It’s wet, windy and dark at four o clock so it must be time to head abroad and bask in some winter sun. KH has the low-down on 10 destinations where sun, sand and sea come as standard
Palm Springs, America
Surrounded by the stunning San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains, Palm Springs stands for everything I love: hot weather, fabulous sun tanned bodies and some of the some of the swankiest hotels and bars on the planet.
Located 110 miles east of Los Angeles along Hwy 111, Palm Springs is where the King of Cool and his Rat Pack cronies headed when they wanted to escape the intensity of Hollywood. However it wasn’t just Dean, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr who flocked to this desert jewel. Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable: name your star and they’ll almost certainly have had an extravagant home here. The question isn’t so much who has stayed and played in Palm Springs, as who hasn’t? The Best of the Best’s ‘Rich And Famous Tour’ shows you the estates of the all of the celebs who helped put Palm Springs on the map.
But the real reason you flock to Palm Springs is to drink designer cocktails and dance to fresh DJ spun tunes around kidney shaped pools until the wee hours. Sure, Palm Springs won’t suit everyone – you either get it or you don’t. But if you do, like me, you can’t wait to return.
South coast, Barbados
When in Britain the sky is the colour of porridge, the leaves are falling and everyone is succumbing to the flue, in Barbados it’s hot. Not sweltering sunstroke hot you understand, but blue skies, smattering of clouds, top up the tan hot.
Even better: it doesn’t require a string of vaccinations to get there and everyone speaks English. The majority of Brits make a beeline for Barbados’ fabled west coast which isn’t nicknamed the Platinum coast for nothing: this lap of luxury is where the jet set (think leggy models, real estate gurus, playboys and socialites) hang out.
Yes the west coast is good at showing off, but sometimes less is more right? So if, like me, you can survive a holiday without bumping into Simon Cowell and co, head south where you’ll find pockets of paradise that have not yet been lost. There’s no such thing as a bad beach in Barbados, but Brownes beach, Miami beach and Accra beach – all on the sun kissed south coast – are exceptionally fine spots to toast on a sun lounger and then spend longer in the paint box turquoise water than a dolphin.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio has always been hot (in every sense of the word) but right now the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City) is positively sizzling! The world’s best footballers were in Rio last summer for the FIFA 2014 World Cup and they’’ll be followed by the Olympic flame in 2016.
Most visitors touch down and make a beeline for the beach – be it the world famous Copacabana or its more salubrious sibling, Ipanema, both of whom have been celebrated in song and film. Regardless of where you to choose to stretch out your beach towel, expect to see Cariocas (aka residents of Rio) from all walks of life – families, favela kids, football players, pensioners, hawkers peddling sunglasses and sarongs, and socialites in huge sunglasses – coming together to get their groove on.
It would be easy – and perfectly understandable in light of the recent Siberian weather conditions in Blighty – to spend all of your time frying yourself silly on the golden sand. But Rio offers more than just a day on the beach and only a philistine would visit without ticking off the 125ft statue of Christ the Redeemer who stands, arms outstretched, on the summit of Corcovado Mountain – and ascending Sugarloaf Mountain (also referred to as Pao de Acucar).
A few weeks from now you could a) be counting the shades of gray in a February day or b) lying on the sand in Sanya (there’s more to China than the Temple of Heaven and Terracotta Warriors), working on the tan.
This oasis that sits on the same latitude as Hawaii hasn’t received the recognition it deserves, having only been opened to visitors 20 years ago. As a result, it’s not as fashionable as other Asian beach destinations, but it can only be a matter of time…
Sanya marks the southernmost tip of the island of Hainan, which is roughly the same size as Belgium. Dubbed “the end of the earth” (or the “tail of the dragon” due to its remoteness in relation to Beijing), this tropical city is famous for its beaches and doesn’t disappoint. Dadonghai Bay and Sanya Bay are both fine spots for those who want to fly and flop but, budget permitting, aim to base yourself 15km east at exclusive Yalong Bay. The beach here is the best and, unless you’re mad enough to go over Chinese New Year, it’s virtually empty.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Can’t choose between perfect beaches and bronzed bodies, a buzzy city atmosphere or architectural treasures? Israel’s largest city delivers them all – along with gastronomy, history and culture - in spades.
Of course Tel Aviv has been in the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons but don’t be deterred from visiting: travelling to Tel Aviv – whose name means ‘Hill of the Spring’ – no longer constitutes an active threat. Tourists have rarely been targeted and you’ll be warmly greeted by Israelis looking to shed their country’s international reputation.
In fact we defy you to to resist the charms of the friendly – and unfeasibly good looking – locals who will bend over backwards to help you during your sojourn in the White City. Those that I was befriended by couldn’t get over the fact that, back home in Britain, I don’t know my neighbours – absolutely everyone knows everyone in Tel Aviv.
All told if you want to put the pep back in your step, if you want to live life to the full and be bold, bright and fabulous, Tel Aviv delivers.
