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Something to declare: No city-break limits now the children are back at school


Juliet Kinsman
Saturday 15 September 2012 19:48 BST
Canal calm: The post-summer exodus brings out the best in Venice, when its charms can be better enjoyed
Canal calm: The post-summer exodus brings out the best in Venice, when its charms can be better enjoyed

Europe's most romantic cities can resemble the second circle of hell in high season. For me, Venice in July evokes three words: "tourists" and "more tourists". Seriously, does it sound dreamy to swelter in a summery La Serenissima with all traces of Byzantine or Baroque beauty blotted out by kids striking Facebook poses? I want to enjoy this watery, walkable maze when the islands are family-free.

Nicola Campa, owner of Ca Maria Adele, a charming guesthouse in Dorsoduro, loves autumn the most.

"It's still warm enough to enjoy a gondola ride, and a light fog in the early morning and evening makes Venice even more mysterious," she says.

And in winter, canal scenes are perhaps even more captivating: you and yours silhouetted against a hauntingly grey sky, and a Canaletto-conjuring backdrop of centuries-spanning architecture.

It's increasingly hard to classify climates, but you can usually bank on cities like Seville, Valletta and Marrakech basking smugly in T-shirt weather, as we Brits prepare to dig out our thermals.

Autumn and winter short breaks can be easier on the purse strings, too. Hotels in popular holiday destinations can have price tags to make your eyes water in August, but as soon as children are back at their desks, room rates nosedive.

However, beware shopping capitals such as New York, Milan and Paris in September, when hotel and air fares spike during Fashion Week. It pays to hit those in-demand hubs judiciously.

Smartypants do Santa's dirty work in NYC's end-of-November sales. The new NoMad Hotel is perfectly poised for retail therapy, and rates plummet from the second week of December.

Staying at The Gray in Milan during the second half of October is more affordable than previous weeks. Factor in a visit to shopping outlet Fidenza Village, sister of Bicester – the savings are worth the mall's free 75-minute bus shuttle.

Amsterdam does winter wonderfully. Packed with museums, the city's compact centre is laced with cycle lanes that beg you to wrap up for crisp-aired rides.

The Swedish also make an art of colder months; Stockholm is fairy-tale fit and packed with a vibrant cultural calendar, which includes the Stockholm Film Festival in November. Bunk up at Berns Hotel and you needn't leave the premises for cocktail-fuelled fun, with live music from the likes of Jessie Ware and Rufus Wainwright, who will play at the hotel in October and December respectively.

When Berlin's pavements were packed in snow last January, there was no froideur for this lover of the German capital. On the contrary, a winter stay at Soho House Berlin was pure perfection for time away as a twosome. We happily ducked into convivial cafés, cutting-edge galleries and cool clubs.

So, give hibernation the heave-ho, I say, and trade in torpor for an action-packed mini-break. The days might be shorter, but the nights are longer – what better excuse do you need?

Juliet Kinsman is the editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith (

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