Getting away from winter

This article appears on page 40 of the January 2017 issue.
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Child musicians in Plaza Dorrego — Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 2005. Photo by Marsha Mittman

ITN printed this information request from Fred Kissell of chilly Pennsylvania: “I would like to have readers write in about where to spend a month or two in the winter. I live in Pittsburgh, and it would be really nice to go somewhere else in January and February.

“In my mind, the ideal winter getaway would be a warm, pretty, uncrowded, low-cost town with plenty to do in the vicinity. It also would have a low crime rate so I would be comfortable wandering around by myself. Does it exist?”

As for where to get away from winter, ITN specified that subscribers’ suggest destinations outside of the US. Several responses were printed in last month’s issue, and here are a few more.


Regarding Fred Kissell’s request for a winter-getaway suggestion, my reply is that one such place does exist and it is the Portuguese island of Madeira. I have visited Madeira three times since October 2014 and am still drawn by its beauty and relaxed atmosphere.

If you’re looking for white sandy beaches on which to bake… forget it because they don’t exist on Madeira. What do exist are beautiful subtropical temperatures, awesome scenery, safety and security and plenty of activities that won’t break your bank.

If you want a quiet atmosphere, stay outside of the capital city of Funchal, where crowds of cruise ship passengers disembark every day. 

The apartment I rented on all three visits (and which I found on Home away.com) is in the São Martinho area. I’m almost 80 and have had no problem walking from the apartment to Funchal, although buses to the city did stop in front of the apartment.

What is there to do? There are music venues, water sports, deep-sea fishing, sightseeing trips, countryside walks, museum visits, horseback riding, golfing, gambling at the casino, bicycling, etc., as well as eating almost every kind of food imaginable. 

I live in Florida and don’t need to get away from winter, but if I did, Madeira is where I would head.

Rosemary McDaniel
Trenton, FL

 

For a place to stay for a month or two in the winter, I would suggest Granada, Nicaragua

Founded in 1524, Granada is an old colonial city. Although it is not small now, the old colonial part is, and it is truly beautiful. We visited in 2011 for two weeks and again in 2012 and 2013 for one month each.

Third-century-BC Greek theater — Taormina, Sicily, February 2008. Photo by Elissa Mittman

The first time that we went, we found a small condo hotel on VRBO (www.vrbo.com) which was just wonderful, especially since it was in the old part of the city where everything is very walkable. It is the Condo Hotel Xalteva (Calle Obispo Ulloa, ½ cuadra al norte del Trillo Santa Rosa, Granada, Nicaragua; phone, in the US, 321/300-9189, hotelxalteva.com).

There are two types of apartments to rent: one bedroom and two bedroom with a kitchen, and there is also a hotel-style room with just a bedroom and bath. Having a kitchen is wonderful, as far as I’m concerned, even if you do plan to eat most of your meals in restaurants. 

Management at the condos will help to arrange airport transfers and tour services, cabs, pizza delivery, etc. They are truly kind and so very helpful. 

Cabs in Granada are quite plentiful, and rides are reasonably priced. 

Because some of the sidewalks are not in the best of repair, I would suggest that, at night, you take taxis to get anywhere. (In Nicaragua, sidewalks in front of houses are maintained by the homeowners.) I usually carry a small flashlight with me at night for just that reason. 

Marjorie M. Rhoads
Sullivan, MO

 

Sailing from Papeete, Tahiti, to the Tuamotus and the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, my wife, Betsy, and I have gone on three 2-week cruises with Aranui (San Mateo, CA; 800/972-7268, www.aranui.com).

We traveled aboard the Aranui III in December 2005, December 2010 and November 2015 for, respectively, Betsy’s 60th, 65th and 70th birthdays. We may go again for her 75th in 2020. The Aranui III carried about 150 passengers plus freight. As of December 2015, this cruise is being done on the Aranui V, which carries more passengers, up to about 200, plus freight. 

We booked our cruises with Pam Johansen of Katlin Travel Group (Lexington, MA; 800/552-8546, www.katlintravel.com), but you can book directly on Aranui’s website.

The Aranui cruise goes to the same islands every two weeks. We haven’t linked any cruises together, but we’ve heard of others getting off at Tahiti from one cruise, staying quite economically on the island(s) for two to four (or more) weeks, then being picked up when the ship came back on a later cruise.

You could even stay longer in Tahiti either before or after the cruise, as we did at times.

