Exploratory Tour departs 14 February. It crosses the rainforest on the new Interoceanic Highway that links Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Cusco in Peru. En route, the 24-day trip will call at Brasilia, the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park and Peruvian cloud forests. The price of £1,467 per person, based on two sharing, includes transport, camping and hotel accommodation, and most meals. Flights from Heathrow to Rio, returning from Cusco can be arranged from £1,025.
Remote luxury is the signature offering of explora (00 56 2395 2800; explora.com), which has launched new itineraries for horseriders at its Chilean bases, explora Patagonia and explora Atacama – set out on rides on the Patagonian pampas or amid the desert dunes. From £5,300 per person with Original Travel (020-7987 7333; originaltravel.co.uk), including domestic flights, transfers, two nights' B&B in Santiago, all-inclusive at explora, with six days' riding in Atacama and five days' riding in Patagonia. Departures are throughout December, when return international flights can be arranged from £936.
If the Galapagos islands are on your bucket list, now could be the moment to book. Dial-a-Flight (0844 811 4444; dialaflight.com) has a 10-day tour, departing 21 November and 5 December, for £2,559 per person, if you book before 31 October. The journey starts in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, then heads to see the archipelago's rich cast of wildlife, including blue-footed boobies, sea lions and iguanas.
The price includes indirect flights from Heathrow to Quito, transfers, three nights' B&B in Quito, one night's B&B in a Galapagos hotel, five nights' full-board on the M/V Santa Cruz, expert guides and some excursions.
Deep winter is never a cheap time to travel to this region, yet you can still get some good-value deals. In February, at the height of the peak season, Thomson (0871 230 2930; thomson.co.uk) is offering a week all-inclusive at the Almond Casuarina Beach Resort on the south coast of Barbados from £1,479 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Gatwick and transfers. Direct flights are also offered from a host of regional airports, including Birmingham, Exeter, Newcastle, Manchester and Cardiff.
For the best prices, get out to the Caribbean before high season starts. For example, depart on 24 October for an all-inclusive week at Jolly Beach Resort & Spa on Antigua, and Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3865; virginholidays.co.uk) will charge £989 per person, including return flights from Gatwick.
But why visit one island when you can tick several off your list for under £1,000 per person? Between November and March, P&O Cruises (0843 3740 111; pocruises.co.uk) is offering fly-cruises that visit up to 10 islands.
Ports of call include St Lucia, St Kitts, Antigua and Mexico's Costa Maya, as well as less familiar destinations such as Venezuela's Margarita Island and Princess Cays, the cruise line's private port in the Bahamas. A 15-night Caribbean transatlantic cruise on Azura (departing 10 January) costs from £999 per person, based on two sharing, departing Southampton by ship, returning by air, including full board, entertainment and most facilities.
"For budget travellers to the Caribbean, there are small gems tucked away outside the main resorts. Independent travel is expensive, but most Caribbean hotels are offering deals – ask!"
James Henderson, co-founder, Travelspinner ( travelspinner.com)
Indian Ocean escapes
The Viceroy Maldives (00 960 654 5000; viceroyhotelsandresorts.com) is one of this year's must-visits for globetrotting spa fans because of its over-water treatment rooms with views of the ocean and promise of an indulgent menu of therapies that fuse Indian and Western influences. Bailey Robinson (01488 689700; baileyrobinson.com) offers a week at the resort for £3,810 per person including return flights with BA from Gatwick for travel until 20 December, seaplane transfers and half-board in a beach villa.
In Sri Lanka, you can combine beach life with an exploration of the island's fascinating interior. Mosaic Holidays (020-3051 2207; mosaicholidays.co.uk) is offering a seven-night tour that embraces a variety of experiences, including a visit to the sacred Buddhist city of Kandy, a trip to a tea plantation and a wildlife drive through Udawalawe National Park, before concluding with two nights at the Blue Water resort on the beach at Wadduwa. From £1,629, including return flights with Sri Lankan Airlines from Heathrow, transfers, five nights' B&B, two nights' half-board, English-speaking chauffeur guide, entrance fees and activities.
Mauritius may seem a very expensive notion for a family holiday, but the all-inclusive option of Club Med (08453 670670; clubmed.co.uk) could provide a more economical solution. The company is currently offering deals at La Pointe aux Cannoniers for bookings made by 7 November for departures on 30 November. The adult price is £1,506, but for children aged four to 17 years it almost halves to £827.
A similar deal is available at its other resort on the island, Club Med La Plantation d'Albion, for £1,620 per adult and £891 per child. Prices includes return flights with Emirates from Heathrow via Dubai, transfers, all-inclusive accommodation, activities and children's clubs.
Sunny Florida is one of British holidaymakers' favourite winter haunts, but it's not all about the beach. Fly to Tampa and immerse yourself in culture for a few days. The Gulf Coast city is putting the arts centre stage, with the shores of the Hillsborough River fast regenerating to become its cultural corridor. The showpiece is the Tampa Museum of Art (001 813 274 8130; tampamuseum.org), a stark box on the riverside that specialises in 20th-century fine art, and this winter hosts a retrospective of the work of the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson until 13 January. Bon Voyage (0800 316 3012; bon-voyage.co.uk) offers three nights' room only at the Hyatt Regency from £725 per person, including return flights with BA from Gatwick to Tampa.
