Winter Sun: Adventure, beach, culture

Winter Sun: Adventure, beach, culture

Sun-soaked breaks don’t have to stop at the beach

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As autumn gets into full swing, this would usually be the time of year to dig brollies and coats out of the back of the cupboard, and start packing away summer dresses and short-sleeved shirts in favour of woolly jumpers and thick black tights.

Except you’ve probably already done that. Given the washout summer – southeast England saw its wettest August since 1977, which even a last-minute Indian summer couldn’t save – you’d be forgiven for leaving the summer wardrobe almost untouched this year.

That dismal weather was bad news for most British businesses, but it did spark a late-summer boost for airlines as many of us jetted off in search of sunnier climes. There’s no reason to let that momentum die down now, though, with sun-starved Brits even more desperate for a little dose of Vitamin D to see them through the winter.

And for anyone who hates the idea of spending a week glued to a sunlounger, there are plenty of destinations that combine sunshine with a sense of adventure or an extra helping of culture.

A is for... Adventure

Thailand: Its sun-kissed islands have long been a favourite with winter sun-seekers thanks to their white-sand beaches and high-20s temperatures even in December. But follow the backpacker trail north to Thailand’s jungle-filled interior, and there are many more exciting adventures to be had.

Between learning to be a mahout in the heart of the Golden Triangle, visiting indigenous hill tribes to see traditional handicrafts, or harvesting rice under the guidance of farmers in Chiang Mai’s paddy fields, an action packed tour of this region will leave guests with a sense of accomplishment as well as a tan.

Carrier offers a three-centre holiday to Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui, staying in Four Seasons hotels throughout, from £5,855 for 12 nights.


Dominican Republic: This all inclusive haven is usually associated with fly-and-flop breaks. But that’s certainly not the case at Club Med Punta Cana, where the list of included activities stretches from golf and tennis to sailing and windsurfing, via salsa dancing, volleyball, aqua aerobics and beachfront yoga or pilates, to name just a few.

Perhaps the biggest draw for families (and daredevil adults too) is the Cirque du Soleil-inspired adventure playground, which goes beyond the flying trapeze common to many Club Med resorts to include tightrope walking, acrobatic bungees, trampolining, aerial skills, clowning and juggling, all under the watchful eye of Cirque du Soleil-trained acrobats.

Classes run each day, with separate lessons for kids and adults except for family sessions on Saturdays.

The Gambia: It might have earned a reputation as the Smiling Coast of Africa, but the Gambia’s beaches are just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyone who has taken a 4x4 drive through its tropical interior, cruised ‘upriver’ along its famous waterway, or witnessed its varied wildlife will know spending the entire time on the beach would mean missing out on the country’s myriad natural assets.

That’s why The Gambia Experience has seen greater demand for multi-centre holidays, combining the coast with properties such as Mandina Lodges, set in Makasutu Forest yet just a 45-minute drive from the coast, or the safari tents of the Chimp Rehabilitation Project, home to 100 chimpanzees and about 170 miles inland.

B is for... Beach

Canary Islands: It would be remiss of any winter-sun guide to skip over the UK’s closest spot for guaranteed good weather, the Canary Islands, which marry the convenience of a short flight with the competitive prices of a value-driven destination.

It seems Brits have rediscovered that winning formula this year, with operators such as Prestige Holidays and Cosmos finding holidaymakers are flooding back to the destinations they know well in light of trouble elsewhere in the world.

Cosmos has expanded its Canary Islands product this year, with higher-end properties such as Baobab Suites in Costa Adeje, Tenerife; adult-only hotel Costa Canaria in San Agustin, Gran Canaria; and a new Fuerteventura property from the well-known H10 chain, H10 Ocean Suites in Corralejo.

