Winter is coming. Half-term is around the corner. Soon it will be Hallowe’en, which will sound the Christmas klaxon and before you know it you’ll be Googling: “How hot is Seville in November?”.
And if summer holidays are about switching off and flopping onto a beach, winter sun is increasingly about adventure: stepping out of your comfort zone, while still getting that hit of Vitamin D.
It won’t come as a surprise that this is a charge being led by midlife travellers, who are seeking deeper, richer experiences from their holidays. According to a survey of 300 senior travellers by the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, their most preferred holiday activities were city sightseeing (89.3 per cent), visiting historical places (88.1 per cent), dining (85.7 per cent) and shopping (77.4 per cent). And sunbathing? Just 1.2 per cent. After all, who has time to be supine on the sand when there’s so much holidaying to be done?
“Since the pandemic, many customers have traded in the ‘fly-and-flop’ winter holiday in favour of something richer,” says the general manager of Intrepid Travel, Hazel McGuire. “Many of these are what we call ‘victory-lap’ travellers – people who may have visited as backpackers or on a budget and want to revisit at a slower pace.”
The co-founder of Original Travel, Tom Barber, agrees, saying customers are trading typical fly-and-flop spots for sunshine in more exciting destinations. “In 2021, the Maldives was our second most popular destination, and Grenada and Mauritius were in the top 10,” he says. “This year, our most popular winter-sun destinations are Egypt, Indonesia and South Africa, and there is no Caribbean in the top 10 at all.”
So where should you head for adventure and enrichment this winter? If budget is a consideration, long haul is your best bet (a Post Office travel money report released this week shows the pound currently goes furthest in Asia), though there’s the lure of new tours and itineraries to consider, too – both of which can be found on most continents this winter. The Eastern and Oriental Express train will resume service for the first time since the pandemic, for example, while on oft-ignored La Gomera, there are spectacular new hiking trails.
Why settle for a lounger in Lanzarote, therefore, when you could be sipping malbec in Argentina, riding the rails in Malaysia or surfing in Sri Lanka? Here’s some inspiration to get you started...
Europe & Middle East
Scenic steps in La Gomera
Walk in mountain gorges and along scenic coastal trails sublime with the sun on your back on the Canarian island of La Gomera. A good option is Pura Aventura’s new week-long walking break, which offers a mix of self-guided and private walks that visit Europe’s largest tract of ancient cloud forest, the Garajonay National Park, and an impressive ravine at Valle Gran Rey. The two longest walks take around five to six hours and there is plenty of opportunity to sample the local wine. The trip begins in San Sebastián, a city famed for its pintxos and multiple Michelin stars.
Book it: Six nights’ B&B from £1,450pp, including some meals and guiding, luggage transfers between hotels, private transfers, return ferry to Tenerife and walking notes (01273 676712; pura-aventure.com) . A donation is made to Turismo Sostenible en La Gomera to offset flights (not included)
Mid-haul fun in Abu Dhabi
A flight time of less than seven hours makes travelling with children do-able – and well worth it for the guaranteed sunshine on arrival in Abu Dhabi. With several strands of sand, white-knuckle thrills and family resort hotels, the emirate is an easy win for families. But there’s far more to this destination than sun and sand. Abu Dhabi’s Mangrove National Park accounts for around three quarters of the UAE’s mangrove forest and its saltmarshes, mudflats and mangroves are home to turtles, herons, flamingos and dolphins. The Abu Dhabi Louvre has a children’s museum and things rev up a little at Formula 1 Yas Marina Circuit, with karting, circuit-racing and drag-racing. Visit Ferrari World for a roof-walk experience and a ride on the world’s fastest rollercoaster.
Book it: An October half-term package at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr costs from £1,249pp (£879 per child), including flights (020 7749 9220; kenwoodtravel.co.uk)
Think the Algarve is all about golf and golden beaches? This sunny corner of Portugal offers natural parks, rewarding coastal hiking paths, historical villages, including Alcoutim and Tavira, and some of Europe’s best seafood. Book an Algarvian wine-tasting and dine in the vineyards at family-owned Morgado do Quintão; learn how to make traditional Portuguese stew at Cataplana’s Place, in Old Town Faro; and visit Culatra Island, a sandbar in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, to sample the succulent Ria Formosa oyster. For views of the postcard sea arches and famous Praia da Marinha beach, follow the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail around sculpted coastal cliffs and then slip into the sparkling sea.
Book it: A week at the Domes Lake Algarve at Falesia Beach costs from £582pp in November 2023 and £590pp in March 2024. Both include breakfast and flights (britishairways.com)
Asia & Africa
Golden Triangle to Goa
With average temperatures of 27C and relatively low humidity, February is a great month to visit India. New for 2024, this group trip mixes temples, forts and cultural highlights in the Golden Triangle with five days in Goa. On the agenda are guided tours in Delhi, Mumbai and Jaipur; visits to the Taj Mahal and Amber Fort; a rickshaw ride in Old Delhi and a train journey to Agra. If you do fancy mixing in an element of relaxation, for an additional charge, upgrade to the beachfront Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, which has a large outdoor pool – but there are also opportunities to stay active, with a nine-hole golf green and even a yoga class designed to diminish the effects of jet lag.
