Everyone needs an escape from the freezing weather
Winter in Europe and North America can be horrible. When the storms aren’t rolling over there’s always a drizzle that can soak you to the skin in seconds; even when heavy coats are worn the cold still manages to chill the bones; and the cloud cover means it’s possible that the sun won’t be seen for days, or even weeks. On top of all that, work is a drag. This means it’s the perfect time for an escape to the sun. Here are the best places to go.
The south coast of Sri Lanka is easily one of the most rewarding places to lie on the beach with a cocktail. It’s lined by a string of beaches that the waves of the Indian Ocean roar upon. The region is full of wildlife sanctuaries — turtles and elephants are easily seen — and it’s possible to take a boat from Mirissa to spot blue whales. The area is one of the best developed for tourism on the island. Hotels, hostels and bed and breakfasts offer a range of choices, and it’s easily reached from Colombo. Up north, there are 41 square kilometres of temples and ruins — a city in itself — in Anuradhapura to take a tuk-tuk around. It’s one of the most important sites in Buddhism and incredibly peaceful. It is one of the most relaxed places to catch some winter sun.
Trinidad — Cuba
On the revolutionary island of Cuba lies the town of Trinidad. With a 500-year history, it’s full of colonial architecture and squares that are considered to be some of the best preserved, and many also hold Unesco World Heritage site status. The beaches in the area stretch as far as the eye can see and it’s a brilliant place for scuba diving. If it’s possible to tire of lying on the beach with a mojito, then a walk to the nearby waterfalls in the surrounding mountains will help. And if you fancy a party, a club named Discoteca Ayala is built into a network of caves on top of a nearby hill, or Casa de la Musica is perfect for a bit of salsa. Otherwise, just buy a bottle of rum and sit on the steps in the main square and watch the world slowly turn in the balmy heat.
The Philippines has been struggling a tad recently with overtourism. The popular resort of Boracay was closed over the summer to allow its environment to recover and has only just reopened. But that doesn’t mean there’s not other luxurious places to lie in the sun. El Nido on the island of Palawan is known for its endless stretches of white sand; Bohol is surrounded by coral reefs and is full of wild jungle to explore; and on Panglao there is a marine sanctuary to protect a region that is more biodiverse than the whole of the Mediterranean. There is surely nothing like the experience of island hopping from beach to beach.
The crystal-clear blue waters that lap the beaches of the Turquoise Coast on the south of Turkey are some of the most relaxing in the world. Full of the crumbling Roman and Ottoman cities and spas, such as that above the incredible Pamukkale water terraces, and holding the cities of Antalya and Bodrum, it is a part of the world were there will always be something to do. It does get a bit chillier in mid-winter — an average of around 18C (60.8F) — but if the temperature is Baltic at home this will still be delightful. And with the current price of the Turkish Lira, this could be the best place for a budget winter break to the sun.
Perhaps not a location for the budget traveller, Dubai is a city like no other. Built as a playground for the rich and famous, there is no opportunity to be bored here. It is full of shopping, many of the largest and tallest things on the planet, and even offers the chance to go skiing. There is entertainment of all kinds every night, beaches to lie on and souqs to explore. Winter temperatures are significantly more bearable than in the summer — the average high in December is 26C (78.8F), compared to 42C (107.6F) in August. New Year’s Eve in Dubai is one of the biggest parties it is possible to visit, and sitting on the beach watching the large firework displays burst over the skyline is spectacular.
If Dubai isn’t your thing then how about taking a trip next door to Oman. It will be just as hot but offers a richer cultural history. The capital, Muscat, has been an important port since the time of Ptolemy, and Salalah is the former capital of a 13th century kingdom and traditional home of the sultan. Both are full of museums and mosques to explore. Omani beaches stretch along the Arabian Sea and can be an excellent place to surf. Diving to its many reefs is also popular, in particular around the Daymaniyat Islands, Fahl Island and Musandam peninsula. Musandam also gives Oman one of its nicknames — the Norway of the Middle East. This is because of its stunning fjords along which it is possible to take a cruise on a traditional dhow, or if you really fancy an exciting escapade — swim.
Slightly cooler than some of the others on this list, the low season in Sicily makes it an excellent budget choice. It’s easy to reach with budget carriers from Europe and the cost of accommodation will be significantly lower than during the summer. The winter festivals are incredible; cities, towns and villages are full of excellent food and drink, huge parades and parties. In particular, the Festa dell’Immacolata (Festival of the Immaculate Conception) on 8 December is one that really shouldn’t be missed. Food is, of course, a big thing. The cities have a centuries-old culture of street food with pane con la milza, a pork spleen sandwich, and sfincione, a Sicilian pizza, being sold everywhere. Obviously, the wine is excellent too.
The north of Vietnam has its cold season during the winter months. Temperatures will only average 17-22C (62.6-71.6F). But in the south, around Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta it will be 25-35C (77-95F). That makes it the perfect place to explore if you want to gradually acclimatise, like a frog in boiling water. Fly into Hanoi and by hook or by crook make your way down to Ho Chi Minh City, catching all the sights on the way. Take in the stunning limestone karsts of Halong Bay on a junk and wander between the temples and palaces of the old imperial capital of Huế; the seaside city of Hội An has the best preserved old town in the country and explore the forbidding jungle, formerly home of the deadly Vietcong. Can you imagine a more exciting winter adventure?