With all this snow, I feel the need for a warm escape more than ever. Where are the best and closest places to go for a warm winter break?
At this time of year, it’s hard to imagine that those of us scraping ice off our cars and donning woolly hats could be on a sun lounger within six hours.
But it is possible – and in some cases, reasonable – as long as you avoid the peak travel days (those leading up to Christmas and straight before or after the New Year).
The first place that most sun-starved Europeans head at this time of year is the Canary Islands, around three and a half hours away from London by plane.
So much is said, and written, about these put-upon islands that does them a huge disservice. Yes, there are sprawling all-inclusive resorts that offer good value holidays and salsa by the pool, but there’s also so much more.
Take Lanzarote, with its boutique hotels, vineyards and quiet villages – not the image many of us have of the island.
Like its neighbour, Tenerife, the island has a volcanic interior of black sand and lava rock that in places feels like a moonscape, quite other-worldly in fact. It’s great walking country, especially as the temperature in December and January stays at around 15 degrees C, so it’s warm but not too hot if you’re exerting yourself.
If you’re pushing the boat out consider Finca de Las Salinas in Yaiza, an 18th century vineyard property with a pool and spa. The atmosphere is relaxed with colourful, airy rooms and wicker furniture, and as there are only 19 rooms, it never feels busy. There’s tennis, a gym, and mountain biking nearby and the beaches of Papagayo are a short drive away. The restaurant prides itself on using local produce matched with fine Spanish wines, and you should save room for dessert – I hear they’re a knock-out.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to that, try Casa El Morro, self-catering suites that cost from E107 a night. The property is an 18th century mansion in a breathtaking spot between three national parks and close to the vineyards of la Geria.
It’s split into six suites around a central courtyard, each with their own kitchen. It’s another good spot for adventurers – with excellent hiking, mountain biking and windsurfing nearby. Or you can just relax on a day bed with a good book. Find cheap flights to Lanzarote here.
Another island that’s much-maligned is Madeira. Long considered a hotspot for retirees and timeshares, this Atlantic island is actually rather charming, and even has nightlife and culture for the young (and young at heart).
The temperature around the turn of the year is in the low teens, which means you made need a sweater, and even an umbrella at times, but at least you won’t be digging out the snow shovel! One of the coolest hotels on the island is Estalagem da Ponta do Sol on the south coast, only 25 minutes’ drive from Funchal, the capital. It’s a member of the trendy Design Hotels group and has a spa, pool, sauna, Jacuzzi, and fabulous modern décor, as you’d expect.
There’s a chance for birdwatching, hiking, golf and surfing, among the many other activities available, so no excuse not to work up a hunger for the fine dining in front of the fire in the evening. Rooms cost from £45 a night for a five-night stay and the flight to Madeira from London takes three and a half hours.
My final suggestion is a little further away, but for six hours flying time you’ll get Caribbean-style sandy beaches, no malaria, unlike the Gambia, a popular winter sun spot about the same distance away, and no crowds.
I’m talking about is the Cape Verde islands – you may not have heard of them, but in a few years’ time, I expect they will be very much on our winter sun radar. They are a group of ten islands off the coast of Senegal. Like Madeira, they inhabitants speak Portuguese, but unlike Madeira, they’re an even more toasty 25 C year-round.
There are direct flights to Sal from the UK, the most developed of the islands. If it’s idyllic beaches you’re after, head to Boa Vista, either by flying direct or getting a transfer from Sal. The Parque das Dunas hotel is a good option on Boa Vista overlooking Chaves beach. It has a pool and rooms are split across 28 villas, with prices starting from E63 a night half-board.
If it’s culture you’re after, the island of Santiago offers a dip into African music and food, with some fascinating wildlife in the lush interior. The quality of accommodation is not exceptional on the island, but it’s comfortable.
One of the more popular hotels is Quinta da Montanha, a three-star lodge in the Rui Vaz Mountains, about 15 minutes from the capital, Praia. There’s wonderful walking around the lodge, as you’d expect, and you can book a guided walk with the hotel if you want to learn more about the area and wildlife.
The restaurant offers hearty traditional food, much of it coming from the hotel’s organic garden. Rooms cost from E40 a night, and it’s a great option if you want greenery and mountains from your winter sun, rather than the beaches you’ll find elsewhere on Cape Verde. Either way, the umbrella will be gathering dust and the sunglasses will see the light of day.
Answer by Ginny Light – TimesOnline travel editor
Got a travel question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get our panel of travel experts to answer your question.