The new holiday calendar: why you should visit the Italian Lakes in March and the Swiss Alps in July
There was a time when the European holiday calendar was set, if not in stone, then certainly within four defined boxes. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. One of these was hot, one was cold – and the other two offered a little of both. Pack your bags accordingly.
But things change. Not least the climate. And the old certainties of travel have changed with them. Where once the southern Mediterranean seafront was the ideal setting for an August escape, now the heat can be unbearable, as last year’s Greek wildfires made all too apparent. Where, not so long ago, you could assume a thick coating of Alpine white in December, now the ski resorts of France and Italy face a nervous wait for the first flakes. Where even the idea of aiming for the mountains during July would have caused confusion in a former decade, now such an idea is just as likely to prompt nods of sage agreement.
And as weather patterns have altered, so have we, moving on from the straitened travel windows of 30 or so years ago into something more fluid and flexible – shoulder seasons, winter-sun wanderings, journeys further and further afield in search of whatever it is we cannot find on familiar turf, whether that be Canadian snow or Far Eastern sand. Add in the current cost of living crisis, where value for stretched budgets is more important than ever, and the holiday calendar looks rather different to how it did even relatively recently.
A little like the following, maybe. If you are already planning your getaways for this new year, but wish to avoid the sunstroke, rain clouds or bare pistes of unhappy holidays past, the following 24 suggestions – two for each month – will provide some sort of guidance.
Rising temperatures have been gnawing at the edges of the Alpine ski season for a while, but the picture became grimly clear this time last year, when resorts including Adelboden and Anzere (Switzerland) and Combloux (France) suffered a December and January blighted by a lack of snow. In other words, if you want to ski in Europe straight after Christmas, you may need to aim high. And resorts don’t come higher than Swiss sentinel Zermatt, whose highest skiable area, at 12,792ft (3,899m), is also the highest in the Alps.
How to do it: A seven-night stay at the four-star Hotel Derby in Zermatt, flying from Manchester on January 20, starts at £1,498 a head, with Crystal Ski (020 3451 2821; crystalski.co.uk).
With the highest skiing in the Alps, Zermatt is the ideal ski destination in January – Pascal Gertshen
With hurricanes becoming stronger and more common – a new scientific study, published in October, shows that weak storms are twice as likely to develop into category three (or higher) weather events than was the case at the turn of the millennium – there is all the more reason to avoid the peak windy season in the Caribbean (June to November, with an emphasis on September). January, while a pricey time to visit the region, is certainly safe.
How to do it: A one-week all-inclusive break in January to the Pineapple Beach Club in Antigua, flying from Heathrow, starts at £2,325 a head, with Kuoni (0800 098 8161; kuoni.co.uk).
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If the cost of living crisis has hit your holiday plans, but your children are still intent on a dash to Florida to see the denizens of Disney World, it makes sense to aim for February and its school half-term, rather than August and the full throes of summer. And not only is February cheaper. With an average temperature of 22C, as opposed to 33C in August, the second month of the year is a more pleasant time for queuing under the Orlando sun.
How to do it: A seven-night holiday for a family of four to the three-star Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort, flying from Heathrow on February 13, costs from £4,175 in total, with Tui (020 3451 2688; tui.co.uk). The same package costs from £6,352 in August.
Beat the heat with a trip to Argentina in February – Universal/Getty
Argentina and Chile
If South America appeals, but its hot climate does not, there is good reason to pay it a visit in February, at the tail-end of its summer. Of course, you need a country that deals in proper seasons, like Argentina or Chile, rather than a largely tropical Brazil, which does not. Rio in February means high humidity, 30C and Carnaval. In theory, Buenos Aires is only a little cooler (27C), but it isn’t swamped by wet heat, and won’t be hungover until March.
How to do it: Journey Latin America (020 3553 1502; journeylatinamerica.com) keeps things temperate with a 14-day “Vineyards of Argentina and Chile” itinerary that, as its name suggests, calls on both countries at the continent’s foot. From £5,180 a head, excluding flights.
