Let’s be real: January sucks. The presents are all open, New Year’s hangovers lingering, and the office hasn’t magically transformed into a place you want to be. Sure, you could pile on the misery by dieting and going ‘dry’. But what if New Year wasn’t so much about a ‘new you’, as a new place to go? There are many good reasons to treat yourself to a January getaway, but if you need something practical: it’s cheap. Post-Christmas, pre-Valentine’s Day is a slow season, opening up deals everywhere from Caribbean islands to the sunny neighbourhoods of Sydney and LA.
It’s no secret the Canary Islands offer reliable winter sun – but it may surprise that there’s another side to ‘Lanzagrotty’. Skip the east coast’s gaudy mega-resorts and you’ll discover a very cool Canary. Much of the built landscape owes a debt to local architect César Manrique, who designed many of the islands must-see architectural feats: Jardín de Cactus, his magical cactus amphitheatre; or the home he designed for himself, where cave-like rooms are carved into lava bubbles (now home to the Fundacíon César Manrique). Speaking of which, the island’s volcanic landscape is its own art project. Timanfaya National Park presents a ravishing patchwork of rainbow-hued earth. If climbing a volcano doesn’t do it for you, get wet: dive underwater through the art park Museo Atlántico, or surf local favourite Famara beach, a dramatic stretch to the north.
Now Venice has officially made the transition from edgy to upscale, where do you go in LA for more boho, less bling? Head east for Silver Lake. There might not be a beach, but the chilled neighbourhoody vibes more than compensate. Houses spill down jungly hills to palm-lined boulevards jammed with vintage T-shirts and vinyl. Behold the surf shops and farmer’s markets, street murals and food trucks, plus grimy indie clubs that launched Foo Fighters and Foster The People. Think of it as an unending summer of hip, young cool – even in January. And, like any self-respecting ‘creative hub’, it’s where food trends are born: see French-Mexican brunch at Trois Familia for beet tartare tostada and churro French toast).
“Beach, eat, drink, dance, repeat,” is how Rihanna told us she’d spend the perfect day in Barbados. Certainly it’s the Caribbean island’s good-time vibes that keep regulars coming. Well, that and the pirate’s bounty of bleached-white, powdery beaches. The glam west coast might be all five-star luxury, but travel slightly south and the scene quickly skews more local. Lively Oistins’ Friday Night Fish Fry brings the community out for an open-air party, with fresh-caught fish on the barbecue and booming reggae. Or, closer still, hit St Lawrence Gap, a strip of rambunctious rum bars. On the quieter east coast, pounding Atlantic waves draw surfers: Bathsheba is the closest Barbados gets to boho, with pro boarders and tattooed artists. In January, the dawn of dry season, it’s all appealing – drenched only in a daily average nine hours’ of sunshine.
A smattering of volcanic islands 350 miles off the coast of Senegal, at first look Cape Verde seems a lonely prospect, out in the mid-Atlantic. But there’s a reason it’s fast become a fly-and-flop favourite: miles of uninterrupted, ivory beaches, impossibly pure surf, and an intriguing lunar landscape. Not to mention its consistently sunny disposition: January’s average temperature is 25˚C. And finally, finally, there’s a lovely little eco lodge to rival the big hotels and budget guesthouses. Run entirely on renewable energy, Spinguera is a restored fishing village with its own private beach on the north coast of Boa Vista island (translation: “good view”). Think charming, stone-hewn villas with bright-yellow shutters; fresh, white bedrooms; and lantern-lit sunset dinners. You could while away every day in this peaceful paradise. Or go island-hopping to explore more of Cape Verde’s craggy beauty: from Sal’s red deserts and salt pans to São Vicente, the heart of its colourful Afro-Portuguese culture.
If a rave in sub-zero temperatures sounds appealing, Montrealis for you. The city’s annual, January Igloofest tempts parka-clad party people outside with a line-up of world-class EDM acts – Bonobo returns in 2019. Elsewhere, the French château architecture looks fabulous under a frosting, and you can go snowshoeing up Mount Royal for excellent city views (it’s more of a hill, really, right in the middle of town). Mile End’s hipsters have been replaced by good-looking young families, but its food institutions remain: warm up with classic Montreal smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s, or St-Viateur’s hot-out-the-oven, hand-rolled bagels (thinner and sweeter than New York’s). For a warm treat in the cold, poutine is considered a delicacy – try it at Au Pied Du Cochon or Le Grande Manger. If you need to come in from the cold, there’s the ‘Underground City’ – a network of shops, museums and restaurants below downtown’s core.
