Fed up with the cold? Make the most of your Easter break with a short-haul holiday that will give you a much-needed vitamin D boost, doing something fun while you’re at it, says Imogen Lepere
TREK ON A CAMEL THE SAHARA, MOROCCO
As you ride your camel through the Sahara at dusk, the only sound you’ll hear is the muffled padding of its hooves splaying in the sand. Lights twinkle out from a Berber tent where you will spend the night but the rich smell of the tagine being prepared for dinner barely carries through the still air. The next day, wake up to watch the sunrise over Erg Chebbi, a large sea of wind- blown dunes, then climb back on your camel and ride to the Black Desert, where you’ll spend the night with a nomad family.
While it may not be the most comfortable mode of transport, a camel trek is a journey into the very heart of Morocco’s history. You don’t need any riding experience and will be in the capable hands of Omar Berhi, who grew up caring for his father’s camels in the tiny desert village of Taos. This four-day private holiday begins and ends in Marrakech. You’ll picnic under the shade of the seemingly endless palm trees in Skoura and be seduced by fragrant flutter of petals in the Rose Valley, which is irrigated by the Asif M’Goun River. Drive along the hairpin bends of the epic Tizi n’Tichka pass, marvel at the Todra Gorge and try your hand at sandboarding in the largest desert in the world.
From £188pp for the Desert Lovers’ Tour, including three nights’ accommodation, all meals and equipment and transfers from Marrakech.
UNLOCK CHEF’S SECRETS SORRENTO, ITALY
With their olive skin and strikingly similar looks, Alfonso and Ernesto Iaccarino could only be father and son. Their attitude to cooking also runs in the family and they see themselves as guardians of the local food traditions on the Sorrento Peninsula.
Ernesto heads up the kitchen at two-star Michelin restaurant and hotel Don Alfonso 1890, while his father now runs Le Peracciole, the family farm. His favourite catchphrase is ‘great cooking happens in the fields like great wines in the vineyard’ and he should know. Their 7ha plot of land just across the water from Capri has kept the restaurant in heavenly tomatoes, lemons the size of grapefruits and olive oil since 1990.
Learn their secrets at the hotel’s cookery school. Sessions suitable for all levels are run from 10am-1.30pm Wednesday to Sunday with a different theme every day. Whether you choose to focus on pasta, rock fish of the Amalfi Coast or confectionery, you’ll prepare three courses. The school is only open to hotel guests, which is fortunate because anyone who steps into this elegant 19th-century mansion won’t want to leave.
From £387pp for one night’s accommodation, breakfast and a cooking lesson.
GO FREEWHEELING MARRAKECH, MOROCCO
Lofty mountains, remote forests and medieval medinas where locals sit in the sun sipping glass after glass of sweet mint tea. Morocco’s blend of culture, natural beauty and topography make it the perfect place to explore on two wheels, not least because 2017 is the bicentenary of the invention of the bicycle.
Spring sees almond trees blossoming and warm winds ruffling the grass that spreads over the usually arid plains. Spend a week soaking up the views from the High Atlas mountains, the highest range in North Africa and home to nomadic Berber tribes. You’ll begin in Marrakech, which has stood at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and the Arabic world for more than 1,000 years, before cycling to Ouirgane and on to Agadir, with its tawny sand and low-key stalls selling grilled fish, before heading back to the capital. You’ll need to be fairly fit to tackle this adventure as distances range between 38km and 80km per day. A support vehicle carries your bags and plenty of cool water and food.
From £890pp for seven nights, including meals, a guide, support vehicle and accommodation. Mountain bikes can be hired locally from Atlas Sports (£102pp for six days).
SADDLE UP AND RIDE ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL
Sandwiched between the Algarve and Lisbon, Alentejo province is a breath of fresh air on Portugal’s built-up south coast. Much of the area is a nature reserve and your trusty steed will enjoy exploring its eucalyptus forests and sand dunes as much as you.
Over six days and in groups of no more than six, you will travel from the tiny fishing town of Porto Covo along the coast, where you will swim in the bracing Morgavel Dam, trot though the undergrowth in the Sela Vermalha Valley, wade the Mira River and thunder along the spectacular Cabo Sardão cliffs.
The trip is based at Herdadade Pessegueiro, a stable run by the Castanheira family, and most of their horses are homebred. They are Lusitanos, native to Portugal, and impressively responsive. This tour is best suited to intermediate and experienced riders, with up to six hours in the saddle each day.
When dusk falls, the horses will be turned out along the route and you will be driven back to the stables, where cosy apartments await. Dinner is eaten in the family’s restaurant, which serves up traditional Portuguese plates such as stuffed peppers and grilled prawns alongside views over a beautiful Moorish fort and Ilha do Pessegueiro, a rocky island out to sea.