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MarchRhine and Danube
The rise in European temperatures means it is increasingly feasible to take a “summer” journey in what is certainly still the spring. A river cruise, for example. By the end of March, the world is in bloom along the likes of the Rhine and the Danube, and the latter – the continent’s second longest river – offers lots of scope for unhurried days on the water.
How to do it: Viking (0800 319 6660; vikingrivercruises.co.uk) will open the season on its “Grand European Tour” as early as March 13. This two-week voyage follows both the Rhine and the Danube from Amsterdam to Budapest (or vice-versa), with stops in the likes of Vienna, Passau, Regensburg and Cologne. From £4,195 per person, with flights.
March is a good time for a river cruise along the Rhine or Danube – Viking
The same principle applies to a rail holiday. Aim for Lombardy in late March, and you may find that, while winter is still enthroned on the Alps, spring is dancing by the water.
How to do it: Great Rail Journeys (01904 521936; greatrail.com) offers “Simply Lake Garda” – a 10-day jaunt between London and the largest Italian lake (and back) via Turin, Venice and Verona. The first departure of 2024 is planned for March 28; from £1,495 per person.
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If you watched last summer’s Mediterranean heatwave in horror from afar – or worse, were caught up in the wildfires which engulfed Rhodes and menaced Limassol – you may already have decided that Greece and Cyprus are no longer for you. However, you don’t need to avoid southern Europe; merely rethink when you go there. Forget the upper-thirties Celsius, as witnessed in August. April in Cyprus means a far more palatable 20C.
How to do it: A seven-night Easter getaway for a family of four to the three-star Kissos Hotel in Paphos, flying from Birmingham on April 6, costs from £2,937 in total, including transfers and breakfast, with Olympic Holidays (020 8492 6868; olympicholidays.com).
Alpine ski season is still going strong in the Canadian Rockies in April – Reuben Krabbe
While the Alpine ski season can be petering out in April as spring brings unhelpful warmth, the snow tends to stay firm in Canada – particularly in the Alberta section of the Rockies, where neighbouring ski resorts Banff (a top elevation of 8,957ft/2,730m in the case of the Banff Sunshine area; skibanff.com) and Lake Louise (8,650ft/2,637m; skilouise.com) have the altitude and latitude to ensure a white-out until later in the year.
How to do it: Travelbag (020 7001 5250; travelbag.co.uk) offers an eight-day “Canadian Rockies Winter Holiday” that splits its time between Lake Louise and Banff’s two resorts (the second being Mount Norquay; banffnorquay.com). From £1,459 a head, with flights.
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If you are considering switching your main family holiday from infernal summer to more restrained Easter, the May half-term could be an option for an odyssey to Greece. As the country’s most southerly island, as well as its largest, Crete is up to the mid-twenties Celsius by the fifth month – pleasingly hot, while still short of the fiery peaks of August.
How to do it: A one-week holiday for a family of four to the five-star Elounda Bay Palace resort (on sheltered north-coast waters near Agios Nikolaos), flying from Glasgow on May 28, starts at £5,422 in total, with Sovereign Luxury Travel (01293 324179; sovereign.com).
May is a great time to explore the celebrated Pacific coastline – Stone RF/Getty
The fabled California sunset has been increasingly smoke-smudged in the past decade, as wildfires feast upon the forests along that celebrated Pacific coastline. So should you forget the curves and contours of Highway 1? Not at all. The most dangerous period for flames on the hillside is July-October, with deepest concern for September. May, when Los Angeles soaks up temperatures in the mid-twenties rather than low-thirties, is safer.
How to do it: Bon Voyage (0800 316 3012; bon-voyage.co.uk) offers “California’s Dream Drive” – a 14-day journey along the oceanfront, from San Francisco all the way down to San Diego, via Monterey and LA. From £3,695 per person, including flights and car hire.
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JuneCote D’Azur, France
If you really can’t stay away from the classic European sunspots, whatever the summer weather forecast may bring, a wise course of action is to swap July for June. Not only is the mercury not quite at the top of the thermometer; there are fewer bodies on the beach.
How to do it: Les Hautes Roches – a three-bedroom retreat with pool at Collobrieres, 20 miles west of Saint-Tropez and the Cote D’Azur – can be booked via Vintage Travel (01954 261431; vintagetravel.co.uk). It is still available in the week starting June 8, for £1,890.
