Freezing, crisp blue days and navy nights are lovely Irish wintry things. January rain and wind not so much, but it’s the endless concrete grey and that bone-deep dampness that makes this month and next the most miserable. The travel weathervane doesn’t move very far for most of us at this time of year. Short haul is out until April. Long haul is a vague term – both Sydney and Fuerteventura are long haul – but choosing a full on, foolproof winter sun holiday is tricky. Spinning the travel bottle for a beach break in January is a lame game. Luckily I’ve created a complex equation of flight times divided by seat reclination, multiplied by suntan, less the number of stopovers and squared by cash, or something along those lines, which proves that apart from not being very good at sums, I am constitutionally unable to play the three degrees gamble.
The Canaries are in play for many sun chasers but 18o and 21o degrees are polar opposites in my needy head; 18o is barely summer. With 19o and 20o you can be forced to fold under a cloud, but 21o is a royal flush, cosy and feeling like the opposite of winter. Those three degrees of separation are not worth four and more hopeful hours being sardined in a stiff seat, perfumed with steamed toasties along with 200 other pasty faces and their worn-out weather apps. There may be some sunlight at the end of our winter tunnel but in the meantime, here are some safer options:
West: I’d sooner go the dentist for a week than to Vegas or Orlando, so Miami and Los Angeles are my only direct US options. Fly into LAX then drive to the desert before Palm Springs has fully completed its Disneyfication. Option two, a Miami stay and the same short drive to the Keys battered from the effect of climate change but still reliable. Outside of happy hours, both those sun and sand escape routes are pricey though when you factor in exchange rates and tips.
Mexico via London is a smarter idea. Nothing is under the radar any more on the Riviera Maya. Tulum peaked years ago and even my darling little Isla Holbox is one of the many new Tulums. Puerto Escondido is a beach town beyond the Sierra Madre on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast, a surf town that still broadcasts the beach life notions of Taylor and Burton in Puerto Vallarta in the 1960s, near where Alfonso Cuarón filmed Y Tu Mamá También.
Also, this is Oaxaca. There may be pockets of the world with technicolour food as spectacular but none at this time of year with that combination of beach life and wildness. I’m also unaware of another hotel with a 50-metre pool that floods with the ocean every day. De-wintering in Hotel Escondido, part of Design Hotels, with that pool, living off tacos, mezcal, sun, surf and books is the opposite of January, and worth travelling any distance for.
East: I am not 100 per cent sure about my parentage. Despite allegedly being from Belfast, comfortably walking around in 35o degrees like a local anywhere and only feeling happy and normal, plus tanning in a day, raises more questions than answers.
East now means at least Middle East as even the gardens of Cyprus won’t properly pop until March. We have direct flights and swish airlines to carry us to that part of the world but, as much as possible, I want to avoid the Insta skyscrapers, just-add-money, pretend feeling of the cities they fly to. The sight of one yellow Lamborghini and I am ready for home.
One direct flight away and sitting between the Hajar Mountains and a sandy beach is the Six Senses Zighy Bay on the Musandam peninsula in Oman, with enough warm, dry air and blinding sun to help you heal from any winter coughs and colours. My plan would be sun and silence, apart from occasionally podcasting weather and traffic reports from home, just for
South: Drop a perpendicular south, as my tech drawing teacher would say – south to Morocco or down the jet lag-less route to double dip into the sea in Senegal.
I haven’t been to Senegal in a few years, but I loved every minute of it. The wild beaches at Saly are well-trodden by the well-heeled French and you can watch your seafood get caught, cooked and served to you all within 30 minutes with a pint of Moroccan rosé on a plastic chair with your toes in the sand.
If that isn’t for you then maybe try an eco-lodge in Gambia or fly further south to safari in Namibia, which is like Kenya 30 years ago. If you want to look at the wilderness and beaches from a more polished perch then keep going all the way down to Cape Town. When you get there drive west in the opposite, but getting busier every day, direction from the Garden Route and towards Paternoster. No secret to Capetonians, this is their wild version of Comporta or Martha’s Vineyard.
Around this time last year, I was in Paris for the apparently short-lived and much-loved World Restaurant Awards. The unexpected winner was a little beach restaurant in Paternoster. The chilled Wolfgat has a much-lauded chef, Kobus van der Merweis, and local people cooking and serving local food. It is also very hard to get a table in now but an award like this has lifted all boats around this pretty village.