Book it: A 12-night ‘India’s Golden Triangle with Goa Beach Stay’ costs from £2,799pp, departing February 5, 2024. Includes international and internal flights, transfers, most meals and guided tours (01283 523431; rivieratravel.co.uk)
Stars of southern Africa
This wildlife-intensive itinerary combines several of southern Africa’s natural wonders, with an immersive mobile safari experience in Botswana’s Okavango Delta and three nights in coastal Cape Town. Highlights include pods of hippo and elephant herds at Chobe, exploring by moroko (dugout canoe) on the lagoons of the Khwai river and Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls. The camp – roomy tents with private bathrooms – moves between Botswana’s Moremi National Park and the remote Mababe region, for bush walks and game drives in search of cheetah, lion, more elephants and birds. End the day with a hot bucket shower and a chef-cooked dinner.
Book it: A 17-day ‘Delta Mobile Safari, Victoria Falls and Cape Town’ holiday costs from £5,648pp, departing in March 2024. Includes all flights (into Cape Town and out of Johannesburg), most meals, hotels in Cape Town and Victoria Falls, lodges in Maun and Kasane and safari in Botswana (020 7263 3000; llamatravel.com)
Back on track in Malaysia
Asia’s popular Eastern & Oriental Express train is back for 2024, following a post-Covid hiatus, with new and exciting three-night itineraries from Singapore. Both finish in the Malaysian city of Penang, where Malay, Indian and Chinese communities have shaped the heritage area of George Town, now filled with restored Chinese shophouses, galleries and wonderful restaurants. The Essence of Malaysia trip visits Kuala Lumpur and the Palau Payar Marine Park in Langkawi, while the Wild Malaysia option dips into Taman Negara, a cave-riddled lowland forest that is home to monkeys, elephants, wild oxen and endangered rhinos. Learn about the safeguarding of the Malayan tiger during an off-train excursion.
Book it: An eight-night ‘Eastern and Oriental Express, A Belmond Train’ trip combines the Wild Malaysia rail journey with three hotel nights in Singapore and a half-day city tour. From £4,999pp including flights, transfers and all meals and excursions on board (0800 021 3172; fredholidays.co.uk)
At home on the beach in Sri Lanka
If you’d like to spend your holiday on the beach but do more than lie on it, check out these week-long Soul & Surf retreats in Ahangama, Sri Lanka. The eight-room Soul and Surf Cove hotel overlooks a limpid bay where the odd turtle swims, and beyond the lagoon there is a surf break which you can paddle to from the hotel’s café. Children aged seven-plus can join surfing lessons and there is a bar and café on site. Breakfast might be a coconut roti with smashed avocado and onion chutney; evening aperitif a tamarin sour and dinner a flavoursome fish curry. Owners Ed and Sofie can supply cots for under twos and extra beds (charges below) for under 12s.
Book it: Week-long retreats from October to May from £1,045pp or £1,345 solo occupancy including breakfast, five lunches and four evening meals and a ‘Soul of Surfing’ programme, including surf workshops and video analysis sessions and a daily yoga class. An extra bed with surfing from £525 (12 and under) or from £325 with meals only. Flights extra (01273 931282; soulandsurf.com)
The Americas & Caribbean
The really wild show in Costa Rica
At times, Costa Rica can feel like a slice of Eden. With its Pacific and Caribbean coasts scalloped by pristine sandy beaches – far better experienced on horseback or from a sunset yoga pose than a sunbed – there is cloud forest and rainforest, and more birds and wildlife than you could ever see in one visit. Exodus takes guests white water rafting on the Balsa River, swimming in waterfall pools, and to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve for the chance to spot sloths, armadillos, porcupines, possums and ring-tailed coatis. There’s a good chance of seeing bottlenose and Central American spinner dolphins on a boat trip from Carrillo beach on the Nicoya peninsula, and the boat drops anchor near Isla Chora, fringed by a white-sand beach teeming with scuttling hermit crabs and iguanas. Accommodation is in small, locally run lodges and hotels.
Book it: A nine-day Costa Rica Active Escape (ages 16+) costs from £2,599pp, including flights, accommodation, breakfast and all transport and guided activities (020 3993 2193; exodus.co.uk)
Check in at a Coachella Valley desert campsite
Dip into the Coachella Valley’s alternative lifestyle and spend your days exploring desert wilderness and canyon trails around the city of Desert Hot Springs. Many boutique hotels in the area have natural mineral pools, but the Lovelight Ranch is, well … a bit different. Lovelight borders the Joshua Tree National Park and offers glamping, an elevated “Stargazer” cabin with steps to a rooftop bed, and RV pitches with sublime desert views. Evenings are about melting away stress at the hot-water spa, stargazing and chilling around the fire pit. Lovelight has a communal kitchen area with a pizza oven, a Keurig coffee machine, and barbecues, and there’s a pool and shaded hangouts for snoozing.