From £992pp for six nights, which includes accommodation, meals, transfers and tack.
HONE YOUR ART LA GOMERA, SPAIN
While talent is a good place to start, there are several other ingredients that are integral to the creation of a good painting. Excellent lighting, an inspiring subject and expert tuition are also key, and you’ll find all three on La Gomera in the Canary Islands.
It’s a mere half-day’s travel from London yet it boasts the most tropical landscapes in Europe. What could be more inspiring than the ancient woods of Las Hayas, the pretty hamlet of Caseria de Espenias or tuffs of volcanic red cliffs? Light-filled terraces with prickly pears and banana trees will have you reaching for the most vibrant colours in your set.
Fine-tune your technique with five full days’ tuition from David Paskett, who has been an artist for 25 years and was also president of the Royal Watercolour Society. He specialises in watercolour, acrylic, oil pastels and drawing so there is plenty of scope to try new mediums, although materials are not included.
From £1,499pp for seven nights, including tuition, accommodation, meals and transfers.
FIND YOUR FAIRWAY ANDALUCIA, SPAIN
As if magnificent beaches, white towns and temperatures that never dip below 11C aren’t appealing enough, Andalucia’s Costa del Sol is also home to more than 100 golf courses. Among the most well-respected are La Cala Golf Hotel Spa’s trio of courses, just 30 minutes’ drive from Marbella. There’s Campo America, in the shadow of the Sierra de Ojén mountains, Campo Asia, which has plenty of challenging holes and the dramatic Campo Europa, with generous greens and eight holes featuring the River Ojén. If you need to brush up on your game, take an individual golf lesson with video analysis (£150 for three hours). The resort’s hotel avoids the package holiday trap by maintaining a strong sense of place. La Bodega serves tapas such as gambas al pil pil (prawns with chilli and garlic) and Ibérico ham, while Bar Naranjo is influenced by Moorish architecture.
From £289pp, including two rounds of golf, a shared buggy, access to the thermal circuit in Le Spa Cala and three nights at the resort’s hotel.
LIFE THROUGH A LENS KALKAN, TURKEY
The Turquoise Coast is a photographer’s dream. As if ever- changing seascapes weren’t inspiring enough, there’s also the Taurus Mountains, picturesque villages where weather-beaten fishermen mend their nets and Ottoman buildings with painted balconies. Spend a week capturing this unique region on camera. You’ll benefit from five days of tuition with Chloe Hall, who has 15 years’ experience as a freelance photographer. Suitable for amateurs and experienced photographers, the course covers composition, framing, portraiture and shutter speed.
From £1,395pp for seven nights’ accommodation, five days’ tuition and most meals.
NAMASTE – SURF’S UP FUERTEVENTURA, SPAIN
Fuerteventura’s 150 beaches are fed by white sand blowing on warm winds from the Sahara. In spring, the north-easterly trade winds create reliable swells and the water temperature is a balmy 22C. Spend a week practising yoga on the beach in the mornings and learning to surf in the afternoons. Nina, one of Ocean Yoga’s instructors, is also a surf teacher and the flowing routines in her hatha and vinyasa yoga sessions are similar to riding the waves. This holiday is free of unnecessary frills, allowing the beauty of the island and quality of the teaching to speak for themselves.
From £380pp for seven nights’ self-catering accommodation with five yoga and surfing classes.
TOP UP YOUR SERVE ISTRIA, CROATIA
The Croatian Open may not be one of the most famous ATP tournaments but it is arguably in the most impressive location. Umag’s 25 clay courts are nestled beside the sea in Istria. It’s home to a tennis academy running programmes of various lengths for children and adults, whether you’re a novice looking to improve your backhand or an aspiring professional.
The coaches were trained by Goran Ivanišević, the 2001 Wimbledon men’s champion, who spent the summer of 2014 at the academy overseeing its pro camps. The intensive programmes look to cover on-court exercises, tennis strategy, match tactics and condition training. Between June and September, there is also a weekly adult’s tournament which will allow you to put your new-found skills to the test against others.
In your downtime, explore the area and take part in other activities such as beach volleyball, water sports and swimming.
Two-day programmes from £80pp or individual lessons from £33 an hour.
SWIM WITH DOLPHINS THE AZORES, PORTUGAL
This far-flung archipelago is one of Europe’s last secrets. It may be an autonomous region of Portugal but it floats 1,360km west of the mainland and feels more like its own lush kingdom. Whaling was still terrorising its cetacean population as late as 1987 but now visitors come with cameras rather than harpoons.
The nine islands are a stopping-off point for a third of the world’s aquatic mammals, including bottlenose, Atlantic spotted and Risso’s dolphins. While spotting them from a boat is exhilarating in itself, the only way to fully immerse yourself in their world is by diving in and swimming among them.
