5 winter sun destinations that are easy to get to from the U.K.
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It’s that time of year again — when the final traces of your summer tan have faded and the days are getting steadily shorter. But fear not, because even in the depths of the cold and drizzly U.K. winter, rest assured it still feels like summer somewhere.
If you’re thinking a long weekend where you can trade umbrellas for sunglasses, there are some choice spots in the Middle East and Mediterranean that are just right. Many sun-splashed destinations can be reached in about four hours from major airports in the U.K., while upwards of a dozen daily nonstop flights from London to Los Angeles International (LAX) put not only sunny LA but also perennially cool hotspots like Palm Springs within reach.
So without further ado, here are some hand-picked, classically cool boltholes within relatively easy reach of London and the excellent places to stay in each.
Jordan has only one seaport, and Aqaba is it. Perched on the Red Sea coast, it arguably makes for a more compelling (and less touristy) autumnal hideaway than Eilat, its Israeli resort neighbour right across the border. Away from the Red Sea’s luscious deep blues, you can take a day trip to the desert landscapes of Wadi Rum or, slightly further afield but also very doable, an excursion to the ancient rock-cut city of Petra.
Best hotel bets: The seafront Kempinski Hotel Aqaba Red Sea has a gorgeous multi-level infinity pool and array of top-notch restaurants like Fish In and The Walk, plus a luxury spa. The Al Manara, a Luxury Collection resort, overlooks the Saraya Aqaba lagoon and in addition to a heavenly spa features a pair of interesting restaurants, Taybeh Al Manara and the more Middle Eastern-oriented Kubba Leventin. Al Manara is is a Rewards Category 5 hotel.
Crete and Cyprus
The Mediterranean region is nothing if not a medley of travel experiences, many but not all of which are linked to seaside getaways. Case in point: Crete. It’s the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and repository of both brilliant scenery and evocative Minoan ruins. By late autumn, most of the beach resorts are winding down, but the major Cretan cities like Chania and Heraklion are less dependent on tourism and are lively and largely sunny places well into winter. There you can soak up an urban island holiday, visiting places like the famous Heraklion Archaeological Museum without all the crowds and explore the coast by car.
By contrast, the towns in even sunnier Cyprus tend be more sedate than in Crete but the brash seaside resorts stay open much later, sometimes all year long.
Best hotel bets: In Crete, an excellent urban bolthole in Heraklion is the Galaxy Hotel, which offers a great breakfast with your room rate and also has a lush open-air swimming pool. In Cyprus, the Almyra resort in the center of pretty Pafos has breezy rooms (some with private sea views), exceptional restaurants and a sleek spa with its own outdoor adults-only swimming pool overlooking the sea.
Few cities manage to blend urban sizzle with a laid-back beach vibe like Tel Aviv. You might even call it the poster child for Mediterranean cool, a place where you can take a dip well into November and even in the depths of winter you can expect plenty of sunny days. Whether you’re into the tasty New Israeli foodie scene, hitting the nightclubs or simply unwinding by the beach (there are nearly 10 miles of it right in the city centre), it’s a hard place not to love. There are plenty of year-round non-stop options from the U.K. to Tel Aviv on British Airways, El Al and now Virgin Atlantic, too.
Best hotel bets: The InterContinental David Tel Aviv is the best of the city’s big beachfront hotels, and has the best pool, too. Newer, but in a much more historic part of town, is the The Jaffa, a Luxury Collection hotel. Fans of Tel Aviv’s eclectic architectural heritage may take a shine to The Drisco, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.
Sometimes thought of as the California beach city without a beach, Palm Springs is the Golden State’s unofficial capital of modernist design cool. Being plonked in the middle of the desert, but just a two-hour drive from LAX, you can never have enough swimming pools and in this neck of the woods, rain is mostly a concept. That said, a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the mountaintop overlooking this desert oasis is one of the most iconic Californian travel experiences. Back on the desert floor, there are nifty bars and restaurants (even Austrian ones) galore.
Best hotel bets: While Palm Springs does have its share of larger hotels, the atmosphere is much less in-your-face than in that larger desert hotspot to the east, Las Vegas. So opt for a more hipster vibe at a place like the art-strewn, 1950s-style Holiday House, or the romantic Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn, where you seem to float above a sea of palm trees.
The charm of Sharm? It cannot be denied. In October, after four years, the U.K. lifted restrictions on flights to Egypt’s pre-eminent Red Sea resort city. Though the Sinai Peninsula has often been in the news for unpleasant reasons, the fact remains that its desert scenery is stunning. The contrast of the arid landscapes to the teeming marine life just offshore in places like Ras Muhammad National Park is dazzling any time of year, and you can count on sunny, beach-ready days all year long.
Best hotel bets: The Four Seasons Resort Sharm El Sheikh bills itself as a “world-class diving resort” and has two of its own jetties to help you get up close to the spectacular coral reefs. There are four swimming pools and a spa for those who aren’t keen to swim with the fishes. Less luxe, the Mövenpick Resort Sharm El Sheikh is an always reliable bet for Sharm and a good choice for travelling families.
The long dreary winters in the U.K. needn’t get you down — there are plenty of balmy spots to choose from for either a long weekend or a full two-week holiday. From Europe to the States, all are easy to get to.
Featured image by The Points Guy/Anthony Grant