The weather may have been deceptively warm recently, but our good luck may not last long with winter expected to snap back in December; which is why escaping to warmer climes is the holiday of choice for December. Our top ten winter sun destinations will help you find a suitably toasty destination to celebrate a yellow Christmas.
The 'Island of Eternal Spring' loses none of its spring during the winter months with temperatures in the 20's throughout December. The islands have always been popular with British tourists and offer something different for fans of the Spanish lifestyle. An extensive watersports programme includes many great diving spots and all manner of boardwalk activities. But the clincher is the island's proximity to Morocco, with its own sunny spots like Marrakesh, Tangier and romantic Casablanca.
Muscat is one of lesser known but since its Best Destinations Award by the Arab Tourism Capital board for 2012 has fast become a popular alternative for winter sun. Unlike its more illustrious neighbour, the United Arab Emirates and their cosmopolitan centres, Muscat mixes the authentic Middle Eastern experience with stunning architecture and a unique location between rugged mountains and the welcoming waters of the Gulf of Oman. The white low-slung buildings and the sparse architecture is refreshingly light; buildings like the Muscat Royal Opera House and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque are aesthetic perfection and when you're done taking in city sights, there are public beaches galore to enjoy.
No winter sun compilation would be complete without a contribution from the Mediterranean. The ancient city of Valletta - known by its nickname Superbissima (most proud) - is more than just another place to weather out winter. Visitors would be remiss in not engaging with the city's rich history with the Knights of Malta - now known as the Sovereign Military Order (SMO). The SMO is the oldest living order of chivalry and an inextricable part of Maltese history having built the first building in Valetta - the Church Of Our Lady of Victories. Another church built by Knights worth visiting is St. John's Co-Cathedral, which houses the famous painting The Beheading of St. John the Baptist - a Caravaggio original.
Fernando de Noronha, off the north-east coast of Brazil, is a nature reserve archipelago still relatively unknown to most international travellers. A recent spike in popularity with well-heeled Brazilians have seen the islands take stricter measures to maintain their barely touched beauty, including an environmental tax (on an increasing scale according to how many days you stay) and limiting visitor numbers to hundreds at a time. The island's beaches regularly top lists for the Brazil's best beaches; the perennial number one being Baia do Sancho (or Praia do Sancho). The beach is reached by climbing a ladder down a precarious cliff, but that shot of adrenaline is tempered by an exclusive experience.
What better way to see out the year than by setting your Christmas table atop Table Mountain and enjoying the stunning view pictured from above. Or take the special service on New Year's day to see the fireworks displays from across the city. On the other side of the mountain the Kirstenbosch Summer Concert series attracts the best local musicians, this year's acts include the Cape Town Philharmonic, for a lazy and cheap (tickets are about R100 or £8) Sunday afternoon picnic.
You really can't go wrong with a place called 'Praia' - which translates as 'beach' from Portuguese. The capital city of the islands of Cape Verde - off the coast of West Africa - is right on the equator ensuring a steady supply of cloudless days and consistent sunshine. The pastel coloured buildings of the central Plateau neighbourhood and the laid-back lifestyle are regular features of island life everywhere but Praia doesn't seem to be trying as hard to affect that image. The people are genuinely that friendly and life seems to pass like a good dream - pleasant, but not in a way you can put your finger on. If you're looking for some activity, the nearby town of Cidade Velha (a UNESCO Heritage Site), is a good way to pass an afternoon. The small town was once Portugal's wealthiest colonial possession during the slave trade; what remains now is almost completely a historical town frozen in time.
Will Smith's song Welcome to Miami sums up the city: "Party in the city where the heat is on/All night on the beach till the break of dawn." The party never stops on the sandy beaches of Miami and neither does the good weather. Party central is the famous South Beach, an almost exact likeness of a Baywatch set - complete with slow motion jogging. When the sun goes down, Washington Avenue is where the party is at, but be warned that Miami clubs are notoriously expensive and difficult to get into without some forward planning. It's always a good idea to have a word with a knowledgeable doorman or concierge to get inside tips.
The Dead Sea may have been named that because of the lazy floaters, who look like corpses, enjoying its amazingly buoyant and warm waters (it's actually because it has no marine life), but it is anything but dead as an attraction. It is perhaps the only place in the world where long periods of sunbathing are safe; atmospheric conditions weaken UV radiation to safe levels that consistently has sunbathers breaking records on its shores. The area's unique conditions also have curative properties with an industry of new age therapies practised in the area. Research has shown that everything from respiratory conditions to psoriasis may be alleviated by spending time in the Dead Sea.
The Caribbean islands are a staple favourite for sun-worshippers, but it has become increasingly difficult to find anything new or authentic in the area. Most of the islands have become highly developed and polished tourist centres devoid of that fun innocence that you just can't buy. Saba is one of the Caribbean's best kept secrets and will suit those looking for some adventure without the commercial gloss. The island's infrastructure is sparse - it has only one road appropriately named 'the road' - and the 1800's architecture is a welcome antidote to busy city life. Without a beach to boast of, the island is more renowned for its diving spots, eco-tourism and hiking trails. The geography of the island is mountainous, offering challenging trails and rewarding views. If you prefer the hilltop vista to beach-side lounging you will love this island.
Goa is the warmest place you'll find in the northern hemisphere during winter. The bohemian beach paradise of India is unlike anything else on the subcontinent, having formerly been a Portuguese colony unlike the rest of formerly British India. December is its busiest time with the feast of St. Francis Xavier (and the Feast of Immaculate Conception after it) featuring prominently in proceedings; the event commemorates the Portuguese missionary who brought Catholicism to this part of the world. The narrow streets of Old Portuguese Quarter of Panaji (the capital of Goa state) are worth a day of sightseeing: don't miss Kala Academy - the home of Goan art and culture. Of course, the highlight of any Goan getaway are the miles and miles of beach. For the more secluded beaches, stay away from central Goa.
Escaping to another part of the world during the colder months can be a welcome relief to a seemingly endless barrage of wind and rain in the UK. Don't let your holiday be dampened by any unforeseen events which can be covered by travel insurance. It's important not to forget to take out a comprehensive travel insurance policy that can cover you for cancellation of hotels and travel, as well as personal belongings and emergency medical cover.