There is great satisfaction (and quite frankly smugness) to be found in escaping the UK’s protracted winter drizzle and beelining for warmer climes. Clever sun-chasers lineup far-flung options well in advance, where winter cannot reach and evenings remain light and balmy. The ultimate tonic for Britain’s grey, melancholic stretch from November to March, keeping serotonin and vitamin D levels up. Islands spring to mind, the go-slow sort with reefs to explore, jungle-coated mountains to climb and good-looking beaches to recline along: the laid-back allure of the Caribbean, the Maldives’ translucent lagoons or, perhaps, the volcanic drama of Mauritius. South Africa’s wine estates, safaris and beach-meets-city appeal is hard to resist in the darker months, while Oman slips into a milder heat, rendering its cultural warren and staggering landscapes more pleasant to explore.
With its generous flight time and minimal jet lag, The Caribbean is a stellar choice for winter sun. St Lucia’s dramatic piton mountains make for a sublime poolside backdrop at legendary island hotels such as Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort and Cap Maison. With golden beaches, rewarding rainforest hikes past waterfalls and vibrantly-painted old world houses, the island’s beauty is relentless. Its thrumming capital, drenched in rum and sunshine, affords the island its more lively character – though hotels oozing old school island glamour, such as The Coral Reef Club and The Sandpiper, are well-versed in relaxation techniques. Timeless glamour is equally abundant in Antigua, where palm and bougainvillaea-smothered hotels such as Carlisle Bay and Curtain Bluff twist towards the fabled crimson sunsets breaking across the horizon. Lush, untamed Dominica continues to lure in the nature-lovers with its wild tangle of green, exotic wildlife and untouched coral reefs. Clinging to a steep cliff above an aquamarine cove, Secret Bay is a lesson in low-key luxury with whale watching, riding and cave divine featuring on its thrilling activity list.
With vast, land-before-time beaches, a formidable wine scene and hikes, not to mention world-class safari at conservation-first game reserves, South Africa is a terrific winter sun option. Sitting in the same time zone as the UK, there is no jet lag to contend with (a boon for families) and foodie capital, Cape Town, is a laid-back urban playground, as well as the best launchpad for wine or wildlife safaris. First-timers would be wise to book into the rose-hued Mount Nelson – a vestige of old world glamour with easy access to the city’s fruits – or Ellerman House, a grown-up boutique hotel which takes its wine seriously. Oenophiles can spill into the pretty Cape Wineland towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Stellenbosch’s Cape Dutch architecture is best viewed at Boschendal Wine Estate (one of the region’s oldest) where gently restored cottages and go-slow rural rhythms pair perfectly well with the Pinotage. Or, for a dash of auberge charm, Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek is a sumptuously understated boutique hotel with Provencal appeal.
Spared the glitz, malls and chains of the neighbouring Emirates, Oman is steeped in rich culture while its landscape embodies the mystique and drama of Arabia – vast, jagged mountains, desert dunes, whose top layer ripples in hot winds and ancient hilltop towns, blistered by the sun and the centuries. From spectacular dives in the Arabian sea to Muscat’s animated souks and splendid Mosques, Oman is a land of awe and immeasurable beauty. Its Bedouin soul endures, and is keenly felt with Hud Hud Oman, a mobile luxury tented camp that accompanies groups on epic bespoke journeys such as the Empty Quarter, past flocks of flamingos in the eastern salt flats or at the foot of the Qara or Al Hajar Mountains. The latter peers over the legendary coastal resort, Six Senses Zighy Bay, as well as Alila Jabal Akhdar – both of which require 4x4s to reach their isolated and extraordinary locations. At an even higher altitude, the more modernist Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar lords over this vast and craggy kingdom while back at sea level, The Chedi Muscat continues to set the Arabian luxury bar, with its palm-framed oasis-like pools and elegantly restrained interiors.
Above and beyond the ethereal lagoons ring fencing perfect slithers of white sand, one of the Maldives’ best selling points is its time difference – a mere four hours with a British body clock granting gloriously early nights and yolky sunset evenings. Atoll reefs teem with life (whale sharks and manta rays roam their fringes) and afternoons are easily whiled away under the shade of a palm or floating in the glassy shallows, island time. Head to Gili Lankafushi in the North Malé Atoll – a masterclass in eco-luxury where coconut palm and bamboo structures are cleverly sewn into the surrounding paradise and thatched over-the-water villas tempt pre-breakfast dips in the Indian Ocean. The sense of isolation is almost as thrilling as the family-friendly provisions in place such as ‘Jungle Cinema’, babysitting and a marine biology shack. Soneva Fushi shares this knack for smoothing over the pain points of family travel and remains a true pioneer of eco-friendly luxury. Guests can work up an appetite swimming alongside turtles and Manta Rays in some of the world’s top diving sites before debriefing the day’s adventures over grilled seafood and dragon-fruit cocktails.
Along with Mauritius’ drowsy castaway appeal is a wealth of history derived from its past life as a European trading post and a wild, green heart of jungle smothered peaks, alive with exotic plants and wildlife. Volcanic craters brush the clouds and slope down past waterfalls, botanical gardens until they meet palms lining miles of white powder beach. The Indian Ocean’s flawless contrast with the sand, its ethereal shade and balmy temperature lures a handful of high-calibre hotels to the shoreline. Families and couples make a break for Paradis Beachcomber which is scattered over 3 miles of pristine peninsula with a gold-standard golf course and vast array of water activities. One & Only Le Saint Géran’s photogenic views are courtesy of its private peninsula where exquisite old-world verandas hover over lagoons and palms shift in the long, docile afternoons. The Constance Prince Maurice traces traditional Mauritian architecture with thatched stilted suites, all of which are ensconced in dense rainforest which meets the beach – an exhilarating dose of seclusion.
To plan your winter sun getaway, speak to our friendly travel experts Gemma or Jo on +44 (0)1306 264 005 or by emailing [email protected].