You can get the family to Florida this Christmas for £982 per person, based on four sharing, with Tour America Direct (0845 319 4266; touramericadirect.co.uk). The deal includes return flights from Gatwick to Orlando, departing 21 December and a weeks B&B at the Country Inn and Suites Universal, plus pool access. The resort runs a free shuttle to the theme parks, which are all close by. Five-day Premium Walt Disney World passes start at £227 per child and £252 per adult, giving unlimited access to the Disney parks.
Any discerning traveller to Miami makes time to mingle with the beautiful people on South Beach. But those in the know this winter will take time out further north along the sands at Bal Harbour, where the St Regis has just opened a striking hotel with three glass towers in this chic marina. In November, British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com/miami) offers two nights in South Beach and two nights' room only at the St Regis Bal Harbour from £1,159 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Heathrow to Miami and car hire.
Cosy British breaks
After a bracing coastal walk, snuggle up at Porth Cottage in north Cornwall. This 18th-century fisherman's dwelling, with its low oak-beamed ceilings, has quaint touches such as a wood burner, and has been attractively decorated with all mod cons to satisfy the tastes of discerning travellers. This autumn, guests can get four nights at £315, or seven nights at £525, through Breaks in Cornwall (01621 784666; breaksincornwall.com) by quoting ref PRL/SC4.
Head for the Scottish Highlands for glorious winter views of lochs and mountains. At the Loch Ness Lodge (01456 459469; loch-ness-lodge.com), you don't even have to venture outside to enjoy the scene: the hotel offers panoramic views of the 24-mile-long loch. The fine-dining restaurant and spa might delay your explorations too. Until 31 March, the hotel is offering three nights' B&B and dinner from £297 per person, based on two sharing.
Feather-bedded accommodation and award-winning food are two essential ingredients for a cosy winter break. The Sun Inn (015242 71965; sun-inn.info) at Kirkby Lonsdale on the borders of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, can supply both. This 17th-century inn, decorated in contemporary style, has 11 bedrooms, where pillow-toppers and fluffy bathrobes come as standard, and offers award-winning dining in the bar and its intimate restaurant. Enjoy a three-course dinner of local, seasonal produce from £29.95pp. B&B doubles from £99.
"If you're after a cosy cottage for Christmas, keep an eye out for properties that include complimentary goodies, such as hampers and Christmas trees. This saves space in your car, and makes for a lovely welcome."
Alan Taylor, managing director, Blue Chip Holidays ( bluechipholidays.co.uk)
Skiers who've always fancied having a go at snowboarding can try it for free in Morzine-Avoriaz in the French Alps with rudechalets (0870 068 7030; rudechalets.com). In the week beginning 20 January, the ski company will provide two hours of snowboarding instruction and a day's rental of a snowboard for free to any of its skiing guests. The lessons will be first come, first served and for a maximum of six people during that week.
If you miss the January slot, there will be a second chance in the week beginning 24 March. Seven-night packages cost from £569 per person, including transfers from Geneva airport, half board, unlimited wine and mountain hosting. Travel to Geneva is not included.
Slovakia continues to confirm its place as a good destination for the budget skier, especially for its great value après-ski, with main meals as low as €4 (£3.20) a head, and a pint of beer costing just €1.20 (96p). As well as the low cost of living, there are some good deals available. Book your holiday before 31 October to get a week's skiing from £699 in the High Tatras with Mountain Paradise (0161 408 8988; mountainparadise.co.uk; quote "Ski Tatra" when booking). The price includes return flights to Krakow (across the border in Poland) from Gatwick, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh or Belfast, resort transfers, half-board, a six-day ski pass and ski or snowboard hire.
Scotland is hoping for another bumper year of snow. At the Craigellachie Hotel (08444 146 526; thecraigellachiehotel.com) in Speyside, 30 minutes' drive from the Lecht, a 2,090ft-high mountain in the eastern Cairngorms, a four-night stay in January is available for £218 per person, based on two sharing, including B&B and a full area pass at Lecht for four days. Quote "Ski".
"I never understand why everyone gets so worked up about the February school holidays. I'd much rather go in October when flights and accommodation are cheap, the slopes are empty and the snow fresh on the glaciers."
Patrick Thorne, snowsports expert aka The Snowhunter ( snowhunter.com)
Step out with your dearest on the Coleridge Way for a bracing self-guided walking break entitled "Footsteps of the Romantic Poet". Celtic Trails (01291 689774; celtic-trails.com) has designed a 36-mile route from Nether Stowey, Somerset, where the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived, to Wordsworth's House at Alfoxton Park. The walk takes in the glorious countryside of the Quantock Hills and Exmoor National Park. B&Bs, farmhouses and small inns en route provide places to snuggle up along the way. From £289 per person, based on two sharing, including four nights' B&B, luggage transfers, walk pack and maps.
