Winning tip: Epic sunsets, Fuerteventura
We escaped to the north-west coast of Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands, for a week before Christmas. With flights from £80, reasonable car hire (£50) and a great Airbnb in Lajares (£30 a night), it was a great week of cycling, surfing, hiking, boat trips to the small island off the north coast and epic sunsets from the lovely fishing village of El Cotillo. Lajares is fun, a lively village with cafes, shops and bike hire and it’s in a national park with a backdrop of a volcano. The north track follows the coast from Corralejo to El Cotillo, where you can find beaches with world-class surf and sheltered white sand lagoons.
Cabo de Gata and the coast, Almeria
The village of Agua Amarga (Bitter Water), 62km/38 miles east of Almeria in south-east Spain, couldn’t be sweeter. The small French-run Hotel Family sits among white cubist houses under clear Tabernas desert skies, with January temperatures above 20C. A rugged undeveloped coastline and mirror-like flat sea contrast with the snow glinting on the Sierra Nevada. But this is not California; it’s less than two hours from the UK, near Cabo de Gata natural park, and has been spared Spain’s infamous coastal development.
• Doubles from €59 B&B, familyaguaamarga.com
Sunny city, Murcia
Murcia is the warmest part of Spain and we have frequently enjoyed sun there even in the dismal month of February. Pension Segura (doubles from €42 B&B) is a cheap and friendly little hostal near the centre. The town itself is full of interesting buildings and museums, little squares with street cafes, and the excellent vegetarian restaurant Mana. A bus ride will take you to Fuensanta and the hills of Carascoy for walks and views, and trains go to nearby towns Lorca and Cartagena.
Life’s a breeze, Tarifa
Laid-back Tarifa (near Algeciras) on the southern tip of Europe boasts almost continuous winter sun. This warm, windy, kite-surfing mecca sits between the Med and Atlantic, with fabulous beaches, chic and funky bars, and affordable eateries. Flights to Gibraltar from the UK are cheap, as are the hostels, with the need to share facilities offset by all the cool, cosmopolitan co-travellers. La Cocatera (dorm beds £13) is a cute boutique hostel in the historic centre.
Capital idea, Tenerife
Santa Cruz, capital of Tenerife, offers panoramic views of the city, sea and mountains, and Airbnb apartments for around £70 a night. It has a community produce market, La Recova, plus loads of good-value bars and restaurants. Public transport is cheap and reliable – a €1.30 tram ride took us to the historic town of La Laguna. Also worth a visit is the ecological Palmetum Park (entry €6), which was created in the 1970s on the city’s rubbish tip.
Small island hiking, Canaries
La Gomera is an ideal place for winter warmth on a budget. Its beautiful hilly terrain and well-developed system of footpaths offer excellent hiking. The small harbour of Valle Gran Rey has good beaches and a selection of reasonably priced restaurants. After a day in the hills it’s perfect for an evening stroll to check out the boats in the port, then down your drink of choice while watching the sunset. And you won’t need a winter coat. Residencial El Llano (apartment from €400 a week) is a small complex around a pool and gardens, two minutes’ walk from the beach.
Ecolodge, The Gambia
My friend and I avoided the package deals and headed to Nemasu Ecolodge right on the beach near the quiet village of Gunjur, with basic but clean cabins. The deserted beach was peaceful and shaded by forest. A short stroll took us to colourful fishing boats dropping off their catch to a flurry of women buying and selling. We bought a couple of fresh fish and got them cooked for us in the local style at one of the many beach shacks.
• Cabins £30pppn, nemasuecolodge.com
Bargain South Africa
Take overnight flights to and from Cape Town so you gain a couple of days and save on hotel bills. It’s 10 hours so you can arrive on a late South African summer morning – in January, February and March the winds are gentle and the sunshine reliable. The Christmas crowds have gone so accommodation prices also come down. With the weak Rand, a holiday is affordable – £1 for a pint, £10 for a nice meal. Air fares are cheaper now, too. Hostel A Sunflower Stop near the Green Point beaches has a pool, dorm beds for £13 a night and doubles from £39.
Not just for divers, Red Sea
Marsa Shagra eco-lodge, near Marsa Alam on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, is good for diving, snorkelling and just relaxing in a beautiful environment. You stay in well-equipped tents a few metres from the shoreline, and wake to the gentle sound of waves. Prices in Jan/Feb are €45pp a night for two sharing or €57 for a single, including three meals a day.
Morocco bound, on a family trip
Marrakech was about 24C this New Year, with lots to do. We went as a family of four to a spa and took a trip into the Atlas Mountains, walking up waterfalls on a snow-melt river. It was hot between 10am and 5pm but we needed coats at night. Trains run from Marrakech to Casablanca – £12 return each in first class. We stayed at the Opera Plaza in Guilez (doubles £83 B&B).