Nick Trend goes in search of the heat for those seeking a sunny escape
Published 14/04/2013 | 05:00
The bitter spring weather led to a rush of last-minute holiday bookings over Easter and a sharp up-tick in summer holiday sales. But if you're still free to travel, it's worth considering getting away for a week or two now instead. April and May are excellent months for picking up a good-value, last-minute break.
The schools are back, hotels in the Med are starting to open, planes are flying half-empty, prices in the Caribbean are dropping like a stone, and, if you are a skier, this season's truly excellent snow is still around in abundance in the higher resorts, which are now devoid of crowds and offering their best rates of the season.
Here is a brief guide to making the most of these spring travel opportunities. Many tour operators will have availability, but, at this time of year, it is feasible to book a cheap flight and find accommodation when you get there.
April is not, I must admit, quite such a bargain time for city breaks as it is for other types of holiday, though you will still find competitive hotel rates and plenty of availability in most destinations.
For warm weather in Italy I would avoid Venice, which can be very chilly still, and head instead for Naples. This would allow you to combine visits to Pompeii and Herculaneum with a city break and a few relaxing days enjoying the sunshine in Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast.
In Spain, I would head to Seville, which is blisteringly hot in summer but a beautiful 23°C this month. This is also a great time to visit Marrakesh, although it's a bit of a trek with no direct flights. The desert city is still green from the winter rains, but warming up nicely (26°C).
You won't find reliably warm beach weather in the Mediterranean until the end of May at the earliest, and most hotel pools won't be open until then. So, if you feel you need a proper fix of sun, you will need to travel farther afield.
The Canary Islands offer the best value, though temperatures usually only tip 22°C on average this month, so it won't be blistering. For real heat, head to Florida, where you can rely on 28°C in Orlando (direct flights from Dublin with Aer Lingus) – or, if you want a beach rather than a pool, to Miami.
Barbados is also particularly attractive now that the Easter crowds have gone and the hotel rates have plummeted.
Spring and autumn are, in many ways, the perfect time to visit Malta. There is a risk of rain, but most of the time the weather is beautiful and the temperature comfortable. Everything is open, locals are livelier without the heat of summer, and there is plenty of cultural activity in and around the capital, Valletta.
With parts of the island on the same latitude as the North African coast, Sicily has a mild climate that makes it an attractive destination for much of the year. Spring starts early and is a sheer delight. It has a much longer warm-weather season than northern and central Italy, and, if you're lucky, it's possible to sunbathe and swim in the sea well into November.
Although the beach-holiday season gets going in May and winds down in October, the Balearics are beautiful in early spring when the almond blossom is out.
If you can't get there to see the almond blossom, go in late spring, when the cherry trees are flowering.
Outside the hottest months, all the Balearics are good for activity holidays. Ibiza is famous for having some of the best nightclubs in the world, but out of season you get much more of an idea of real life in Ibiza, particularly the island's rich history.
The island also has an absolutely beautiful coastline, with dozens of tiny coves to discover, not to mention some of the most stylish hotels in the Mediterranean.
While the buds are struggling to open in Ireland, things are warming up nicely in southern Europe. If you are looking to get a taste of a proper spring, I have three favourite areas where the wild flowers and blossom are already starting to put on a show. All are great walking destinations.
Top of my list is Andalusia in southern Spain. Also consider Crete – especially the southern coast and mountains – which has one of the warmest climates in the Med and some of the best wild-flower displays.
Much quicker and cheaper to get to, and often surprisingly warm at this time of year – the average daily temperature is 17°C, with seven hours of sun a day this month – is the Provencal countryside, especially the Var region.
Last of the winter snow
I have just returned from a week in Val Thorens in the Three Valleys, and I've never seen such excellent snow so late in the season. This week is the last date that most operators offer for packages but, technically, the resort stays open until May 8.
Other high, snow-sure resorts are Val d'Isere/Tignes, Zermatt in Switzerland and Obergurgl in Austria. By the time you get back, you may even find that spring has finally made it to Ireland.