Hotel Colon_Guanahani - Image credit: Prestige Holidays
Image credit: Prestige Holidays

Mauritius: The appeal of this Indian Ocean favourite is simple, according to Travel 2 product manager Michael Creighton. He says: “Mauritius is a perfect winter-sun destination as the weather is ideal for a beach holiday from October to March. We have hotels ranging from three to five stars in Mauritius, to suit all types of travellers. Travel 2 has also seen a strong increase in sales for holidays to the Seychelles, which we recommend for travellers looking for a more exclusive tropical island holiday.”

With properties such as Maritim Resort & Spa or Le Méridien Ile Maurice bridging the divide between romance and family-friendliness, and the convenience of overnight flights which mean visitors can make a beeline for the beach the moment they arrive, it’s no wonder Mauritius has become a firm fixture in the winter-sun calendar.

Barbados: It’s a fairly safe bet that wherever Sandals goes, Brits will follow, so when the all-inclusive chain announced its takeover of the former Couples resort that reopened as Sandals Barbados in January this year, it’s hardly surprising that loyal fans of the brand dusted off their Barbados guidebooks and got ready to go.

They have helped make Barbados the bestselling Sandals resort for the UK market this winter, with sun-seekers keen to test out innovations such as Sandals’ first Indian restaurant, Bombay Club, and only its second incarnation of Butch’s Chophouse (after Sandals LaSource Grenada).

Its prime beachfront location near lively Saint Lawrence Gap probably doesn’t hurt either.

C is for... Culture

Mexico: There’s no doubt Mexico’s Caribbean coast has plenty to please sun-seekers, with palm tree-lined beaches and eight hours of sunshine a day. But if that’s all visitors wanted, they could save themselves a few hours’ flying time and go somewhere closer to home.

What they can’t get elsewhere are the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, Chichen Itza and Coba, all within day trip reach of all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Chichen Itza

They are among the excursions available from AMResorts’ two bestselling properties in the UK market, Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa and Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun.

Goa: If ancient ruins aren’t quite enough to tempt clients off the beach, choose a destination where the history is closer at hand.

Goa bears the marks of nearly five centuries of Portuguese rule in everything from its 17th-century churches to its sublime fusion cuisine, so visitors don’t have to stray too far from the coast to understand the impact made by the former colonial rulers.

Olympic Holidays commercial director Photis Lambrianides says: “North Goa appeals more to independently minded clients happy with mid-range accommodation, while South Goa better suits those seeking an upmarket beach holiday. The north is where tourism in Goa started, around the former hippy hangout of Calangute; it’s very laid-back and the beaches are superb. People heading to South Goa are more into luxury. They want a beach holiday with good accommodation, and are more likely to spend a lot of time around the hotel.”

Vietnam: This Asian country has been the subject of a lot of warnings of the ‘go now before it’s too late’ variety, as the advent of direct flights has put it within reach of package holidaymakers as well as more intrepid types.

Yet it’s hard to imagine a country as colourful and frenetic as Vietnam being reduced to just another beach holiday: rather, visitors are tacking on a few days in its beach resorts at the end of a cultural tour.

That would certainly round out Regent Holidays’ Essential Vietnam tour nicely, offering a chance to wind down after a busy 11-day trip visiting Halong Bay, Hoi An’s Old Town and other cultural sites (from £1,835 including flights).

The highlight of the tour is its two overnight journeys on the Reunification Express, a 1,000 mile train line between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, whose trains are being upgraded to include air-conditioned sleepers, soft seats and free Wi-Fi. Maybe the growing number of tourists has its upsides after all.

Reunification Express

Sample Product

Adventure: A week at Club Med Punta Cana starts at £1,135 for adults and £735 per child (under-6s stay free), including flights, transfers, accommodation, all meals, drinks and activities, based on a November 15 departure from Heathrow.

Beach: Prestige Holidays offers a week at the Adrian Hotel Colon Guanahani from £799, including Gatwick-Tenerife flights departing January 6 with easyJet, plus private taxi transfers and B&B accommodation in a pool-facing room.

Culture: A week staying all-inclusive at the four-star Sandos Caracol Eco Experience Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, costs from £799 with Funway Holidays, including Thomas Cook flights departing on November 28.


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