I hate travelling in summer. Overpriced airfares, hoards of vacationing kids and sizzling cities that don’t do air conditioning are all great reasons to stay home when the mercury rises. Besides, I’ve had some of my most memorable jaunts in spring: The weather is pleasant, the price is right and there’s often either a great festival on, or it feels like you’ve got the whole place to yourself. Here are five destinations at the top of their game around April – with combined tips from the locals (and me) on why it’s time to start packing.
“Spring here is like a pleasant summer elsewhere: Hot enough to wear sandals and sit outside on restaurant terraces, but without the killer heat,” says Shawn Hennessey (azahar-sevilla.com), a blogger and foodie tour guide who’s lived in Spain’s fourth-largest city since 1993.
She loves the region’s spring flowers – “it’s orange blossom time and for a few weeks it smells like heaven” – but the main lure for many is the six-day Feria de Abril, Andalusia’s biggest Flamenco-flavoured festival.
“It’s a massive party with horses and carriages and lots of drinking and dancing. Most of the casetas [small marquees] are private, but you can also find public ones and just enjoy strolling the fairground.” Wine, sherry and an abundance of tasty tapas are ever-present.
If you can’t make it to this year’s Feria – starting April 16 – Seville offers plenty of other reasons to book a spring getaway, from exploring old town streets to Cadiz coastal day trips. “In spring, its important to spend as much time outdoors here as you can,” Hennessey says.
Eat: La Azotea, for gourmet tapas and great wines by the glass in a modern setting (laazoteasevilla.es).
Stay: Hotel Casa 1800 is a lovely boutique property with richly decorated rooms, some with private terrace Jacuzzis (hotelcasa1800.com).
Tip: Take one of Hennessey’s tapas tasting tours for an insider’s perspective on Seville’s best dining (azahar-sevilla.com).
“It’s totally abuzz here during the comedy festival,” says Melbourne comic Steele Saunders, a performer at this year’s event, which runs from March 27 to April 21. “Almost every concert hall and broom closet is transformed into a venue and the city is bursting with comedy. I’m not joking about the broom closet either – it’s a pretty good venue.”
But don’t limit yourself to acts you’ve heard of, he says. “Pick a name you know, then take a risk on a lesser-known name – be adventurous.” He suggests heading to Melbourne Town Hall where acts gather outside to paper passersby with their flyers. “You’ll quickly work out who you want to spend the next 50 minutes with.”
Saunders picks include “ridiculously funny” fellow Australians Bart Freebairn and Luke McGregor, but he’s most excited to see American stand-up Eddie Pepitone. Saunders performs his Steele Saunders’ Venue Got Demolished show at the Portland Hotel.
If you miss the yuk-fest this time around, there are plenty of other reasons for an April visit, including the balmy autumnal temperatures that hover around 25 C. Enjoy the sun with a beach visit to the funky St. Kilda neighbourhood or check out the blooms at the huge Royal Botanic Gardens – guided tours recommended. And if it rains? Duck into the sprawling Queen Victoria market for a pastry or three.
Eat: Chin Chin offers a modern take on Asian, especially Thai, street-hawker dishes – go for the pork belly (chinchinrestaurant.com.au).
Stay: Blackman Hotel has luxe contemporary rooms and art-lined interiors (artserieshotels.com.au).
Tip: The Victoria Hotel bar is great for spotting off-stage comedians, and you can challenge them to a game of pool if you’re up for it (victoriahotel.com.au).
April is autumn in the Cape Winelands region, and according to food writer Malu Lambert (malulambert.com), that’s exactly why you should visit. “It’s beautiful at this time of year with marigold vineyards, purple mountains and rolling green hills,” she says.
But it’s not just about looks. Summer’s end means more personalized winery experiences. “Since harvest will just have ended, many are happy to take you on a tour of their new wines – you’ll taste the juice in its fermenting stage, followed by a tasting of the real thing.”
Her recommended pit stops include Moreson Farm for chardonnays and its “country chic” restaurant; Jordan Wines for great tipples and spectacular Stellenbosch Valley vistas; and Waterkloof Wines for its Schapenberg mountains location and bio-dynamic wine making.