• September 10, 2015

    5 places to get winter respite

    As the sunsets on another British summer and your holiday is a distant memory, if you’re feeling like us you’ll be wanting to plan your next get away as soon as possible. Whether you fancy a staycation, some winter sun or city break, we’ve found some destinations that’ll get you feeling that holiday buzz again in no time…

    The staycation: Centre Parcs

    Wherever you are in the country, there’s a Centre Parcs near you and whether you’re single, coupled up or a family, this is the perfect place to let your hair down in the autumn and winter months. Whilst things mainly focus on the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, where you’ll find multiple pools, slides, whirlpools and a rapids, there are plenty of another activities on offer. If you love to sweat out your stresses you can choose from tennis, badminton, archery, golf and watersports on the lake among others, however if you’re idea of sweating is sitting in a sauna, you’ll love the Aqua Sana Spa.

    As for food, you can cook your signature dish in your chalet, or eat at one of the many restaurants on-site and evening entertainment is everywhere; special evenings mixing with other guests, or a BBQ with nature right outside your door. We especially love their focus on nature and recommend hiring a bike so you can really get back to basics. Expect to leave feeling refreshed and revitalised.

    The European break: Brussels

    Small, close by and full of culture, Brussels ticks all the boxes for an autumn/winter European break. Everything the guide books advise seeing are worthwhile and thanks to great transport links (and Brussels being a small city) you can easily see the majority of the city in four days.

    Shopping is lovely and varied, from English shops you’ll immediately recognise to market stalls selling everything from jewellery to kitchen utensils, and you’re never far from a gorgeous park. I especially loved the XX. Walking through there to reach the city centre from our hotel was much more preferable than going via the roadside. As in every city there are several museums, but the Costume Museum and Chocolate museum were the most enjoyable – detailed enough so you felt like you learned something, but small enough so you could take young children without them getting bored.

    A must is the cuisine Brussels is famous for: mussels. Obviously they’re sold everywhere, but go down the back streets for better value for money and somewhere less quiet. Reachable by Eurostar or a quick minute flight from a London airport there’s no excuse, although will power is a must if you want to avoid the multiple chocolatiers and waffle shops!

    The sunshine break: Spain

    Spain is one of the most obvious choices for a winter getaway. It’s guaranteed to be warmer than here, the euro is strong against the pound so your holiday cash goes further and, generally, flights can be pretty cheap. What’s not to love?

    But strike Madrid and Barcelona from the list. Valencia is where you really want to be. This coastal city with so many beaches and exquisite cuisine will give you a proper taste for the laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle. Temperatures during winter average at about 17C so, even if it’s too mild to strip to your bikini to sunbathe, you can still enjoy everything the city has to offer without being too hot or too cold. And there is a lot to take in.

    For one, it’s the motherland of paella, the delicious and versatile rice dish, as well as fideua, its noodly seafood cousin. Order either, or both at the same time like I would, from a traditional restaurant for instant foodie heaven. Washed down with a glass of sangria, of course. Top attractions include the City of Arts and Sciences, an entertainment complex in a huge futuristic dome that also houses Europe’s largest aquarium, and Valencia Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic building that offers a glimpse into the city’s historic past.

    A stroll through the centre, which has its own bullring and a myriad of cobbled alleyways, won’t fail to delight either. Valencia just fits the bill perfectly if you’re after the heady combination of culture and food in a city that’s not as overtly touristy as Madrid and Barcelona.

    The splurge: Rio de Janeiro

    Now, if you want a treat or maybe you’d like to give yourself a little early Christmas present, splurge on a trip to Rio de Janeiro. The Marvellous City, to go by its nickname, is just that. Simply marvellous. As it’s located in the southern hemisphere in Brazil, it will be hot hot hot over winter. Make a beeline for the famous Copacabana beach to soak up those rays or head over to Ipanema beach just a few minutes’ walk away for a more relaxed and local scene.

    By sundown hit up Lapa, a district in the heart of the city famed for its nightlife. Here bars, clubs and restaurants line the streets so you will be spoilt for choice. Don’t let a night go by without trying Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha. If you’re a little shy about throwing shapes, this will help, as they don’t really measure the spirits as strictly as they do here. If you love any opportunity to dance, you’ll be sorted anyway, as live bands playing samba music will get you shaking your hips all the way to the floor.

    Landmarks not to be missed are the Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer. Both offer impressive vistas of the city. My suggestion is to do one at night and the other during the day, just so you get contrasting perspectives. Both are equally as mesmerising as the other.

    Of course, it is a little farther to go and more expensive than the other locations, but if you have the cash to splash, Rio de Janeiro is 100% worth it.

    Stephanie Bolton         Mary Pickford

    @StephanieBolton     @maryannpickford

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