Best for beach lovers: Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Lying just off the coast of Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is the kind of place backpackers used to congratulate themselves on finding. But for those of us who don’t have the luxury of taking a gap year, tour operator Tui has just launched the first direct flights from the UK this winter, bringing this remote island within an 11.5 hour flight on the 787 Dreamliner. Expect powdery white palm-fringed sands, clear warm waters and excellent diving. Spend a week at the Vinpearl Phu Quoc Resort, perched on the edge of Bai Dai Beach, with idyllic views of the Gulf of Thailand from almost every angle.
• £859pp all-inclusive at Vinpearl Phu Quoc Resort, including return flights, with Tui
Best for peace and quiet: Cyprus
The island of Cyprus has one of the mildest winters in the Med and – if you stay away from the big resorts which seem a bit forlorn in low season – there is much to offer independent travellers, from Byzantine churches to ancient mountain villages. In the hamlet of Psematismenos, Modus Vivendi’s one-bed apartments make a good low-key base: a collection of six stone cottages set around a small pool and flower-filled terrace. Interiors are rustic with stone-flagged floors and beamed ceilings. The coast is 3km away and the bright lights of Larnaca, Limassol and Nicosia within a 30-minute drive.
• From £80 a night at Modus Vivendi though i-escape. Flights to Larnaca cost from £69 return with easyJet
Best for value: Sri Lanka
If the slick five-star resorts of the Seychelles and Maldives are beyond your budget, consider Sri Lanka – same white-sand beaches and clear Indian Ocean waters, but for a fraction of the price. At Thalpe Bungalows, a short tuk-tuk ride from the historic fortress city of Galle, you can stay in one of three immaculate and spacious one-bedroom cottages set around a swimming pool. The friendly owners are on hand to give recommendations and Dalawella beach is a short walk away. Delicious home-cooked breakfasts and evening meals are available on request and the nearby beach resort of Unawatuna has wonderful, cheap places to eat.
• From £71 a night at Thalpe Bungalows. Flights to Colombo from £748 return with Sri Lankan Airlines
Best for culture: Valletta, Malta
Europe’s hottest winter sun destination is Valletta – and not just because it gets more sunshine hours than any other city on the continent. The city will take up the mantle of European Capital of Culture next year, giving it a chance to showcase its beautiful Baroque architecture in a year-long programme of events, the highlight of which will be the opening of a new national art gallery, Muza. For a stylish pied-a-terre kitted out with midcentury flair, check out the apartments offered by Valletta Vintage. There are five self-catering flats each sleeping two.
• From £58 a night at Valletta Vintage through i-escape. Flights to Malta cost from £82 return with BA
Best for food lovers: Paternoster, South Africa
Cape Town is the undisputed culinary capital of South Africa, but for something a little less frenetic and altogether more charming, head two hours up the coast to Paternoster. This little seaside village of whitewashed fisherman’s cottages has been making waves in gastronomic circles for its selection of first-class restaurants. Don’t let the sleepy ambience fool you – you’ll have to book weeks in advance to bag a table at Wolfgat for the celebrated seven-course tasting menu, and Capetonians think nothing of making a 200-mile round-trip for the Asian-influenced seafood dishes and ocean views at Gaaitjie.
• A nine-night self-drive trip combining Cape Town, Paternoster and the wineries of Franschhoek costs from £2,125pp, including BA flights, with Rainbow Tours
Best for families: Lanzarote
With a flying time of just 4.5 hours and temperatures averaging a balmy 20C, Lanzarote is a great winter sun destination for families – and nobody caters for them better than Lanzarote Retreats , which has an ever-expanding portfolio of quirky accommodation, ranging from yurts to fisherman’s cottages, in the island’s less touristy corners. The latest addition is the Eco Cabin, a traditional Canarian stone building which has been converted into cosy accommodation for up to five. Guests can enjoy a private gated garden, a solar-heated pool, trampoline and play area at the Finca de Arrieta, and even the option of “off-grid” living. There’s also a raft of baby and toddler kit available on request. The helpful owners can arrange babysitting and recently introduced a meal delivery service in partnership with a local deli.
• From £1,100 for four nights at Lanzarote Retreats for up to five people. Flights to Lanzarote from £44 with Ryanair
Best for off the beaten track: Jericoacoara, Brazil
In 2004, Lonely Planet voted Jericoacoara the best beach in the world, but until now only the most dedicated travellers got to find out if this was true since the village had no road access. Paradise hunters had to endure a lengthy five-hour transfer from the nearest city, Fortaleza, by car, then 4×4 or boat. But that’s all set to change this winter with the launch of direct scheduled flights from São Paulo into Jericoacoara’s newly built airport. Many locals and “Jeri” devotees will despair that this could threaten the laid-back character of this fishing village-turned-windsurfing hangout, so if the white powder beaches, vivid blue lagoons and towering sand dunes of northern Brazil have been on your travel wish-list for a while, it’s advisable to go sooner rather than later. Stay at Pousada Carcará, a friendly guest house which has hammocks, a small pool and bar.
• From £97 a night at Pousada Carcará. Flights to São Paulo with BA cost from £743 and from São Paulo to Jericoacoara cost from £232 with Gol; or TAP Air Portugal flies from London to Fortaleza, via Lisbon, from around £700 return
Best for activities: Taghazout, Morocco
The fishing village of Taghazout on Morocco’s Atlantic coast is something of a well-kept secret among surfers, but the opening of two boutique hotels in the past 12 months looks certain to broaden its appeal. Laid-back Amouage on the ocean front offers inclusive surf and yoga packages (from £714pp per week). Enjoy an early-morning vinyasa flow on their rooftop yoga garden and relax in their infinity pool. There’s also the hippy-chic Munga Guesthouse with driftwood furniture, hammocks and a rooftop sushi restaurant. Surf lessons, horse and camel riding, fishing and golf can all be booked locally.
• From £336pp a week at Amouage with Surf Maroc and from £32 a night at Munga Guesthouse. Flights to Agadir from £52 return with easyJet
Best for recharging the batteries: the Algarve, Portugal
It might be better known for its pile ’em high package resorts and sprawling golf courses, but the Algarve is making in-roads into the “wellness” sector, with a handful of high-end resorts offering off-season retreats to revitalise mind, body and soul. You’ll pay more for your treatments and accommodation than you would in the Far East, but this is offset by cheaper flights and no jetlag. Epic Sana, a five-star beach-front hotel, with top-notch spa and fitness facilities, runs regular retreat weeks in the winter.
• A five-night mindfulness retreat at Epic Sana costs from £1,675pp, including flight with Health and Fitness Travel, which offers other, more affordable wellbeing breaks to Portugal
Best for nightlife and shopping: Jaffa, Israel
The historic port district of Jaffa has evolved into one of Tel Aviv’s most exciting neighbourhoods with cool bars and cafés springing up in the narrow streets around the Shuk Hapishpeshim flea market. Next year two swanky hotels are opening: the Setai, with a rooftop pool, and the W Tel Aviv-Jaffa, in a restored Ottoman-era convent. In the meantime, book a balcony room at the Market House Hotel, Jaffa’s original hip hotel. Its happy hour will set you up for a night clubbing in Israel’s party capital.
• From £177 at Market House Hotel. Flights to Tel Aviv cost from £125 return with easyJet
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010