10 great escapes for April
Sicily -- for the processions and mosaics
There are several reasons to go to Sicily this month. First, it has an early spring and so is one of the warmest and sunniest places in Europe.
Second, the Easter celebrations, while not as famous as those in Seville, can still be spectacular. On Easter Sunday (April 24) there are processions in Modica-Ragusa, Adrano-Catania and Prizzi-Palermo. In the last, during the 'Abballu de li diavuli', devils in masks try to trap as many souls as possible until the afternoon, when the Risen Christ and the Virgin Mary intervene.
In Trapani at 2pm on Good Friday, a 24-hour procession begins transporting 20 groups of statues through the city. In late March, the splendid Roman mosaics at the Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina -- including representations of wild animals from Africa and dancers in bikinis -- reopen after years of restoration.
Antigua -- for Sailing Week
The yacht regatta (April 24-29; sailingweek.com) is one of the great social events of the Caribbean island, held at one of the nicest times of year -- before the summer humidity sets in. For the first time, the event village will be in the historic Nelson's Dockyard, with beer tents, food stands and live music.
There are other parties open to all, including at Shirley Heights (April 26), the dockyard party at Jolly Harbour Marina (April 28) and a beach party at Dickenson Bay (May 1).
Some of the best views of the racing are from the old Shirley Heights naval lookout.
Spitsbergen, Norway -- for the dog sledding
Light, often sunny, but still intensely cold, this is the best time of year to get a feel for the special atmosphere of the white, silent stillness of the Arctic -- and the best way to get into the wilderness and experience is behind a husky team. If you are lucky, you will also see the Northern Lights in the evenings.
Stratford-- for Shakespeare's birthday
It's not only the Bard's birthday on April 23 (Easter weekend this year), the RSC is also celebrating its 50th birthday with new companies, a new season and a new theatre.
The highlight is 'Macbeth', directed by Michael Boyd, which opens on April 16.
Other events and exhibitions starting in April include 'Folio', an exhibition of printmaking by artists from the Royal College of Art, and 'A History of the RSC in 50 Objects'.
Holland -- for the tulip fields
Spring is tulip season in Holland with bulbs in full bloom between now and the end of April. The ideal accompaniment to a short break in Amsterdam is a day at Keukenhof, the historic centre for Dutch tulip cultivation, where seven million bulbs have been planted in the park.
This year, the theme is 'Germany -- land of poets and philosophers'. An image of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate has been created from 100,000 flowering bulbs. Special events include a classical music festival, the flower parade on April 16 and a market of bulbs. Bus 58 runs non-stop from platform B13 at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport, taking 40 minutes to reach the park entrance. To explore the tulip fields beyond Keukenhof, you can rent a bike (rentabikevandam.nl).
For more, see holland.com.
Genoa -- for the exhibitions
This unsung but once prosperous Italian city has some impressive medieval, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, and in April two new exhibitions add to the attractions.
'The Mediterranean' (until May 1) at the Palazzo Ducale (palazzoducale.genova.it) includes representations of the Mediterranean Sea by artists including Coubert, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Boudin and Van Gogh.
In the Villa del Principe (dopart.it), 'Vanitas' (until September 25) explores the search for beauty in works by Caravaggio, Lotto, Ribera, Fetti and Guercino, among others, from the collections gathered by the aristocratic Genoese family of Doria Pamphilj.
For tourist information see www.turismoinliguria.it.
New Orleans -- for the Jazz & Heritage Festival
You can't walk down the street in New Orleans without hearing live music, and there will be more of it than usual from April 29-May 1 and May 5-8 at this festival, held at Fair Grounds Race Course (nojazzfest.com). It's a celebration of the indigenous music and culture of the city, including Cajun, Afro-Caribbean, R&B and gospel as well as jazz.
Artists booked include Bon Jovi, Lauryn Hill, the Neville Brothers, Wyclef Jean and Cyndi Lauper.
Istanbul -- for the shopping festival
You never really need an excuse to visit Istanbul -- it's a fascinating city at any time of year, though it's a good idea to avoid steaming hot July and August. Go this month and you can enjoy more pleasant temperatures and the first Istanbul Shopping Fest (until April 26).
The city has always been a trading centre of the first rank and claims to have the original shopping mall: the 550-year-old Grand Bazaar.
You can now add to that 90 indoor shopping centres, including Kanyon, where Harvey Nichols has an outlet, and Cevahir, Europe's largest.
During the festival, shops open every day until 11pm and there is tax-free shopping for visitors from overseas. More details at istanbulshoppingfest.org.
Seville -- for Holy Week
Nowhere has Holy Week processions like Seville.
The city is alive with crowds, which celebrate throughout the nights as processions of penitents and the great floats representing Christ or the Virgin sway eerily through the streets en route to and from the cathedral.
It's a sight to see at least once in your life, although it can be hard to find accommodation this late in the day.
Val d’Isère — for late skiing
It hasn’t been a great season for snow, but one resort with a reliable late-season record is Val d’Isère in France. Check the latest conditions before you book, and if it is still looking good you may be able to pick up a bargain.