Ok, almost now. I’m not actually planning on packing my bags straight away. But I do want to know I’m going somewhere sunny very soon, because I’m just starting to feel a bit worn down by the cold. And I’d like to be revitalised by a bit of sun, please. Ok, Hotel Gurus, where do you recommend?
Marrakech is a dusty, vibrant desert city steeped in sunshine all year round. The colours of Marrakech are freshest at this time of year though. January and February are the wettest months and the showers settle some of the dust and clear the air ready for you to head out into the relentless life of the medina. Or the culturally rich squares around Djemaa el Fna; the freshly-cleaned wonders of the Koutoubia Mosque – which is like Marrakech’s Eiffel Tower; the beautifully decorated Saadian Tombs; the Dar Is Said Museum, the El Bahia Palace and the Ben Youssef Madrassa.
Once you’ve been out in it for a couple of hours the sun may begin to feel relentless and the crowds and dust of the medina are easy to become lost in. Of course it begins to feel as if everyone is trying to sell you something, because, well, everyone is trying to sell you something! But Marrakech has the perfect answer to the problem of Marrakech, a glorious tradition of pampering spa treatments – the hammam, or Turkish bath. The hammams work on the principle that if you’ve come in off the desert you’ll need a good steam followed by a darn good scrub, and this is a great way to revitalise yourself in the middle of the day. It might sound crazy now but you might even feel as if you need a break from the sunshine? And once you’re scrubbed, it’s time to set about the serious business of eating.
Where to Stay?
For the full desert oasis experience try Jnane Tamsna, a collection of 24 rooms divided between three villas hidden within acres of beautiful gardens in Palmeraie. Inside expect Moroccan splendour, but in a contemporary way. There’s also a hammam spa, five swimming pools and a clay surfaced tennis court. The restaurant is also known for its exquisite, locally sourced menu. Romantic as well as beautiful. Rooms start from €155 per night.
Practical Details: Marrakech-Menara Airport has direct flights from some European capitals and major cities, including quite a few UK airports. The airport is about five kilometres from the city and the Medina. Your best bet is the airport bus which runs every 20 minutes and serves all the major hotels. If you want to catch a taxi it’s a good idea to book a reputable fixed price fare company in advance, because the taxi drivers at the airport pick-up are known for being dishonest and difficult to deal with.
Hold off your travel for another few weeks and you’ll have timed it perfectly for Marrakech. January and February are the rainiest months, and while you can get great deals to travel now-ish and it’ll still be fairly sunny between the showers, if you can book for March it will probably be dry for your entire stay. Though desert storms are quite exciting. March temperatures range from between 11°C and 23°C.
Sicily is unlike anywhere else. Drenched in sunlight for most of the year – and bright green because of it, and always dramatic and diverse to look at and ramble over, it’s also culturally and historically rich. And here you can choose the colour of your sand, as well as the busyness of your beach. You can explore markets, or ancient Greek or Roman sites, or visit tiny, unspoiled islands, or climb a volcano. The food is something else as well. And now-ish is just the time to go, at the start of the season when everything is just opening up.
Where to Stay?
Monaci Delle Terre Nere is a chic, 19 room (and suite) retreat right on the slopes of Mt. Etna. A dusty pink, 19th century villa is the hub of the hotel, but the rooms and suites are scattered amongst a collection of converted farm buildings throughout the property’s 40 acre grounds. Rooms and suites are quite modernly dressed, but the original features of these beautiful old buildings shows through. They also feature books you want to read, or should have, volcanic lava and some clever modern art. Plus the view from the pool is quite something! Doubles start from €270 per night including breakfast.
Practical Details: Palermo Airport, which is in Punta Raisi, about 35kms outside Palermo, and Catania Airport, which is about 5kms outside Catania, are both international airports with links to UK airports. Winter is definitely finished with by March, and you can expect nine or ten hours of sunshine and maximum temperatures of around 13°C, and by April you’re looking at 16°C. The sea will still be very cold though! And it still gets cold overnight. You’ll get a dusting of rain and cloud cover, but just enough to keep everything looking bright green!
Crete is another gorgeously diverse island of rugged mountain ranges slicing into gorges and dropping suddenly into spectacularly blue, pebbly waters or golden sand. I missed the green, fertile plains to walk over and forests to delve into, but those are there too – this is a great island if you feel like you need to spend some time outdoors. And of course it has some exceptional ancient sites, which are actually best seen outside the heat of summer. If you do have a wet day or two then the archaeological museums of Chania and Heraklion are really worth seeing.
March on Crete sees a struggle between a mild, wet winter’s hold and the powerful, sun-fuelled advance of spring, but by April the battle is well and truly won and sunshine reigns.
