For balmy temperatures even in the dead of winter, stay on the Atlantic island of Madeira. The average daily high from December to February is a comfortable 20 degrees – making this subtropical paradise both balmy and beautiful. The island’s dramatic topography makes it a hit with hikers – the evergreen slopes of ancient laurel forest are UNESCO-listed and lush. Plus, you can put your viewfinder on the highest sea cliffs in Europe or majestic mountains with their peaks all brushed with snow. For a more civilised break, base yourself in Funchal, and investigate the wine cellars of the local restaurants. Madeira wine can be enjoyed on its own – or in a refreshing cocktail. Over the Christmas period the festivities in Funchal are fantastic, and the town hosts one of the best New Year fireworks displays in the world. Book a day trip from Funchal to Porto Moniz for a glimpse of the best of the rest of the island.
Where to stay: If you want a touch of colonial charm, Belmond Reid Palace on the edge of Funchal is the classic choice. Its prime location on the clifftops is matched by a tour-de-force of service inside. Quietly luxurious, it’s been the best hotel on the island for 127 years (even Winston Churchill was a fan): though the rooms and menus have modernised a little since then. William Restaurant (named after the hotel founder) has a Michelin star; and the hotel’s afternoon tea, with a menu of 24 speciality varieties, is served on a balcony with gorgeous ocean views.
Get used to barefoot luxury on the west coast of Barbados. £778 ppBook Barbados
Set your course for Mauritius this winter. The east coast is blessed with white sand and prestigious resorts. £980 ppBook Mauritius
Up in the clouds
Madeira's mountains are well known for having beautiful wild flower meadows. In winter there are fewer flowers, but the weather is often very good for hiking. £208 ppBook Madeira
Tenerife is perennially popular for winter sun holidays. Its beaches run the spectrum from volcanic black to golden yellow, and its All Inclusive hotels have overflowing infinity pools and overladen buffet tables. After a short four-and-a-half-hour flight from London, you’ll be looking on the bright side of life again. During winter the whole island still has a solid average daily high of 21 degrees. Pack some long sleeves for the evenings – and something warm if you’re planning to head inland to the Mount Teide National Park. The island’s enormous volcano will be blanketed in snow come December – a strange sight indeed if you’ve been lounging on a warm beach. The adventurous will stumble across vineyards, tiny restaurants, old Canarian towns, and mansions with creaking verandas. For kids, Siam Park – the island’s popular water park – keeps its myriad Thai-themed slides and pools heated to a cosy 24 degrees throughout the year.
Where to stay: Luxury doesn’t always have to mean po-faced staff and stuffy interiors. The Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife is glamorous in a fun, chrome-and-leather kind of way. The kids’ club and teen club are well equipped with the latest tech – so you’ll have to pry your children away from the Xbox if you want them to join you for tapas at Aliole, the hotel’s Mediterranean restaurant. The hotel’s rooftop bar, The 16th, is superb at sunset.
Did you know…
Every emirate in the UAE is said to have a different coloured sand, from red through to white. Discover the desert in Dubai.£367 ppBook a Dubai holiday
Of course, you could always give up Europe as a lot cause and head to the Indian Ocean. An All Inclusive in delicious Mauritius is doomed to spoil other holidays for you forever. This tropical island paradise is bound by a circlet of coral reef and fringed by small beaches. November to April is warm season, with temperatures in the high twenties; the peak tourist season starts after the new year. It’s a great time to visit the island, relax on the beach, or make your way through an exotic spa menu. Mauritius’s luxury hotels command many of the most beautiful spots on the island. Outside the resorts, the island is lavished with lush landscapes, peppered with spicy street-side Indian food, and home to the odd giant tortoise. For some sea air, why not book a catamaran tour. Elsewhere on the island, a quick trip inland to the Seven Coloured Earth site and Charamel Waterfall is the best way to tick off the interior without eating in to your lounging time.
Where to stay: Zilwa Attitude sits on a bay on the north shore of Mauritius, on an eggshell-pale stretch of delicate white sand. The lobby looks out over a cluster of uninhabited islands. Rooms are all decked with untreated wood and thatched roofs. The vibe is relaxed – you even get a free pair of flip flops at the start of your stay. Whilst the hotel claims to give you an authentic islander experience, this isn’t to say that service or dining falls short of excellent. Staying here with the All Inclusive package means you’ll be really well looked-after.
Barbados, with its cricket grounds, British place names and left-side driving, is often called Little England. It might feel like a home away from home for British travellers – but it certainly doesn’t share Britain’s bad weather. In the winter dry season, the temperature is in the high twenties. The west coast is populated by a hoard of luxury hotels. It’s also the site of some of the islands best restaurants. Here, you can enjoy champagne-white sand and an electric blue ocean in perfect peace. If you want a more local experience, you need to flex those relaxing muscles. The Barbadian penchant for doing things on ‘island time’ means that the pace of life is lazy. You won’t need to exert too much energy to enjoy a Mount Gay Rum Tour – at one of the old’s oldest rum distilleries. Follow this with a party, Bajan-style, around lively St Lawrence Gap. Evenings out tend to start at a traditional fish fry, where street food is accompanied by cocktails and live calypso music. Steel pans, bongos and trumpets always get the party started.
Where to stay: What better way to soak up the sun than from a premium hotel on the so-called platinum coast? The four-and-a-half-star Colony Club sits in mature gardens in Saint James, right on the beach. Its friendly service offers everything from paddle-boarding gear to frozen grapes by the pool. Look out for lobster on the menu on the hotel’s theme nights. When it’s not serving its guests seafood specials, The Colony Club rustles up dishes from its organic kitchen garden and holds extended happy hours. Book in to its luxury swim-up rooms, which open onto the hotel’s pretty lazy river.
High tourist season for Dubai starts in October. By December, temperatures in the city hover around 20°C, and the sea temperature remains firmly in the mid-twenties: perfect for sunbathing on The Palm, the city’s beachy archipelago. Whilst the city is a great fly-and-flop winter destination, the cooler weather presents a great opportunity to try some activities – such as a desert safari. After you escape the damp streets of your hometown, a drive through a carved dune-scape will seem surreal. Look out for wild oryx or watch demonstrations of the noble art of falconry. Most desert tours whisk you out of the Dubai in the afternoon, arriving back to the centre of town in the evening. Back in the city, a mass of malls means you can shop designer ‘til you drop. But, if you can’t see a skyscraper without wondering what it’s like at the top, then swap shops for the skies. Ascend to the viewing platform of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world.
Where to stay: The quiet outer crescent of The Palm seems like the ideal place to build a palace, and that’s exactly what the majestic Jumeirah Zabeel Saray resembles. This magnificent hotel is modelled on the excesses of the Ottoman Empire, where you’ll witness ceilings busy with chandeliers, the columned Sultan’s Lounge, and the biggest spa in the whole Middle East. Guests love the Rib Room, a meat restaurant with Wagyu beef specials.