Jim Hamel
Monroeville, PA

 

Coming from northerly climes (originally New York and now South Dakota), I have always found winters to be my nemesis — cold, snowy, dreary and dark. As such, I’ve annually escaped winter to sunny, warmer international areas, with trips lasting anywhere from two to five weeks. 

Marsha Mittman in an Ecuadorean village where dolls are crafted from bread dough (January 2007). Photo by Elissa Mittman

The places listed below were visited on group tours, hosted hotel stays, completely independent stays or any combination of these.

I don’t need swimming weather. Daytime temperatures upward of the high 50s are my starting point of reference, though some locales were much warmer, making swimming a possibility. 

I’ve often traveled solo. When my husband was alive, he would usually join me for part of the time. Occasionally, my daughter has been a travel companion. 

My requisites, especially when traveling independently, are a reasonably secure area in a town, having local transportation (bus or train/subway line) very close to my hotel, the availability of individually controlled air-conditioning at the hotel (if a warmer clime), having meals available on the premises or next door or across the street, being in proximity to other restaurants, having a bank nearby as well as a supermarket, the availability of day bus excursions or a reasonably priced taxi (recommended by the hotel) for day trips, ease of financial transactions and, more recently, access to Wi-Fi. 

I prefer hotels to apartments for reasons of safety, since I’m alone. At a hotel, there are doormen and/or concierges or front-desk help to make recommendations and give cautions. Note that I have never felt threatened, nor have I experienced a safety issue anywhere, although at certain times I have run across pesky street peddlers.

I have had many wonderful trips over the years on travels spanning from December through the beginning of April (often the time of South Dakota’s heaviest snows). Therefore, for your own trips, remember that temperatures in the following recommended areas vary and should be checked when making plans. Also, I’ve found in recent years that, due to climate change, historical weather charts can be misleading.

Locations I recommend include Portugal’s Algarve area (in Vila­moura) as well as the Azores and Madeira; Spain’s Costa del Sol (I headquartered in Benalmádena) and the country’s north (a personal stay in Barcelona followed by a wonderful tour through the likes of Bilbao, San Sebastián and Santiago de Compostela) plus Majorca in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic (staying in Tenerife and Lanzarote); the French Riviera (headquartered in Nice); the Naples/Pompeii/Capri area of Italy, as well as Sicily; Malta (a long stay in Valletta); Croatia (a group tour); Greece; Cyprus (headquartered in and day-tripped from Paphos, with a visit to Northern Cyprus); Israel (extended stay in the resort of Eilat after a tour); Jordan; Tunisia (a tour followed by a beach stay in Hammamet), and northern Morocco (a tour that included a stay in Marrakesh).

I had great, extended independent winter trips to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong, an extended independent tour of Australia by plane and bus, an extended independent tour of New Zealand by train and bus, four trips to Mexico (the Yucatán, a central tour with a stay in Mexico City, a trip to the Cabo San Lucas area and an independent Copper Canyon rail trip) and visits to Bermuda, the Bahamas and Jamaica.

I also visited Costa Rica, Ecuador (with an extension in Cuenca) and Brazil (Rio de Janeiro plus a beach stay in Salvador da Bahia), took an in-depth, extended tour of Peru and Bolivia, had a tour of Chile, with personal stays in both Viña del Mar and Easter Island, and took a tour of Argentina followed by Uruguay (with extended time in Punta del Este).

Also very enjoyable — but questionable now due to politically motivated security issues — were Egypt, Turkey (a long stay in I˙zmir after an independent tour), the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala and Honduras, though the current issues in these latter four are crime and infrastructure. The only places I did not particularly enjoy years ago and now do not recommend visiting due to crime are Caracas and Macuto Beach in Venezuela

Believe it or not, in all these places over all these years, I’ve experienced only occasional rain showers, with the exception of the Azores, where I had really poor weather, though the weeks before and after were, apparently, stunning.

Many “long stay” winter travelers choose back-to-back cruises. In winter 2015-2016, I experimented and took my first cruise, a 2-week trip out of New York headed to the Caribbean. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, itself, I don’t like high humidity and therefore found the weather in the ports to be oppressive.

Tourists atop an antique train for a cliff-hanging and spectacularly scenic ride to El Nariz del Diablo in Ecuador (January 2007). Photo by Marsha Mittman

In the past, as a US resident requesting warm international locales during our winter, I’ve found that US travel agents automatically reach for Caribbean brochures, with their high-priced hotel packages. If, as a traveler, you’re interested in more reasonably priced areas farther afield, with “long stays” that, frankly, are often more interesting, you’re pretty much on your own. 