Book it: A Stargazer cabin costs from £52, glamping from £36 and an RV pitch from £36. The ranch is a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles. Expect to pay about £80 a day for a car with fuel and insurance (through hipcamp.com)
Wine tasting in South America
Combine a visit to the wine regions of Chile and Argentina with vendimias (harvest festivals) and join in with the grape-stomping, feasting and traditional music at village festas. This two-week food- and wine-focused holiday visits wineries in Mendoza and Cafayate in Argentina, and in the Central Valley, near the Chilean capital, Santiago. The accommodation mixes hotels with estancias (working wine lodges) and among these is the Relais & Châteaux property House of Jasmines. It sits on a large estancia in Argentina’s Salta province, with views over the Andean foothills. Harvest falls between February and May.
Book it: From £5,290pp, including domestic flights, transfers, B&B accommodation and excursions. Ex-UK flights to Buenos Aires and out of Santiago are extra (020 8747 8315; journeylatinamerica.com)
French fancies in Guadeloupe
Baguettes for breakfast and rosé for dinner? No, it’s not France, but the Guadeloupe archipelago, where dreamy Deshaies, on Basse-Terre, is the silent star of the Death in Paradise television series. The northwest coast of Guadeloupe is a gateway to the Cousteau Reserve, where Jacques Cousteau filmed Le Monde du Silence. Cousteau rated the Pigeon Islands as one of the best dive spots in the world, and the area offers outstanding diving for all levels, including beginner. Stay in a white-timbered cottage at Les Tamarins, next to the unspoilt beaches of Sainte-Anne. The resort offers diving on the Cousteau Reserve, and with tuition for budding surfers and paragliders, a teen club and volleyball and football pitches on site, there is no room for boredom.
Book it: A seven-night self-catered stay at Les Tamarins in a two-bedroom apartment costs from £2,122 (total price for up to six people). Excludes flights and transfers. Flights via Paris with Corsair from £599pp. Car hire from £25 per day (0870 026 7145; pierreetvacances.co.uk)
Sun is shining in Jamaica
All eyes will be on the sunshine isle of Jamaica when a film biopic about the legend that is Bob Marley hits screens in January. See where Marley sang, recorded and spent his formative years, including his childhood church, the neighbourhood of Trench Town and the Tuff Gong recording studios, founded by the singer. Other activities on this Musical Journey holiday include deep-sea fishing, lessons in sailing, and stand-up paddleboarding. Hotels include the stylish Geejam, at the foot of the Blue Mountains, and GoldenEye, where Ian Fleming created James Bond, and where producer and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell set up his recording studio.
Book it: An eight-day Musical Journey in Jamaica trip costs from £3,325pp, including flights, hotels and tours (020 3582 4990; originaltravel.co.uk)
Ultimate New Zealand
When it comes to scenery and the variety of experiences on offer, New Zealand really packs a punch. This epic 27-day holiday showcases the best of both the North and South islands using iconic train journeys including the Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine as well as scenic boat trips and steam trains. You’ll be cruising across Lake Wakatipu on board a coal-fired steamship one day and immersed in glow worms at Waitomo Caves the next. There are overnights in Christchurch and at Fox Glacier and in Rotorua there’s the chance to drive a hybrid four-seater rail “car”. With stopovers in Singapore (outbound) and San Francisco (return) the flight is nicely segmented.
Book it: A New Zealand Rail Adventure costs from £8,750pp including flights, B&B hotel accommodation, sightseeing in Singapore and all excursions, rail, road, boat and inter-island ferry travel. Departs February 9 2024 (01766 512400; ffestiniogtravel.com)
A winning formula in Australia
As well as horse racing and tennis the Australian city of Melbourne also hosts a Formula 1 Grand Prix, and next year’s race dates dovetail with the late March Easter break. Head for the bohemian beach suburb of St Kilda, not far from the Albert Park Circuit, where you’ll imbibe some quintessential Aussie beach culture with surfing lessons, a dip in the historic St Kilda Sea Baths and live music at the refurbished “Espy” (Hotel Esplanade). After the race, admire some of Australia’s splendid coastal scenery on the Great Southern Touring Route, a six-day drive along the Great Ocean Road taking in the Grampians National Park and the historical gold-mining town of Ballarat.
Book it: One-day F1 race passes from AUS$115/£58 (grandprix.com.au); doubles at the Selina St Kilda from March 21-24 cost £1,437 (booking.com). Six days’ car rental from $500/£255 (budget.com.au). Return flights to Melbourne on Malaysia Airlines from £1,200pp. For a day-by-day Touring Route guide see australia.com. F1 dates: March 21-24 2024