Further Afield (01497 831225; furtherafield.com), the accommodation website aimed at gay and lesbian travellers, hand-picks the places it features to ensure a friendly welcome. Favoured spots for romantic breaks this winter include Amsterdam, where boutique B&B Kamer 01 is recommended for its two stylish suites, each on its own floor, that cost from €218 (£175) per night.
A riad in the medina of Marrakech is the starting point for a week's romantic adventure in Morocco, which explores this exotic city, then ventures beyond to spend three days in the desert and the High Atlas Mountains. A camel ride in the dunes of Erg Lihoudi and a night in carpeted tents under the desert sky are among the romantic highlights of the trip. The City & Sahara Experience from Inntravel (01653 617001; inntravel.co.uk) costs from £985 per person, including transfers, seven nights' B&B, two dinners, two lunches, camel ride and local guide. Flights not included.
"Days are shorter, so make more of the nights. Book a decadent bedroom in a hotel with first-class room service and great audio-visuals, and hunker down with those movies you've always wanted to see."
Juliet Kinsman, editor-in-chief, Mr & Mrs Smith ( mrandmrssmith.com)
You can find a Christmas market in almost every British town and city – christmasmarkets.com is a good place to locate your nearest. But one town that's making the effort to stand out from the crowd is Kingston upon Thames ( kingstonfirst.co.uk). This year, it will be drawing on its royal heritage by hosting a Tudor Christmas market, with black-and-white cabins taking over the town square between 8 November and 24 December.
However, there's no denying that continental Europe is the place to go to see some of the most spectacular and traditional Christmas markets, particularly Austria and Germany. Leger Holidays (0844 504 6250; legerbreaks.info) is offering a tour of the Christmas markets of Salzburg and Innsbruck, and the celebrated Christkindlmarkt in Munich this festive season. The trip costs £379 and includes travel by coach from joining points across the UK, six nights' B&B and four evening meals. Departures available from 26 November to 10 December.
Save on the costs of a last-minute Christmas shopping trip by taking up the latest offer from Jury's Inn (0870 4100 800; jurysinns.com). The company, which has 25 hotels in city-centre locations across Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is charging £49 per night B&B for a family room sleeping up to four if you travel between 17 December and 8 January.
With every pound now scooping around $1.60, the ultimate Christmas shopping trip to New York is as attractive a proposition as ever. To get more bang for your buck, keep costs low, and, if you can do that at a convenient base in midtown Manhattan, the heart of shopping territory, so much the better. The latest deal from Letsgo2 (0844 80 444 80; letsgo2.com) is well positioned and sharply priced. It's offering four nights at the Doubletree Metropolitan on Lexington and 51st for £652 per person, including flights from Heathrow with Delta Airlines departing 22 November. You'll arrive on Thanksgiving, a suitably festive day, and can get stuck into the real business of shopping the following morning on Black Friday, when stores open as early as 4am, often with huge reductions.
"Our new research has found that, on the overwhelming majority of occasions, it was cheaper to book two weeks in advance of the stay, compared to one year in advance, with holidaymakers saving £118 on average."
Lorna Cowan, editor, Which? Travel ( which.co.uk)
Christmas and New Year
Visiting Santa is on every small child's Christmas wish list, but the quality of a trip to Lapland can vary dramatically. Activities Abroad (01670 789991; activitiesabroad.com) claims to have designed a more relaxed and authentic experience with its Father Christmas and the Northern Lights package. The new family tour to Kangos in Sweden features accommodation in a small, family-owned guesthouse, a snow-shoe trip to the forest to choose a Christmas tree, husky sled rides to search for the Northern Lights and a treasure hunt to Santa's cabin, followed by an unhurried audience with the old man himself. From £1,695 per adult and £1,295 per child, including return flights from Heathrow to Kittila via Helsinki, transfers, six nights' full board, all activities, cold-weather clothing and guides.
If you're in mind of something more colourful than a white Christmas, Rajasthan – home of the Pink and Blue cities, Jaipur and Jodhpur – could hold the key. Families Worldwide (0845 051 4567; familiesworldwide.co.uk) is offering an 11-day Taj and Tigers family holiday for £1,849 per adult and £1,599 per child. Visit Delhi, Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park and the Taj Mahal, with options for camel and elephant rides. The price includes flights from Heathrow on 21 December, nine nights' B&B, some meals, a tour leader and activities.
To see in the new year in the sun, look to South Africa, where Travelbag (0871 703 4698; travelbag.co.uk) is offering nine nights in Cape Town for £1,640 per person. The price includes Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow on 30 December and B&B in a sea-view room at the Primi Royal Camps Bay, at the foot of the Twelve Apostles mountain range. Camps Bay is home to dozens of restaurants and bars that buzz with activity on New Year's Eve, and white sand beaches with cafés and sunloungers.
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