On a Dolphin & Whale Connection holiday you will have three half-day trips to sea in groups of eight. The focus is on seeing the dolphins in their natural habitat, so you’ll receive a full briefing on how to get close without disturbing them and how to interpret their behaviour. However, the ocean’s most playful creatures may not be as respectful of your personal space as you are of theirs; they have a habit of chasing flippers and swimming right up to peer into masks. Thanks to the help of expert local guides, 99 per cent of the expeditions are successful.
You’ll be staying at Sao Miguel Park Hotel near the botanical gardens in Ponta Delgada, which has sweeping sea views.
From £654pp for three half-day dolphin swimming expeditions, seven nights’ accommodation, breakfast and transfers.
BRACE THE MAINSAIL LEFKAS, GREECE
While it may have taken Odysseusten years to work out how to sail through Greece’s Ionian Islands, you’ll manage it in just two weeks under the guidance of the Neilson crew. This area of Greece is great for all levels of sailors. Gentle winds that build in the afternoon are ideal for beginners, while consistent gusts and easy launching make getting on the water a breeze.
This two-centre stay-and-sail holiday will allow you to brush up on your skills over seven days at Vounaki Beachclub at the foot of the Acarnanian Mountains. The large sailing area with views of Lefkas Island is perfect for learning the ropes on a dinghy, while beginners can take the Intro to Sailing course (£239pp), which covers everything you need to know about skippering your own yacht in just four days and is suitable for children over the age of 12. The second week is spent island- hopping on your own boat as part of a guided flotilla.
From £835pp for 14 nights’ accommodation, most meals, flights and transfers.
PARLANE ITALIANO? SARDINIA, ITALY
From sharing an after-dinner myrto (myrtle liqueur) in a shadowy bar to bartering with the canny traders at Bosa’s weekly market, you’ll get so much more out of a visit to Sardinia if you can speak the language. A ten-hour crash course in Italian conversation with experienced local teachers will enable basic social encounters, ordering meals and phrases and vocabulary to cover most common situations on your break.
Spend a week living like one of the locals in this medieval borgo on the banks of the Temo River. Stay in Vecchia Bosa, a traditional house in the eye-wateringly beautiful old town. You will have endless opportunities to put your new language skills to the test. Chat to the baker when buying a loaf of the famously crusty bread and then ask for directions to the beach as you ramble through the brightly painted old town.
From £640pp for ten Italian conversation classes, self-catering accommodation, a cooking class, local archaeology tour and transfers.
SKIM THE WAVES RHODES, GREECE
This Dodecanese island was named after a sea nymph but Anemoi, the four wind gods, would have been a more appropriate namesake. The north-west coast is the Holy Grail for windsurfers. Its steady cross-shore winds, gentle breezes in the mornings and constant afternoon squalls mark it out as among the best sites in Europe. Windsurfers’ World covers 400sq m of Ixia Beach, the gateway to beautiful Ixia Bay. It has 30 years’ experience of teaching surfing at all levels. If you want to go it alone, rent all your kit (JP boards and Neil Pryde sails) at the centre. High-performance booms and masts come as standard.
From £60pp for one-day’s hire of a board and sail. Courses from £30 per hour.
CLIMB A VOLCANO SICILY, ITALY
Not only are Italy’s three active volcanoes magnificent for their steaming fumaroles and ominous rumblings, they also happen to be located on some of the country’s most incredible coastlines.
A self-guided walking holiday based around volcanoes will take you to the Aeolian Islands, where Stromboli has been belching lava for 260,000 years. Climb its 924 metres with a guide who will explain the science behind the phenomenon. Back on the mainland, Mount Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe. Criss-cross its hiking trails through chestnut forests and pistachio groves that have been around since Roman times.
From £890pp for seven nights’ accommodation, volcano guide at Stromboli, transfers and some meals.
DIVE RIGHT IN GOZO, MALTA
Excellent water visibility all year round and an epic underwater landscape make Malta’s little sister one of the best diving spots in the Mediterranean. Gozo’s rugged south coast is a graveyard for ships including the MV Xlendi, MV Cominoland and MV Karwels. However, the most spectacular sites are off the north- west of the island. There’s the Blue Lagoon, the underwater arch which guards the Blue Hole and, for beginners, the Inland Sea.
The site that tops every diver’s bucket list is the Chimney, a cleft in the rock which leads to the Coral Garden. The entry may appear difficult but the iridescent firework anemones and scarlet scorpion fish that call this cavern home will more than reward your effort. Atlantis Diving is one of only two schools on the Maltese islands with full EUF accreditation. Stay at four- star Hotel Calypso just a few minutes’ walk from the dive centre.
This article was published on 11th April 2017 so certain details may not be up to date.