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December 1, 2011

3

In Search of Sunshine – Winter Sun Destinations

by Julianne Mooney

I think I am the only person excited about the arrival of the cold aka winter. I just don’t see the excitement in balmy December days. The prospect of picking out a Christmas tree whilst wearing a t-shirt and flip-flops, unless I’m in some exotic sunny location, seems pointless.

Now, with the chill in the air I can dig out my gloves, hat, scarf and snow boots, enjoy a glass of hot port snuggled up to a blazing fire and watch gleefully as Bernard (the 6 mth old cat) attempts to climb his first Christmas tree. This is what Christmas is all about.

Of course, by the time January comes, and Lord knows if it’s a December like last year, I will most likely be willing to sell my cute bundle of fur (Bernard) to anyone who would offer me a week away from the dull winter skies. Sunshine and chilled rose by the sea, thank you very much.

I went to India in January 2010 for three weeks and I’ve never craved sunshine as much as I did that December. I returned home to find my loved ones looking slightly grey, depressed and exhausted by the prospect of having to face a new year. I, on the otherhand, was tanned, happy and re-energised, ready for the new year and what an amazing year it turned out to be.

I swore after that holiday I would do a trip every January, but I guess in this current climate not everything is possible. However, I have a feeling I will be searching sunnier shores at some point this winter and in anticipation, I will keep putting those pennies away!

This morning on Ireland AM (Click here to Watch the slot)I was talking about where you could go for a bit of winter sun. Family holidays in Malta, funky city breaks in Marrakech and adventures in South Africa. Below is the information from the slot! Happy Winter 🙂

MOROCCO

With direct flights from Dublin to Agadir (between 3 ½ – 4 hour flight), this is a good winter sun option for those in search of a week in a sunny beach resort.  Agadir is a purpose built resort, with hotels built up along the long sandy beach and in recent years some fantastic 4 and 5 star hotels have opened where you can get excellent winter deals.

The town centre has some traditional restaurants, markets and local shops if you don’t feel like lying about by the pool or if you are up for some adventures there are  plenty of day trips to other beach areas, mountains or the desert.

However, a good way of doing it is if you spend a couple of nights in Agadir and then head to Marrakech for some culture and to get a true sense of the country, which is only a 2 ½ hour drive away.

The best place to stay is in the Medina in Marrakech – old centre where you can stay in a traditional Riad many of which have been turned into boutique style accommodation. You can choose from basic accommodation to 5 star, elegant riads 

The Medina is a vibrant place to visit, and will give you a real insight into the real Morocco. Many of the shops operate as they would have done 100 years ago – traditional butchers, rug sellers and you see everything from people selling spices to snake charmers! There is a lot of hustle and bustle, but a simple, but firm no will allow you to move from stall to stall easily enough!

There’s so much to do in the city some of which you should not miss includes:

  • Trip to the tannery (smelly, but interesting)
  • The markets are amazing and a true experience not to be missed – traditional rug shopping is incredible
  • There is a small desert nearby where you can do a camel ride or for those with more time you can do a trip out to the Sahara and even stay over for a few nights
  • Cooking courses or simply roam the Medina and admire the incredible architecture.
  • For those who like trekking you can do a day trip to the Atlas Mountains, or even stay over in a plush hotel or in traditional Berber accommodation. If you stay over there you may be lucky enough to be a part of an evening of authentic music and dance so it’s worth asking about.

Getting There – Fly direct to Agadir (1 flight per week) or Fly to Marrakech ex London

Packages- Sunway Travels offer two centre options to Agadir & Marrakech  (7 nights) From €629 per person

MALTA

The Maltese islands, Malta, Gozo and Camino lie 93kms south of Sicily. Enjoying a typical Mediterranean climate with temperatures in January – March ranging between 12 – 20 degrees, it may not be incredibly warm, but it makes for a pleasant break if you want to escape the winter and enjoy a peaceful rest by the sea. It’s a very family friendly destination, with a stunning coastline, excellent restaurants and nightlife and an intriguing history.

The islands are packed with some stunning architecture – Baroque palaces, Romanesque Cathedrals and there are a number of UNESCO Heritage sites such as Valletta, the capital city and the stunning Hal Saflieni Hypogeum – UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back about 2500 BC and it is the only known example of a subterranean structure of the Bronze Age.

It’s a good idea to get out into the more rural Malta, renting a car is a good idea and is cheap on the island. Visit the ‘silent city’ of Mdina, an extraordinary 16th-century walled city, with narrow streets, grand mansions, great restaurants and the best chocolate cake in Malta!

A 25 minute ferry from Malta is the more remote and rugged Gozo. If you enjoy walking there are some wonderful walks around the small island. It’s a great place to spend a few nights, staying in a local farmhouse or in the main town – Victoria. Between Malta and Gozo lies the tiny island of Comino, a paradise for snorkeling, diving, windsurfing and walking.  Watch sunset at the Azure Window.

Getting There – Fly direct to Malta

Packages – Concorde Travel 5* Le Meridien St. Julians from €483 per person (flights and 7 nights accommodation)

www.visitmalta.com

SOUTH AFRICA

For those with time and money, South Africa can be a holiday of a lifetime with sunshine, stunning beaches, national parks, vineyards and adventure. You can fly direct into Capetown or another option is to fly into Jo’burg and from there you can take the Blue Train down to Capetown. This is an amazing way to see the inland area and takes just over a day. Accommodation is in luxury cabins and you dine in elegant dining carts and are even treated to delicious afternoon tea!

Cape Town is a fantastic city with plenty of attractions – stunning beaches, Table Top Mountain, nearby vineyards – Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. You can do day trips from Capetown, however it is well worth staying for a night or two so you can tour the area and enjoy the different vineyards.

Most people spend a few nights in Cape Town and then rent a car or do a trip along the Garden Route. Stops include Mossel Bay for shark cage diving, ship-wreck diving or surfers will head to Tsistikamma and Wilderness – stunning national park areas, trekking, coastal walks, forest and accommodation in wooden cabins or camping is also available, just be sure to book well in advance.

Safari is also a popular attraction and there are some private safari parks, or if you flying into Jo’burg you can do a safari trip in Kruger National Park.

Getting There – Fly to Capetown (via London)  From €600 return

Package Deals

14-day self-drive safari package from €1190pp includes private transfer from Cape Town International Airport, accommodation, car hire for 9 days with unlimited millage, 3 day guided safari. www.GoHop.ie

7 nights accommodation in Cape Town € 559 with www.travelmood.ie

A ZULU BUSH N BEACH WINTER SUN ESCAPE

Winter Sun Safari n beach Escape from €2100 per person includes
2 nights Amakhosi Safari Lodge, 3 nights Thonga Beach Lodge,Flights Belfast/London/Richards Bay return, 5 days car rental with Avis

NOTE: Photos of Morocco were kindly given to me by http://www.simonkamcheongphotography.com/


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