Whether you’ve a bad case of the January blues or simply want to top up your vitamin-D level, there’s no better time to escape Britain’s slate-grey skies – and you don’t necessarily need to jet to the other side of the world to do so. Below, the well travelled presenters of A Place in the Sun share their favourite short and long haul destinations.
Three sunny spots close to home…
“An ancient fortified Berber city, less than a four-hour flight away from London and on the same time zone as the UK, Marrakech offers a real cultural departure,” says Ben Hillman. “My first trip there was for my wife Gaby’s 30th birthday. We stayed in a beautiful riad (a traditional house built around a central courtyard with roof terraces) that had been restored by the French couple who owned it.
“When we arrived we took a taxi to the medina (old town) where our hotel was based. Be warned: taxis can only get you to the edge of the souks and you will have to make the rest of your journey on foot – and you will get lost! As soon as we got out of the taxi, we were pounced upon by locals wanting to guide us to our hotel for a fee. You will quickly get used to saying ‘NO’ with force!
Djemaa el-Fna Square, Marrakesh
“I proposed to Gaby on the rooftop of our riad as the call to prayer echoed across the city and the sun went down. That evening we treated ourselves to a meal at an upmarket restaurant overlooking the main square. There are so many good places to eat in Marrakech but for the most part we found ourselves eating at the food stalls in the main square, which comes alive at night with lights strewn across the amazing selection of food stalls. Sit with the locals and soak up the atmosphere and hubbub. Our drink of choice there was traditional Maghrebi mint tea prepared with spearmint leaves and sugar.
“We spent days wandering through the souks, which form a labyrinth of alleys within the walled city. The sights, sounds and smells are a complete assault on the senses and totally alien to Westerners. It really feels like you’ve stepped back in time as market traders bid for passing trade (catch their eye at your peril as you will be ushered into their establishments and subjected to the hard sell). Every so often, the alleys open up into small squares such as the spice market, which are a welcome respite from the intensity of the souks.
“There are all the tourist attractions you would expect, from men dancing in fezes to snake-charmers to monkeys to pet. Personally, though, the highlight was the Majorelle Gardens, also know as the Yves Saint Laurent Gardens. Created by French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 20s, it was bought by YSL in 1980. Its 12 acres boast the most magnificent plants, cacti, native bird species, architecture and fountains. You can even see some YSL original artworks and visit the Islamic Art Museum located within the gardens.
“Other attractions include the Saadian Tombs, the resting place for the Saadian dynasty that ruled over Marrakech between 1524 and 1668; and a trip to the tanneries where animal skins are turned into Marrakech’s most famous product – leather. You can also take day trips to the Atlas mountains and the surrounding countryside offers some amazing scenery.”
“I fell in love with Mallorca after just a week,” explains Laura Hamilton. “It’s around 17-20 degrees celsius during the winter months so not scorching but definitely warmer than the UK. It’s ideal for a couple looking for a romantic getaway in a boutique hotel (I recommend Cap Rocat, a former military fortress that’s now a luxury hotel). Alternatively, there are huge selection of family-friendly hotels.
Port Andratx, Mallorca
“Mallorca’s a good choice if you want both a beach and city break. The city of Palma is full of culture and beautiful architecture, and the beaches and private coves around Illetas are gorgeous. Port Andratx is the most upmarket place on the island with top-class restaurants around a pretty marina. It’s a lovely place to wander around at night.
“When it comes to eating out, if you want to treat yourself head to Simply Fosh. Marc Fosh (the owner) was the first British chef in Mallorca to be awarded a Michelin star. Simply Fosh is one of his three restaurants and it’s located in Hotel Convent, a contemporary hotel converted from a 17th-century convent.
“If you are on a budget, “celler” restaurants – which are housed in wine or olive oil cellars that specialise in traditional Majorcan food – are a good option. They are a popular feature in the small towns and villages of the Es Pla region in the interior of the island. El Celler in Petra serves generous roasts (cooked in a wood-fired oven), steaks and lamb chops.”
“My first trip to Lanzarote was only about a month ago,” says Scarlette Douglas. “At this time of year, it’s around 22 degrees but it’s not as humid as the Caribbean – it’s more of a dry heat.
“Lanzarote is the most northern of the Canary Islands, and also the most developed. I spent most of my time in the capital, Arrecife, which is home to one of the main harbours. It’s full of tasty restaurants, fab bars, great shops and beautiful boats and yachts!
El Charco de San Ginés, Arrecife
“Head to El Charco – an area full of tapas restaurants and bars. There’s always music playing somewhere and it’s right on the river so beautifully scenic.
“When you’ve had your fill, camel rides are also a lot of fun! And there are two great geological attractions that I would recommend: the rock formations of Los Hervideros and the underground caves of Cueva de los Verdes.”
See overleaf for Ben, Laura and Scarlette’s favourite long-haul places for winter sun…