With those extra bank holidays to play with, this Spring is packed with possibility. Whether your idea of the ultimate escape involves sipping a pina colada on a sun-drenched Mediterranean beach, uncovering fresh cultural treasures on a sophisticated city break, catching the last of the winter snow at a ski resort high in the Alps or treating your kids to a fun-filled adventure, we’ve got plenty of ideas to make this Spring a memorable one.
Sun, sea and scenery
Spring on the Mediterranean coast signals the start of sunscreen and bikini season, and a long weekend spent soaking up the rays is the perfect way to recharge your batteries before heading back to work. Make the southern Spanish city of Málaga your hopping-off point for exploring the silver-sand beaches of the Costa Tropical.
Tourist hubs such as Nerja and Málaga itself are generally busy, even in spring, but head further east towards the postcard-ready town of Almuñécar and you’ll stumble across some true coastal jewels. Playa de la Rijana, a sheltered bay close to Castell de Ferro, is one of the area’s best-kept secrets. The beach itself is wonderfully free of both hotels and intrusive infrastructure, but the Hacienda Munitiz-Cortijo Las Espeñuelas mountain retreat (Camino del Cementerio, +34 674 923 333) is just a short drive inland.
Looking for something even more secluded? Closer to home, the car-free Channel Island of Sark has a selection of gloriously secluded coves – and it’s just a short boat ride from the luxurious hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants of Jersey. Country house hotels such as Stocks (Mill Lane, 01481 832 001) and La Moinerie (Rondellerie Vineyards, +44 1481 832 832), close to the coast and surrounded by fabulous scenery, make great bases for exploring this verdant little island.
At this time of year, classic cultural city break destinations such as Venice, Florence and Rome are at their most sublime. It’s warm enough to while away balmy evenings sipping black coffee outside a café on Venice’s Piazza San Marco or wander barefoot across Florence’s landscaped Boboli Gardens, and yet you won’t have to shoulder your way through crowds of tourists to reach the major attractions or endure summer temperatures that can soar well above 40°C. Take the opportunity to sniff out urban Italy’s most closely guarded cultural secrets.
In Florence, admire statues sculpted by Donatello and Michelangelo at the shamefully overlooked Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (Piazza del Duomo 9, +39 055 230 2885) and combine a delicious dinner with a show at the Teatro del Sale (Via dei Macci 111, +39 055 200 1492). The best way to discover a more secluded side to Venice is to explore lesser-visited churches such as San Pantalon (Dorsoduro 3703, +39 041 523 5893) and San Francesco della Vigna (Campo San Francesco della Vigna, +39 041 520 6102). Rome is packed with hidden gems to whet your cultural appetite – try strolling through the narrow streets of the atmospheric Trastevere quarter or rubbing shoulders with the intelligentsia in a San Lorenzo bar.
That festive feeling
For hundreds of towns and cities across Europe, Easter is a cause for riotous festivities – but the stateliest celebrations take place in Spain, where Holy Week is one of the most important holidays of the year. Head to Granada in time for Palm Sunday (13 April) to join the crowds that throng around the Renaissance cathedral and see 32 penitential brotherhoods join forces to form one giant procession. Sculptures representing the suffering of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are carried through the streets in a tradition that dates back to the 13th century.
If you’re less concerned with the religious significance of Easter and more excited by the spectacle, then time your visit to coincide with the Wednesday of Holy Week (16 April). Each year on this day, the flamboyant Cristo de los Gitanos procession ascends to the Sacromonte where bonfires are lit and flamenco parties continue far into the night.
Other counties celebrate Easter in equally traditional fashion. In Germany, colourful markets selling chocolates, painted eggs, treats and toys take over the city centres of Frankfurt and Düsseldorf. On the night of Easter Sunday (20 April), giant bonfires are lit in an age-old pagan ritual designed to chase away evil spirits – although today they represent an excuse for music, beer-swilling and general high spirits. The ultimate Easter event, of course, takes place in Rome, where crowds of thousands gather to hear the Pope’s annual Easter address.
A family affair
Got the kids in tow? The balmy spring shoulder season lends itself to active, family-friendly breaks – from cycling around Lake Geneva to island-hopping off the coast of Stockholm. Some of the higher Alpine ski resorts should still have a good slathering of snow right up until the end of April. The winter season at Les Deux Alpes near Chambéry in France is one of the longest in Europe; and with plenty of beginner-friendly slopes, as well as classy family-orientated hotels such as Le Souleil’Or (10 rue du Grand-Plan, +33 4 7679 2469) and Hotel le Cret (95 avenue de la Muzelle, +33 4 7680 5292) to choose from, this buzzing resort makes a great base for a long weekend.
There’s a totally different brand of family fun to be had on the other side of France, where Nantes is the setting for one of Europe’s most original amusement parks. Les Machines de l’île (Boulevard Léon Bureau, +33 2 5117 4989) is a fantastical collection of giant animatronic creatures based on the writings of Jules Verne. Ride a life-sized motorised elephant along Nantes’ former shipyards or hop on the three-tier ‘marine world’ carousel for the most surreal merry-go-round experience imaginable. Once the kids are in bed, take a stroll down the long riverfront to ‘Les Anneaux’, an art installation of 18 brightly lit loops that leads all the way to fabulous new restaurant La Cantine de Nantes (Quai des Antilles, +33 2 7264 0479).