The Internet, of course, is a boon to searches, particularly regarding British companies. In addition to different tours in February-March, some offer extended all-inclusive hotel stays (with occasional day trips) that each add a free “hotel only” week at the end of a visit. Just be cognizant of different flight/baggage/insurance issues.

Note, too, that included round-trip flights from England can sometimes be omitted from the travel package, and the cost deducted, if you fly direct from the US to your destination.

In March and April 2015, I traveled with one British company, Brightwater Holidays (Eden Park House, Cupar, Fife, Scotland, KY15 4HS, U.K.; phone +44 133 4657 155, www.brightwaterholidays.com), on two terrific archaeological tours of Albania and Bulgaria that sandwiched an independently planned stay of a few weeks in Cyprus

I enjoyed sun, beach, relaxation, good food, incredible sites, terrific history and interesting people — all for less than the price of what a long Caribbean hotel stay might have cost!

The total cost for my entire 35-day trip (7-day Albania tour, 8-day Bulgaria tour and 20 days at the Amphora Resort [48 Poseidonos Ave., Kato Paphos, 8042, Cyprus; phone +(357) 26 202 500, www.the amphoraresort.com]) was approximately $4,200, excluding flights. And in all three locations, meals were half the price of those available in Caribbean hotels.

Forte de Santo Antônio da Barra — Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, December 2005. Photo by Marsha Mittman

On that trip, I was able to use frequent-flyer miles on my flights to Europe. Airline seats to the Caribbean are much more difficult to obtain with flyer miles in the winter. Also, the flights from New York to Europe don’t take that much longer than flights to some Caribbean destinations when including the layovers.

Other travelers interested in long winter stays go farther afield to Southeast Asia, parts of India or Perth, Australia, but, since I’ve already visited many of those areas and they have high humidity, and because I no longer relish such long plane flights, I’m not inclined to return.    

I have traveled extensively to other destinations during other seasons, but I generally find that winter is a great time for a jaunt abroad to a warmer locale. There are fewer crowds and lower prices. Just do your homework and choose carefully.

Marsha Warren Mittman
Spearfish, SD

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
Child musicians in Plaza Dorrego — Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 2005. Photo by Marsha Mittman

ITN printed this information request from Fred Kissell of chilly Pennsylvania: “I would like to have readers write in about where to spend a month or two in the winter. I live in Pittsburgh, and it would be really nice to go somewhere else in January and February.

“In my mind, the ideal winter getaway would be a warm, pretty, uncrowded, low-cost town with plenty to do in the vicinity. It also would have a low crime rate so I would be comfortable wandering around by myself. Does it exist?”

As for where to get away from winter, ITN specified that subscribers’ suggest destinations outside of the US. Several responses were printed in last month’s issue, and here are a few more.


Regarding Fred Kissell’s request for a winter-getaway suggestion, my reply is that one such place does exist and it is the Portuguese island of Madeira. I have visited Madeira three times since October 2014 and am still drawn by its beauty and relaxed atmosphere.

If you’re looking for white sandy beaches on which to bake… forget it because they don’t exist on Madeira. What do exist are beautiful subtropical temperatures, awesome scenery, safety and security and plenty of activities that won’t break your bank.

If you want a quiet atmosphere, stay outside of the capital city of Funchal, where crowds of cruise ship passengers disembark every day. 

The apartment I rented on all three visits (and which I found on Home away.com) is in the São Martinho area. I’m almost 80 and have had no problem walking from the apartment to Funchal, although buses to the city did stop in front of the apartment.

What is there to do? There are music venues, water sports, deep-sea fishing, sightseeing trips, countryside walks, museum visits, horseback riding, golfing, gambling at the casino, bicycling, etc., as well as eating almost every kind of food imaginable. 

I live in Florida and don’t need to get away from winter, but if I did, Madeira is where I would head.

Rosemary McDaniel
Trenton, FL

 

For a place to stay for a month or two in the winter, I would suggest Granada, Nicaragua

Founded in 1524, Granada is an old colonial city. Although it is not small now, the old colonial part is, and it is truly beautiful. We visited in 2011 for two weeks and again in 2012 and 2013 for one month each.