Visit the Cote D’Azur a month early for fewer crowds – Getty/E+
Swap the French Riviera’s golden south coast for its sunny, somewhat less mannered Spanish counterpart. Swerve the crowds and the heat. August on the Costa del Sol means the thirties Celsius; June is closer to 25.
How to do it: CV Villas (020 7261 5400; cvvillas.com) has Cortijo de la Virgen, a six-bedroom property with pool, five miles inland from Torreguadiaro and the beach, near San Martin del Tesorillo. It can be booked in the week of June 7 from £4,181.
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One surefire way to avoid Mediterranean blazes in July is to ignore the Mediterranean entirely, and pin your summer holiday to cooler climes. Perhaps by going north rather than south. Denmark won’t give you heatstroke in summer (think the low-twenties), but it does provide some of Europe’s prettiest coast, on the North Sea and the Kattegat strait.
How to do it: Inntravel (01653 617001; inntravel.co.uk) offers “The Danish Riviera” – a seven-day tour that charts the east coast of Zealand, Denmark’s largest island, by bike. This means dates with Helsingor and Kronborg castle (the spiritual home of Hamlet), as well as the lovely fishing village Gilleleje. From £1,735 per person, not including flights.
Switzerland is a pastoral paradise in the warmer months – 4cornersimages.com
Seeking mellower July temperatures does not just have to be a matter of going north. It can also be about going up, into the Alps, whose softer summer weather will become ever more in demand as Europe’s lower flanks bake. Switzerland, especially, is a pastoral paradise in the warmer months; wildflowers in meadows, the clink of cowbells in the air.
How to do it: A seven-night stay for a family of four at the Jungfrau Lodge in Grindelwald – a three-star base for hikes under the face of the Eiger – starts at £4,556 in total, including flights from Luton (departs July 27), via Inghams (01483 319646; inghams.co.uk).
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European seas other than the Mediterranean are available in summer. And while its name is now a byword for winter, the Baltic is a Goldilocks-pleasing “just right” in August, its German beaches basking in the low-twenties Celsius. Germany? Indeed. The German Riviera adds up to 1,243 miles of Baltic shoreline – and plenty of fine accommodation.
How to do it: The palatial Grand Hotel Heiligendamm (lhw.com), which traces its tale to 1793, is one such gem, pinned to the seafront west of Rostock. A seven-night stay, flying from Heathrow on August 10, costs £1,568 a head via Expedia (020 3024 8211; expedia.co.uk).
Escape the European summer heatwave in the cooler Swedish countryside – Martin Edström
You can escape the worst excesses of the European heatwave by crossing to the other side of the Baltic, and immersing yourself in the gentle pleasures of the Swedish countryside.
How to do it: Best Served Scandinavia (020 4586 1017; best-served.co.uk) offers an “Authentic Swedish Summer Holiday” that spends six days exploring Gavleborg – a distinctly tranquil region of forests, lakes and spa resorts, within easy driving distance of Stockholm, in the south-east of the country. From £1,205 a head, including flights and hire car.
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The combination of Europe’s first gentle turn towards autumn and the renewed ringing of the school bell means that, come September, some of the continent’s most popular summer destinations are cooler, far less crowded, and less expensive than a month before.
How to do it: This applies to Croatia’s much-loved Dalmatian coastline. A seven-night stay at the five-star Sun Gardens Dubrovnik resort, flying from Heathrow on September 14, starts at £792 per person through British Airways Holidays (0344 493 0787; ba.com/holidays). The same package costs from £1,079 a head, flying out on August 10.
Croatia is cooler, far less crowded, and less expensive in September compared to August – Moment RF/Getty
Tanzania and Kenya
It is not that Africa’s foremost wildlife spectacle has shifted its place in the calendar. It is that it might – or might stop entirely. Climate change, inconsistent weather patterns and longer periods of drought mean that, since 1977, there has been a 60 per cent reduction in the number of wildebeest forging north-east from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara as part of the annual “Great Migration”. For now, September remains a key month for watching these hungry herbivores on the move between Tanzania and Kenya, but with apocalyptic concerns being voiced that the exodus may have ceased by 2050, the time to see it is now.