If the weather is really getting you down, fret not. Simply pull out your sense of adventure and make for Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. True the journey to get there is something of an odyssey but this is a small price to pay for a perfect mix of winter sun, beautiful beaches, sea as turquoise as glass, ancient temple ruins, fine food and loud and proud Latin culture – in short everything you could want from a Mexican holiday.
Cancun is the gateway to this pocket of sunny paradise but his resort lined strip only gives you a limited view of what the state of Quintana Roo (pronounced Kin tah nah roh) has to offer. Instead push onto Playa del Carmen which manages to be hip as well as hot. The postcard charmer has decades of experience of welcoming European and Americans sun seekers who flock here to see and be seen on Playa’s Bounty advert beaches. World class snorkelling and diving (the underwater world here is a paradise for snorkellers and divers of every ability) can fill your days or you can just drift off a beachside bed and ogle the mahogany flesh – expect a competitive parade of preening bling – that is always on display before hitting Quinta Avenida which hums with activity at any hour.
Boracay, The Philippines
No visit to the Philippines is complete without spending some time on the island of Boracay whose pristine beaches and balmy waters provide a welcome escape for weary travellers. Yes, grass-roofed, fixed umbrellas are everywhere. And yes, hawkers do patrol the beach looking to sell their crafts. But it’s still possible to secure a stretch of sand for yourself, settle back and enjoy the unhurried pace of life. Some whinge that Boracay has become commercialised – that the island has too many resorts, eateries and bars (there’s even a shopping mall). Yet, while there are signs that the island is going upmarket (Shangri La hotel has taken up a tenancy), Boracay still lags way behind any of its Thai equivalents, as far as rampant development goes.
At night, the island comes alive. Filipinos certainly know how to party. Head for the landmark beachfront bar of Hey! Jude or Bom Bom Bar – a sizzling hot sundowner spot. Under the setting sun and the blare of pop hits, you can enjoy timeless and unpretentious Filipino fun that modernity can’t surpass.
Cape Town, South Africa
It was back in 1850 that Sir Francis Drake described Cape Town as the “fairest cape in the whole circumference of the earth”. Fast-forward a few hundred years and Drake’s declaration still rings true. After a few grim decades, when the thought of visiting Cape Town and feeling the sun on your face was heavily tempered by the specter of violent crime, the city is once again back on the map, having firmly established itself as a travellers’ haven.
It might be possible to have a bad time in Cape Town, but it’s hard to see how. For in the aptly named ‘Rainbow Nation’, visitors can effectively combine a spectrum of different holidays in just one trip. The tourist target boasts an embarrassment of riches: its got awesome mountains, game reserves galore, cultural rewards in the shape of the city itself, scores of scenic attractions and yes – world class beaches where you can ogle the effortlessly gorgeous, long limbed locals basking in the sunshine. (You won’t see many soaking up the surf as the waters are cold enough to keep even the keenest of swimmers out of the ocean). Other pluses? Prices are reasonable, if not remarkably cheap and there’s no jet lag to contend with.
As recently as two decades ago few Brits had heard of, yet alone been to, Dubai. Now the emirate is a permanent fixture on the winter sun scene thanks to its promise of guaranteed rays, without the need to fly halfway around the globe.
People, perhaps understandably given the emirate’s penchant for publicising its outlandish projects, have the wrong idea about Dubai – believing it to be all about malls and modernity.
However scratch beneath the shiny surface and you’ll find another side to the ‘city of gold’. Alongside the skyscrapers like the Burj Al Arab (the self proclaimed seven star hotel) and the Emirates Towers sit historical sites such as Bastakia and the creek – arguably the heart beat of Dubai. Here you can watch abras and dhows (traditional Arab sailing boats) weave their way across the water, as they have done for centuries. For further local flavour, factor in a tour of Jumeirah Mosque (Dubai is after all an Islamic state even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia) before sauntering through the bustling souks. Bottom line? There’s awful lot to discover about Dubai beyond what you know from the glossy brochures.
Nha Trang, Vietnam
If you’ve ever wondered what Goa looked like before the hippies or Thailand before the high rise hotels, then Nha Trang could be your last chance to find out. Vietnam’s beach capital may not have previously figured on your mental map, yet when you get there it’s hard to see why not.
Allow me to paint the picture… the sea is the colour of Bombay sapphire, the sky is perpetually blue and the sand is platinum blonde and squeaks when you walk on it. Right now it’s warm rather than scorching, but six hours of sunshine a day is still a distinct improvement on Blighty. To the beach you can add cultural treasures, great surf and dive sites, good retail therapy, lively nightlife, fabulous food and everything from hostels to super swish resorts.
When night falls, seek out The Sailing Club: a friendly bustling establishment on the beach that’s a great spot for a night out. As you stand watching the waves crash onto the shore with a cool beer in hand while a calypso throbs in the background, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.