Where to Stay?
Palazzo Duca is a wonderful little, seven room bolthole in the heart of Chania’s old town. This historic building, once owned by Venetian dukes, is on a quiet street, surrounded by a pedestrian zone, just metres from the harbour. The rooms and suites are all different. The one of the top floor has a terrace with a whirlpool bath, but most have a kitchenette with coffee-making facilities and a fridge. There’s also a shared roof terrace, perfect for drinks at sunset. Amazingly rooms start from only €90 per night.
Practical Details: Crete’s main airport is just outside Heraklion. Our recommendation in Chania is closest to Chania Airport, however, but flights into this airport are more domestic and European charters, but it’s definitely worth checking, as there are links to the UK. Alternatively you could come across by ferry from Piraeus.
During March the maximum average temperature is 17°C, and your days will probably feature both sunshine and quick sun showers. By April the sunshine and warmth have clearly won and the tourist season gets started properly, with maximum daily average temperatures at 20°C.
The Algarve is known for being a sunny, year round destination, promising 3000 hours of sunshine spread over 300 sunny days. It gets more sunshine than California, I’ll have you know! And temperatures can get up to 20°C during February – though it’s more common to see highs of 16°C and 17°C. But that’s definitely not to be sniffed at! And come March the full force of the Mediterranean sun is back and you’re more likely to see 18°C through 20°C.
And what do you want to do amid all this cloud-less glory? You could dive, sail, surf or play golf. Or walk amid a rich diversity of bird life, and along mile upon mile of golden sands, framed by the characteristic limestone rocks which stand guard out in the Atlantic. Or stroll through pretty towns with cobbled streets, gorgeous gardens and elegant squares, or along ports or harbours. Eating and drinking well while you do, with the odd market visit thrown in so you can sample more of the local delicacies. Sounds rather nice, doesn’t it? The Algarve tastes of relaxation – it’s a slightly seafood-y taste to me, and even smells of it – or is that almond blossom under sunny skies?
Where to Stay?
Quinta da Colina is a traditional Algarvian manor house which has been tastefully converted into a comfortable place to stay, with both rooms and two self catering apartments. The complex of elegant buildings is surrounded by six hectares of gardens filled with olive, orange and carob groves. And the old water tank has been recycled into a stunning rustic pool, with the original water wheel and well now attractive features on the surrounding terrace. It even sounds relaxing! And it feels like the ‘real’ Algarve. Rooms start from just €85 per night including breakfast.
Practical Details: Faro has the region’s main airport, which is just two and a half miles out of town, and it’s well connected to UK airports. There are buses and trains leaving from here to take you all over the Algarve.
Cyprus is one of the hottest parts of the Mediterranean, with hot summers, mild winters and fairly short bits in between. But now-ish is one of the best times to visit if you want to see this island at its greenest. And it does have some amazing pockets of green wilderness, as well as long, soft sandy beaches, a coastline that’s nothing short of spectacular. The rocky and barren Akamas peninsula (where sea turtles lay eggs on deserted beaches) – and the Troodos mountain range, rising to the 1,952m summit of Mount Olympus, where it sometimes snows. This is one of those places where it’s possible, if you time it perfectly, to ski in the morning and swim in the sea in the afternoon.
Cyprus is too big to make sweeping statements about its weather conditions beyond a general sense of it being mild and sunny. It does depend where you stay and what you’re looking for here, but it’s worth mentioning the island’s world class ancient relics – notably, the Hellenistic mosaics of ancient Paphos; the huge Roman theatre at Kourion; the medieval castles at Colossi, Limassol and Larnaka; and the wonderful frescoed Byzantine churches of the Troodos. Even if you’re here to soak up some sunshine and relax it would be a shame to be so close and not pay them a visit.
Where to Stay?
Casale Panayiotis offers incredible views of Cyprus, but probably not the ones you’re expecting. This unique hotel is in the Troodos mountain region, and its rustic, romantic charm and its views make it an unexpected pleasure. There are 28 rooms and suites in the group, dotted throughout the village in true rural style – all 28 of them have stone walls, wooden beams and fireplaces, and beautiful living areas which incorporate chic interior design with original features. They share a fantastic spa with sauna/ steam room/ treatment rooms, a hot tub and hydrotherapy pool. And a charming restaurant. Rooms start from €140 per night B&B. It’s peaceful and romantic.
Practical Details: There are flights from the UK to both Larnaka and Paphos Airports on Cyprus and it’s worth checking out connections for both.
CountryWives is packed with fantastic travel ideas – whatever the month or destination you have in mind.