Third-century-BC Greek theater — Taormina, Sicily, February 2008. Photo by Elissa Mittman

The first time that we went, we found a small condo hotel on VRBO (www.vrbo.com) which was just wonderful, especially since it was in the old part of the city where everything is very walkable. It is the Condo Hotel Xalteva (Calle Obispo Ulloa, ½ cuadra al norte del Trillo Santa Rosa, Granada, Nicaragua; phone, in the US, 321/300-9189, hotelxalteva.com).

There are two types of apartments to rent: one bedroom and two bedroom with a kitchen, and there is also a hotel-style room with just a bedroom and bath. Having a kitchen is wonderful, as far as I’m concerned, even if you do plan to eat most of your meals in restaurants. 

Management at the condos will help to arrange airport transfers and tour services, cabs, pizza delivery, etc. They are truly kind and so very helpful. 

Cabs in Granada are quite plentiful, and rides are reasonably priced. 

Because some of the sidewalks are not in the best of repair, I would suggest that, at night, you take taxis to get anywhere. (In Nicaragua, sidewalks in front of houses are maintained by the homeowners.) I usually carry a small flashlight with me at night for just that reason. 

Marjorie M. Rhoads
Sullivan, MO

 

Sailing from Papeete, Tahiti, to the Tuamotus and the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, my wife, Betsy, and I have gone on three 2-week cruises with Aranui (San Mateo, CA; 800/972-7268, www.aranui.com).

We traveled aboard the Aranui III in December 2005, December 2010 and November 2015 for, respectively, Betsy’s 60th, 65th and 70th birthdays. We may go again for her 75th in 2020. The Aranui III carried about 150 passengers plus freight. As of December 2015, this cruise is being done on the Aranui V, which carries more passengers, up to about 200, plus freight. 

We booked our cruises with Pam Johansen of Katlin Travel Group (Lexington, MA; 800/552-8546, www.katlintravel.com), but you can book directly on Aranui’s website.

The Aranui cruise goes to the same islands every two weeks. We haven’t linked any cruises together, but we’ve heard of others getting off at Tahiti from one cruise, staying quite economically on the island(s) for two to four (or more) weeks, then being picked up when the ship came back on a later cruise.

You could even stay longer in Tahiti either before or after the cruise, as we did at times.

Jim Hamel
Monroeville, PA

 

Coming from northerly climes (originally New York and now South Dakota), I have always found winters to be my nemesis — cold, snowy, dreary and dark. As such, I’ve annually escaped winter to sunny, warmer international areas, with trips lasting anywhere from two to five weeks. 

Marsha Mittman in an Ecuadorean village where dolls are crafted from bread dough (January 2007). Photo by Elissa Mittman

The places listed below were visited on group tours, hosted hotel stays, completely independent stays or any combination of these.

I don’t need swimming weather. Daytime temperatures upward of the high 50s are my starting point of reference, though some locales were much warmer, making swimming a possibility. 

I’ve often traveled solo. When my husband was alive, he would usually join me for part of the time. Occasionally, my daughter has been a travel companion. 

My requisites, especially when traveling independently, are a reasonably secure area in a town, having local transportation (bus or train/subway line) very close to my hotel, the availability of individually controlled air-conditioning at the hotel (if a warmer clime), having meals available on the premises or next door or across the street, being in proximity to other restaurants, having a bank nearby as well as a supermarket, the availability of day bus excursions or a reasonably priced taxi (recommended by the hotel) for day trips, ease of financial transactions and, more recently, access to Wi-Fi. 

I prefer hotels to apartments for reasons of safety, since I’m alone. At a hotel, there are doormen and/or concierges or front-desk help to make recommendations and give cautions. Note that I have never felt threatened, nor have I experienced a safety issue anywhere, although at certain times I have run across pesky street peddlers.

I have had many wonderful trips over the years on travels spanning from December through the beginning of April (often the time of South Dakota’s heaviest snows). Therefore, for your own trips, remember that temperatures in the following recommended areas vary and should be checked when making plans. Also, I’ve found in recent years that, due to climate change, historical weather charts can be misleading.

Locations I recommend include Portugal’s Algarve area (in Vila­moura) as well as the Azores and Madeira; Spain’s Costa del Sol (I headquartered in Benalmádena) and the country’s north (a personal stay in Barcelona followed by a wonderful tour through the likes of Bilbao, San Sebastián and Santiago de Compostela) plus Majorca in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic (staying in Tenerife and Lanzarote); the French Riviera (headquartered in Nice); the Naples/Pompeii/Capri area of Italy, as well as Sicily; Malta (a long stay in Valletta); Croatia (a group tour); Greece; Cyprus (headquartered in and day-tripped from Paphos, with a visit to Northern Cyprus); Israel (extended stay in the resort of Eilat after a tour); Jordan; Tunisia (a tour followed by a beach stay in Hammamet), and northern Morocco (a tour that included a stay in Marrakesh).

