What do we expect from a spring holiday? When it comes to planning, this is often a tricky time of year. Like autumn, spring is seen as a short, semi-permeable interface between the proper seasons of summer and winter.
Yes, that often makes spring exciting: those mad March winds, those refreshing April showers. But the contrary weather also raises awkward questions. Do I wear an anorak, or is it more of a T-shirt sort of day? Will it be daffodils or deluge? And when it comes my Easter holiday, should I risk a camping trip, or warm my toes by the fire in a nice, safe, weather-proofed country hotel?
In travel, spring and autumn are known as the shoulder seasons. Prices are often cheaper, due to all those uncertainties about the weather. Take a risk on a camping trip and you’re likely to pay considerably less than you would at the height of summer (despite there being no guarantees at all: remember last year’s wash-out?).
The concept extends well beyond these shores: Spain and France are only just open for holiday business by Easter and are currently far cheaper than in July or August; the Greek Islands lag still further behind. Only as you head south towards the equator does the shoulder season give a shrug of defeat, eventually giving way to the “wet” and “dry” season equivalents.
On the face of it, this spring my holiday plans suddenly look just that little bit less uncertain than usual. It's cold outside. Freezing in fact. And it seems likely to stay that way. My morning commute via bicycle across London currently involves two layers of everything (yes, everything), plus ski gloves. There will be no last-minute camping trip for my family. Logic tells me it’s time to make the most of it all and go … skiing.
For others, the unseasonably cold weather has brought with it an equally forthright desire to be “anywhere but here”. Gatwick Airport has been in touch, claiming that this Easter will be one of the busiest in recent years, with more than 1.6 million of us expected to travel through its twin terminals during the holidays.
Gatwick’s most popular destinations? The holiday hub of Malaga occupies the number three slot, with temperatures on the climb, but still only a modest 19C by the Easter weekend. Second place, for obvious snow-based reasons, goes to Geneva. And the top slot? Barcelona: famous for its balmy summers, but currently at 12C, with an indifferent – if moderately warmer – forecast over the next week.
In for the long haul - sometimes
Whether or not these trips were originally booked more in hope than expectation, does a Barcelonan city break make sense this Easter? After all, sun-seekers tend to crave as much certainty as possible.
That’s why they opt for Caribbean sunshine from November to March, or travel even further afield if they have the chance (and the money) during the winter. It’s a case of long-haul escapes for roughly half the year, and the ram-packed beaches of the Mediterranean during the height of summer.
Spring is the mid-point in the travel yo-yo: we are neither here, nor there. Neither Barbados, nor Biarritz.
Surely, then, we should be saving Barcelona for the summer holidays? Maybe. But foreign breaks over spring and autumn are about that element of uncertainty, of experiencing something that little bit different. When this year’s snows finally clear, wildflowers will cover the meadows of Europe; our rivers will be in spate; baby animals will cavort in the fields.
Come autumn, there’s the harvest: grapes, apples, hops. Yes, your holiday might be rained off. But with unpredictability comes real beauty – along with the chance to enjoy some of Europe’s finest regions and cities on the cheap.
So: good decision. Even with all those other fellow travellers from Gatwick, Barcelona will be relatively peaceful at this time of year. And it’s not often that you can take in Gaudí’s Sagrada Família without being overwhelmed by other tourists.
When it’s grim outside your window, it makes sense to change the view, whatever the weather. And you might even get lucky. One of these spring days, we’re sure to catch a glimpse of summer.