Late February… the time of year when it feels like Spring can’t come soon enough. Ease the transition through the last weeks of cold weather with a last minute winter escape to sunnier climes. We’ve chosen three options for you depending on how far you’re willing to travel for your sunshine.

No plane required: a winter escape in Chichester

The title of “Sunniest Place in the UK” is a hotly contested one, with seaside resorts like Bognor Regis, and the Isle of Wight regularly slugging it out for the top spot. Recent research from 2018 suggests that the cathedral town of Chichester is the current winner, and the south coast gem is the perfect size to explore in a weekend, no flight required. It’s our top pick for a winter escape in the UK.

Start your visit at the splendid 12th-century Cathedral, built in a mixture of Norman and Gothic styles. It’s unique in the UK in that it has a freestanding bell tower (or campanile) of the kind more often seen in European cities, like Pisa’s famous leaning tower and Bordeaux’s Basilica of St. Michel. You can also hunt down the tomb of composer Gustav Holst and a stained glass window by the French-Russian artist Marc Chagall.

Outside of the city, Fishbourne Roman Palace dates from the first century and has a number of incredibly well preserved mosaics.

Winter escape: chichesterChichester Cathedral on a sunny winter's day © Barry Gobel/Shutterstock

Your architectural itch scratched, head to the excellent Pallant House Gallery, which houses one of the most impressive collections of 20th century British art to be found anywhere. Barbara Hepworth, Graham Sutherland, Patrick Caulfield and Henry Moore are all represented, and you’ll also find works by André Derain and Paul Cézanne.

When it comes to food, head to the White Horse in Chilgrove just outside the city for a proper country pub experience. The multi-award-winning establishment serves up dishes like smoked trout with pickle cucumber and pie of the day, with ingredients sourced from local farms and estates. If that wasn’t enough, the pub is right on the edge of the South Downs, where miles of hiking trails offer sweeping views, and a chance to blow away the cobwebs.

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A short hop: winter sun in Valencia

There are several tried and tested spots for a winter getaway in Europe – the Canary Islands, Madeira, Malta all come to mind. And all are good choices. But for a mixture of history, beach, great food and sunshine in a glass, consider Valencia.

The city gets over 2,660 hours of sunshine per year, and daily temperatures in February and March are in the high teens, which means al fresco lunches are a definite possibility. What more could you ask for from a quick winter escape?

Any trip to Valencia should start in the city’s fantastic market, where you’ll find great local cheeses, a wealth of different seafood (such as the alien-like percebes, or Goose Barnacles) and oddities like ostrich eggs. There are also several good wine merchants that will let you taste their latest offerings.

Close by is the 15th century Lonja de la Seda, or Silk Market, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. The Contracts Room with its unique twisted barley sugar columns was once the main commercial hub of the city – the niched window seats where merchants used to sit to negotiate in private. The lovely Orange Tree Courtyard in the centre of the space is a lovely place to linger.

Of course, orange trees are everywhere in Valencia, a symbol of one of the city’s main exports. In every cafe and restaurant you’ll be able to order freshly squeezed orange juice, guaranteed to be some of the best you’ll ever taste.

Winter escape: ValenciaValencia's City of Arts and Sciences © Pumbastyle/Shutterstock

While we’re on the subject of food, you’ll find all the classic Spanish tapas dishes here like huevos rotos, and of course jamon iberico, but most people know that Valencia really means one thing, paella. Locals will tell you their favorite paella joint is the best, and for many, spending hours over Sunday lunch surrounded by family is almost a sacred ritual.

You can try it for yourself at La Pepica along the Malvarrosa beachfront, one of the most esteemed paella restaurants in town. This venerable establishment has been serving up its rice dishes since 1898. It’s best to book, especially if you’re planning to visit at the weekend.

To work off your lunch, rent a bike and cycle along the leafy pathways of Turia park – the city’s  riverbed-turned-greenspace. Head for the City of Arts and Sciences, a collection of futuristic buildings surrounding a turquoise pool, designed as a hub for the arts and home to Valencia’s Opera House.

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Further afield: beaches and culture in Durban, South Africa

With direct flights from the UK and over 320 days of sunshine a year, for long distance winter escape, set your sights on Durban. One of our top places to visit in 2019, the city has been under the radar for many, but there’s a whole lot to enjoy in South Africa’s third biggest city.

Set your alarm for 6am and start early with a walk or jog along the beachfront “golden mile” at sunrise in the company of fitness-minded locals. The city’s beaches are perfectly positioned to enjoy the pink glow of the morning skies. First thing is also a great time to hit the surf, and there are numerous rental shops and surf school to be found. South Beach is popular with beginners – you’ll often see lines of them waiting for a wave –  while Bay of Plenty has breaks to challenge the more experienced. There’s no better way to earn a hearty breakfast!

Ready for a dose of culture? You’ll find a number of good contemporary art galleries here, many showing the work of local artists. The Campbell Collections are well worth a visit, housing a collection of artefacts and documents that reflect Zulu and Natal culture. You’ll also find unique pieces of South African inlaid wooden furniture.

 

Winter escape: DurbanThe golden beaches of Durban are a welcome sight on a winter escape © lcswart/Shutterstock

Everyone knows that South Africa is synonymous with safari, but did you know you can see rhinos, giraffes, hippos and more just an hour’s drive from Durban? A bushwalk or jeep safari at the Tala Game Reserve will give you the chance to see these magnificent beasts in their natural habitat.

There’s one more thing you have to do in Durban – order up a Bunny Chow curry. This carb-laden street food dish consists of a loaf of white bread with the centre removed, filled with indian-style curry and served with a zingy carrot salad on the side. The title of “best bunny chow” is a source of constant debate, but you could do worse than Capiscum at the Britannia Hotel, which is consistently popular with locals.

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