Bitter winter winds whip through China in January – but you can bet that means less of a circus at major sights like the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall. The latter looks particularly magical under a dusting of snow. Lower hotel rates also make a great excuse for a grand tour; Shanghai’s famous xia long bao restaurants – serving delicious dumplings filled with soup – are the perfect foil for the chill. The main event, of course, should be the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, a Guinness World Record breaker that debuted in 1963. Thousands of people descend on this temporary ice city each year, where major landmarks – Beijing’s Forbidden City, Moscow’s St Basil’s Cathedral – are recreated, life-size, in ice. Come nightfall, the sculptures are lit up with bright lights – worth wrapping up for, as after-dusk temperatures can plunge to -24˚C.
Finding an Insta-perfect beach in Panama – a compact country with two long coasts – is easy. A suitably chic stay to go with? More of a challenge. Maybe that’s why this gem gets overshadowed by its rowdy neighbours, Colombia and Costa Rica. That changes this January, when Islas Sacas Reserve & Lodge opens on its namesake archipelago of private islands, just 20 miles off Panama’s Atlantic shore, scattered with private, cherry-wood casitas. For a more rustic adventure, the Caribbean shore’s San Blas Islands are protected by an indigenous Panamanian tribe, the Kuna. No hotels, no roads: just simple huts and hammocks dot deserted, storybook sands. Changing gears, the Panama Jazz Festival makes January the best time to visit for a musical party. Hole up in Central America’s first W hotel, or head for the Casco Viejo. Once controlled by gangs, the capital’s old quarter is now flooded with cool new outfits revitalising crumbling colonial buildings, including romantic boutique bolthole La Concordia.
With New Year crowds gone and no school holidays on the horizon, January is a fine time for a European ski holiday. And not only does Val present the most reliable powder on the continent, but this St-Tropez-on-snow is only getting splashier. The town just kickstarted a five-year upgrade that includes converting a summit cable car station into an ultra-luxe hotel. Le Refuge de Solaise opens December 2018, with unbeatable 360-degree views, spa, restaurant and sprawling sun terrace. Chalet fans, meanwhile, have more slick picks than ever: seven-room Chalet Husky has a climbing wall, infinity waterfall and space for rifle shooting and archery – perhaps not so wise after a night at Dick’s Tea Bar. And if Olympic downhills and Michelin-starred restaurants aren’t doing it, there are plenty more inventive ways to get your kicks. Who’s up for a circuit of BMW’s ice track?
No doubt about it, Portugal is booming. A record 20 million visitors landed in 2017. While the country’s mild winters might not be scorching, they are quieter – and prices lower than usual, in a destination already beloved for being very affordable. Porto, Lisbon’s little sister, has undergone its own creative renewal. Once-decaying medieval streets buzz with kerbside cafés and retooled townhouses, transformed into stylish hotels by local designers. The food scene is fizzing, but still a steal: a 10-course tasting menu at intimate, six-table Pedro Limaõ gives change from €40. And then there’s the terraced port vineyards of the Douro Valley, 100km inland: so serene, Six Senses opened its first European retreat here in 2015.
If Sydney is urban done right – laid-back, cosmopolitan and perpetually beachy – then Paddington is suburban perfection. Fashionable and well-heeled, it’s got all the buzz of a central district, but with the charm of a village. Colourful Victorian terrace rows flaunting wrought-iron balconies could be Notting Hill. Main promenade Oxford Street bustles with cafés, pubs and boutiques, while back alleys are home to cool galleries, design studios and cute bars. Nicky Zimmermann started out selling her designs at Paddington’s famous Saturday markets; find her spacious store on Glenmore Road. Or join the “Paddo” foodies at Fred’s, where Danielle Alvarez’s all-female kitchen cooks farm-to-table comfort food. January is quintessential Sydney summer, with balmy temperatures, and the Sydney Festival packing the city with music and art.
Warning: a youthful wanderlust may return when you read this feature about Nicaragua. Quite possibly the Central American country that has it all: tropical rainforests and untouched beaches, fringed with palms, distant cloud-capped volcanoes, and recently some extraordinarily special eco-lodges. January has the double blessing of being the month with the best temperatures everywhere, and also the least rainfall (barely any at all) on Nicaragua's Pacific Coast.
