Viewing whales and dolphins in the wild is an unmissable experience. Not all the locations are exotic – some of the world’s best cetacean-watching sites are here in Europe. These short trips are a great way to meet others who share your passion and see some of nature’s most amazing creatures.
The sub-tropical island of Madeira is a perfect winter sun destination for those that want to do more than fly and flop. Set against a backdrop of dramatic cliffs, mountains and lush valleys, Madeira offers an outstanding choice of hotels, including some beautifully-restored quintas, great local restaurants and 600 miles of marked walking trails.
A cottage in Cornwall, what could be more relaxing? Until you have to shop and cook, or find a good place for dinner. Book a luxury bolthole with Boutique Retreats and they do the hard work, from booking restaurants to arranging a private chef or deliveries of local Cornish produce. All of which leaves little to do but put your feet up and enjoy the peace. Perfect.
We all love a buy one, get one free deal. Sadly, it doesn’t often work with city breaks, but book a trip to beautiful Budapest and you get two cities for the price of one. The older part, Buda, boasts stunning Gothic architecture and pretty cobbled streets, while across the river Pest has wide boulevards, tranquil parks and buzzy cafe culture.
Described by Truman Capote as “like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go”, Venice is a city built for show, its sights global icons of art and architecture. Its canals and bridges make it ideal for wandering – and getting lost. Let the magic rather than a map take over. If you’ve never been, you’re in for one of travel’s most romantic treats.
English wine is alive, well and very much in the ascendancy according to discerning quaffers, both at home and abroad. In Gloucestershire you can not only visit one of the largest vineyards in the country, the 100 acre Three Choirs, but you can also sleep and dine on site – so there’s no need to limit your testing of their fine pinot noirs and other produce.
Remember when flying was fun? Before the days of long queues, endless checks and airports that are more like shopping malls? Book with Flybe and it’s a whole different experience; they fly from small, regional airports that connect to dozens of European destinations, ideal for a stress-free start to your citybreak or week in the sun.
History, architecture and long, sandy beaches combine to make Sicily the perfect choice for an Italian short break. Choose from a city weekend among the faded grandeur of Palermo, or a chilled-out foodie few days among the trattorias and locandas of Syracuse. Drive up Mount Etna, eat gelati on the promenade in Cefalu and sip cocktails at sunset in pretty Taormina. Bellissima.
Downton Abbey may be over for another season, but that’s no reason to let standards slip! Book a break with Oliver’s Travels to stay at some of Britain’s most elegant properties – from Georgian townhouses that sleep six, to grand country estates that sleep sixty. All can be rented for exclusive use, with properties in Scotland, England and Wales.
Palma is the perfect weekend break destination. The main boulevards offer great shopping potential, while quarters like La Lonja seethe with atmospheric tapas bars and bodegas. There’s history at the spectacular Gothic cathedral and 10th-century Arab Baths, world-class art at the Palau March or the Fundacion Joan Miro, and an impressive collection of chic boutique hotels.
If New York is the Big Apple, Washington DC is the Big Cheese; a city that oozes power. Dotted with uber-luxurious hotels that welcome the world’s great and good, Washington mixes world-class museums and galleries with a hip drinking scene and restaurants to rival NYC. Easy to explore on foot, it’s a presidentially-perfect city break.
A short-break across the Atlantic doesn’t have to mean New York – Montréal is closer, oozes style and combines the atmosphere of a chic French city with the traditional laid-back Canadian feel. Pair serious shopping with outdoor activities; try white-water rafting or jet boating and reward yourself with fabulous French food and lazy afternoons enjoying the cafe culture.
Hitting the sweet spot between old-fashioned style and a contemporary feel can be a tall order, but Pen y Dyffryn, on the Shropshire-Wales border, gets it bang on. Cosy without being chintzy, it is set amidst lush rolling hills and wooded glades. A walk across the hills is the best way to work up an appetite for the spectacular dinners.
There’s something unique about Cornwall’s Atlantic coast – perhaps it’s the drama, huge waves rolling onto wide sandy beaches. Stay in one of the five-star lodges at Gwel an Mor and you’re just ten minutes from the beautiful beach at Portreath, surrounded by lush countryside. Alongside the lodges there’s a heated pool, restaurant and a full programme of kids’ activities.
Spend a day walking the coastal paths of Cornwall and you might wonder why Brits ever bother to travel abroad. The undulating hills, secret sandy coves and soaring cliffs are as fine as you’ll see anywhere. With great local restaurants and superb self-catering cottages, this is paradise on your doorstep.
Boating on the Norfolk Broads has to be one of the most relaxing ways to spend a long weekend, or more. Pottering along at just 5mph is the perfect speed to wind down, relax and take in the National Park scenery, with long stretches of reed marsh and woodland, the banks dotted with picturesque thatched cottages plus the occasional pub for vital victuals.
Away from the peak months of summer, Athens is perfect for a weekend break, particularly since the opening in 2009 of the New Acropolis Museum, £100m worth of dazzling modern architecture crammed with Classical treasures. When it comes to hotels, Athens excels at the contemporary as well as some more traditional grandes dames.
Whatley Manor is a place in which to escape daily life in country house style. With traditional architecture and gorgeous gardens, with lots of secluded corners, you’ll want to own it, not just stay in it. But if a short break is your only option, there are 23 rooms, a Michelin two star restaurant, an amazing spa, a spread of lounges and even a cinema.
Brimming with tradition and oozing with culture, Vienna is the place to hear Strauss, see countless works of art and be overwhelmed by pompous, imperial architecture. Even a break for coffee and cake involves stepping back in time. Ride the famous ferris wheel in the Prater and you’ll be in the heart of the Hapsburgs’ hunting ground.
Reykjavik is a youthful, compact, friendly city set in dramatic countryside and less than three hours’ flying time from the UK. Wander around art galleries and museums, linger in stylish restaurants and cosy coffee bars then take a healing dip in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon. If you have the energy, party the night away at the city’s legendary bars.
Sorrento has been putting out the welcome mat for British travellers since the 18th century. As well as the stunning clifftop location, it’s ideal for hopping across the Bay of Naples to Capri by boat, taking a spectacular drive along the hairpins of the Amalfi coast, jumping on the train to Pompeii or strolling to the crater summit of Vesuvius.
The millennium-old walled city, Byron’s ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ with its honey-stoned buildings, terracotta roofs and cobbled streets has been fully restored to pearly perfection after its wartime pounding. Built by the Venetians, Dubrovnik gives easy access to a choice of islands just a short ferry hop away.
Even with only a few days in Istanbul, you can gaze in wonder at the Topkapi Palace and harem, the Blue Mosque, St Sophia, The Grand Bazaar and the spice market. The big decision is whether to stay on the banks of the Bosphorous for a tranquil retreat, or pick a hotel in the thick of it.
If you’re single, by choice or circumstance, there’s no need to holiday on your own. Travel in company with a singles specialist such as Solos which has a wide choice of fun-packed breaks at home and abroad, all hosted by a tour leader who will ensure everyone mixes and gets the most from their trip.