I had great, extended independent winter trips to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong, an extended independent tour of Australia by plane and bus, an extended independent tour of New Zealand by train and bus, four trips to Mexico (the Yucatán, a central tour with a stay in Mexico City, a trip to the Cabo San Lucas area and an independent Copper Canyon rail trip) and visits to Bermuda, the Bahamas and Jamaica.

I also visited Costa Rica, Ecuador (with an extension in Cuenca) and Brazil (Rio de Janeiro plus a beach stay in Salvador da Bahia), took an in-depth, extended tour of Peru and Bolivia, had a tour of Chile, with personal stays in both Viña del Mar and Easter Island, and took a tour of Argentina followed by Uruguay (with extended time in Punta del Este).

Also very enjoyable — but questionable now due to politically motivated security issues — were Egypt, Turkey (a long stay in I˙zmir after an independent tour), the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala and Honduras, though the current issues in these latter four are crime and infrastructure. The only places I did not particularly enjoy years ago and now do not recommend visiting due to crime are Caracas and Macuto Beach in Venezuela

Believe it or not, in all these places over all these years, I’ve experienced only occasional rain showers, with the exception of the Azores, where I had really poor weather, though the weeks before and after were, apparently, stunning.

Many “long stay” winter travelers choose back-to-back cruises. In winter 2015-2016, I experimented and took my first cruise, a 2-week trip out of New York headed to the Caribbean. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, itself, I don’t like high humidity and therefore found the weather in the ports to be oppressive.

Tourists atop an antique train for a cliff-hanging and spectacularly scenic ride to El Nariz del Diablo in Ecuador (January 2007). Photo by Marsha Mittman

In the past, as a US resident requesting warm international locales during our winter, I’ve found that US travel agents automatically reach for Caribbean brochures, with their high-priced hotel packages. If, as a traveler, you’re interested in more reasonably priced areas farther afield, with “long stays” that, frankly, are often more interesting, you’re pretty much on your own. 

The Internet, of course, is a boon to searches, particularly regarding British companies. In addition to different tours in February-March, some offer extended all-inclusive hotel stays (with occasional day trips) that each add a free “hotel only” week at the end of a visit. Just be cognizant of different flight/baggage/insurance issues.

Note, too, that included round-trip flights from England can sometimes be omitted from the travel package, and the cost deducted, if you fly direct from the US to your destination.

In March and April 2015, I traveled with one British company, Brightwater Holidays (Eden Park House, Cupar, Fife, Scotland, KY15 4HS, U.K.; phone +44 133 4657 155, www.brightwaterholidays.com), on two terrific archaeological tours of Albania and Bulgaria that sandwiched an independently planned stay of a few weeks in Cyprus

I enjoyed sun, beach, relaxation, good food, incredible sites, terrific history and interesting people — all for less than the price of what a long Caribbean hotel stay might have cost!

The total cost for my entire 35-day trip (7-day Albania tour, 8-day Bulgaria tour and 20 days at the Amphora Resort [48 Poseidonos Ave., Kato Paphos, 8042, Cyprus; phone +(357) 26 202 500, www.the amphoraresort.com]) was approximately $4,200, excluding flights. And in all three locations, meals were half the price of those available in Caribbean hotels.

Forte de Santo Antônio da Barra — Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, December 2005. Photo by Marsha Mittman

On that trip, I was able to use frequent-flyer miles on my flights to Europe. Airline seats to the Caribbean are much more difficult to obtain with flyer miles in the winter. Also, the flights from New York to Europe don’t take that much longer than flights to some Caribbean destinations when including the layovers.

Other travelers interested in long winter stays go farther afield to Southeast Asia, parts of India or Perth, Australia, but, since I’ve already visited many of those areas and they have high humidity, and because I no longer relish such long plane flights, I’m not inclined to return.    

I have traveled extensively to other destinations during other seasons, but I generally find that winter is a great time for a jaunt abroad to a warmer locale. There are fewer crowds and lower prices. Just do your homework and choose carefully.

Marsha Warren Mittman
Spearfish, SD