How to do it: Expert Africa (020 3405 6666; expertafrica.com) throws a little monkey business into the mix with its “Gorillas and Migration Safari” – a 10-day splicing of Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. Taken in September, it costs from £19,530 a head, including flights.
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If you really want to push the concept of finding the Mediterranean summer in other seasons, the Turkish Riviera should indulge you while leaves are falling elsewhere. Head for Bodrum during October, and you can expect the mercury to be lingering at about 25C.
How to do it: A seven-night all-inclusive getaway to the four-star Aquasis Deluxe Resort & Spa, flying from Manchester on October 26, starts at £1,178 a head, through Jet2 Holidays (0800 408 0778; jet2holidays.com), or at £4,188 in total for a half-terming family of four.
Bask in the winter sun on the Turkish Riviera – Alamy
Italy’s most gilded tranche of coast does not hold onto summer warmth as doggedly as Bodrum once October arrives (think 20C or thereabouts), but the drop in temperature is generally accompanied by a similar decrease in the cost of a week in the likes of Amalfi…
How to do it: Citalia (01293 324 666; citalia.com) offers breaks to the Hotel Luna Convento, a four-star former monastery in Amalfi. A one-week stay, flying from Gatwick on October 19, costs from £2,203 per person. The same package starts at £3,074 a head on August 3.
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As with California, the wildfire has both illuminated and darkened the Australian horizon with increasing regularity in the past decade, the air thick with crackle and smoke. There is, though, a way to avoid the danger. Bushfire season (generally) runs from December to May in the Australian south. November, at the very start of the summer, is a safer month.
How to do it: Abercrombie & Kent (0330 162 4128; abercrombiekent.co.uk) ticks most of the important boxes (Melbourne, Sydney, Uluru, the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef) with its 16-day “Classic Australia” itinerary – from £16,300 per person, including flights.
Monument Valley is decidedly more hospitable in the winter – plainpicture.com
Arizona may look spectacular in the sunshine, heat-haze shimmering on the tarmac as Monument Valley rises ahead – but the weather in the “Copper State” can be so ferocious (its capital Phoenix swelters at 40C and above in July) as to make a summer visit unwise. November is hardly a cold snap, but at 25C, it is decidedly more hospitable. And if you go up to the high country, the temperature drop is considerable; enough, perhaps, for you to admire the Grand Canyon, not in its usual palate of orange and red, but in snow-white.
How to do it: America As You Like It (020 8742 8299; americaasyoulikeit.com) covers Phoenix, Sedona, Tucson, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon and the Sonoran Desert with its 15-day “Discover Arizona” road-trip. From £1,185 per person – with flights and car hire.
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Where April may increasingly mean a transatlantic dash for guaranteed powder, so December might be a case of flying north. For if the Alps are being slow to don their winter coats, Scandinavia is rarely less than dressed for the coldest season. Norway may not have the highest mountains (reaching its rooftop at just 8,100ft/2,469m), but it has a range of excellent, snowy ski resorts; most of them within a three-hour flight of the UK.
How to do it: Ski Solutions (020 3944 6657; skisolutions.com) offers breaks to Myrkdalen, a two-hour drive north-east of Bergen. A seven-night half-board December getaway to the four-star Myrkdalen Hotel costs from £1,295 per person – including flights and transfers.
Norway may not have the highest mountains but it has a range of excellent, snowy ski resorts
September is not merely the blowiest moment in the Caribbean. The winds can also rage in Southeast Asia during the ninth month. But just as hurricane season has faded from the Antiguan worry-list by the end of November, the typhoon threat dissipates in Thailand at roughly the same time, with the dry period kicking in until February. Better still, if you want a pre-Christmas break on the beach, travelling east can be cheaper than flying west.
How to do it: A week at the four-star Centara Kata Resort Phuket, flying from Heathrow on December 1, costs from £1,346 a head, with Virgin Holidays (0344 472 9646; virginholidays.co.uk).
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