Worth splurging all your annual leave in January for. Spend your New Year's Eve in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo and then stay on for a couple more weeks and head up the coast to any number of preposterously gorgeous, barefoot-n-bikini-chic beach havens. So many to choose from! So many thousands of miles of empty, golden sand, striped with the shadows of palm trees and lapped by surf or turquoise waters. Beautiful people drinking caipirinhas at the coolest beach parties. The kind of places that really get our travel clichés rolling. Trancoso, in Bahia, the original and still one of the best. Fernando de Noronha. Surfy Itacaré, Canavierias, Barra Grande. The no-car islands of Boipeba and Tinharé. Sao Luís, Jericoacoara, the wild and stunning north-east coast.
Out of this world any time of the year - but January is the best month of all (little rain, lots of sunshine, nice kind of heat) in Burma, or Myanmar, from its pagodas and temples in the misty mountains, where the Himalayas begin, to its blissful, never-knew-existed tropical islands.
Start the new year with several bangs: Sydney throws possibly the best New Year's Day parties in the world (how like Australians not to waste the day in bed with hangovers). Then head on up the Gold Coast to Byron Bay, or the Whitsundays, or the Great Barrier Reef, or indeed anywhere else along the east coast - the good times just keep rolling. January is the best month to go, after the crowds of December and when the weather's hot but not too hot. Food, drink, beaches, private islands… They do everything big and bold and in style. Kick off your year like this and zing off the endorphins right through winter.
It is hot and humid and it rains a lot in Belize, beset as it is by tropical storms and hurricanes. But don't let that put you off. It is the perfect Caribbean escape for those who like it rough and palm-fringed around the edges, with tropical jungly highlands, Mayan ruins and the most astoundingly beautiful beaches, just a handful of hippies and beach bums to share them with. January and February are the best months, only pleasantly hot and not too wet.
Thailand is heavenly in January. Yes, it's peak season, but the mayhem of the Christmas and New Year parties are over; Bangkok is just about as pleasant as it's ever going to get, and the islands on the south-western, Andaman Coast are just lovely: Koh Phi Phi, Phuket, Koh Lanta. Over on the east side, the islands of Koh Samui, Phangan and Tao are wetter - if you're heading here, best to wait a couple of months til March; but still, those monsoon-like rains blow in, pour themselves out, then an hour later everyone's back on the beach.
So, so many reasons to go, but briefly: amazing food and wine, beaches, hotels. Sensational scenery, from the Garden Route and Western Cape to the Little Karoo. Completely thrilling wildlife encounters on safari, staying at the most incredible lodges; or along the coastline, in knock-out villas. January is one of the best months for all those things. Wine can be drunk all year round. And because it's in the same time zone, you don't even get jet lag once you're home again. Shame we can't say the same about hangovers.
For snow, beer and chips. The beautiful little Belgian city is one of those rare places that is just as enticing in the bleak midwinter as in summer: pretty in the snow, 'beautiful f**king fairytale stuff', to quote the film In Bruges (which is all the research you need). And the snow is an excellent excuse for holing up somewhere, because this city also has some of the most inviting reasons to stay indoors: interesting interiors, welcoming taverns full of good cheer and much Belgian beer, antiques and junk shops to poke around, gorgeous old guesthouses on the canals, candlelit bars and restaurants, moules-frites and cream-and-kirsch-laden puddings. A long weekend is enough time to see everything and put on a stone in weight.
The coast of Mexico is everything the British winter is not: light, colour, exoticism; warm and spicy and exuberant. Parties on the beach, yoga under the trees, a dip in dappled-light cenotes. We fell for the cosmic vibes of Tulum, and the little barefoot island of Isla Holbox, off the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. For the haciendas and smart resorts on the Riviera Maya; for colonial Mérida. And over on the west coast, sunny, surfy Sayulita. The weather on both Atlantic and Pacific coasts is wonderful in January: hot but not-too-hot, with barely any rain at all. Required holiday reading: The Lacuna, by Poisonwood Bible author Barbara Kingsolver.
India's state of princes is spectacular in January. It's pleasantly warm, the holiday crowds have vanished and you can dance through its palaces as if on your own private Bollywood set. Don't miss the jewels in its crown - pastel-hued Jaipur, turquoise-speckled Jodhpur and romantically golden Udaipur - but leave room in your itinerary for a few forgotten treasures: serene Jal Mahal or the lost city of Bhangarh. January also provides the perfect weather for an Arabian Nights-style safari in Jaisalmer, where you can traverse the desert on the back of a camel and sleep under the stars.
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