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.
Hiring a car (and appointing a designated driver) will get you around much of the region, which Lambert says is fairly easy to navigate. Guided tours are also available but make sure to pick one that you can tailor, she cautions. “Many tours take you on boring routes that detract from the magic of the Winelands.”
Eat: The Tasting Room, where chef Margot Janse serves African-inspired dishes with knowing international influences. The multicourse tasting menu is the way to go (lqf.co.za).
Stay: Grand Daddy Hotel, for its central location and funky rooms. Why not stay in one of the rooftop Airstream trailers (granddaddy.co.za)?
Tip: Visit Muratie Wine Estate, one of the oldest wineries in South Africa. Its romantic, blast-from-the-past ambience includes rustic out buildings and antique-lined interiors. Try the port (muratie.co.za).
“Cultural life in New Orleans is geared to spring,” says music writer Alex Rawls (myspiltmilk.com). “There’s the free French Quarter Festival one weekend followed by two weekends of Jazz Fest. It’s a great time to get warm before the summer swelter sets in.”
Officially deemed the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, 2013’s diverse draws include Billy Joel and Maroon 5. But to focus on the big names out of the hundreds acts doesn’t do it justice. “If people only see headliners, they see a festival much like any other. What makes Jazz Fest distinctive is the music from the state – and much of it isn’t jazz.”
Rawls suggests starting each day at the festival’s 11 a.m. kickoff, when emerging acts begin playing and the crowds are thinner – which means easier access to food booths that are soon swamped. But don’t over plan: “Better ideas often present themselves spontaneously here,” he says.
If you miss the festival, the city’s toe-tapping live scene is accessible any time. Rawls’s recommended venues include Tipitina’s for New Orleans funk, d.b.a. on Frenchman Street for local acts and Preservation Hall for some of the best trad jazz around.
Eat: Restaurant August for old-school ambience in a former warehouse setting – and top-notch dishes from crawfish agnolotti to 48-hour braised short rib (restaurantaugust.com).
Stay: La Maison Marigny, possibly the perfect B&B. It combines a great Bourbon Street location with antique-lined rooms that define comfort. The heaping breakfasts help, too (lamaisonmarigny.com).
Tip: Take a side trip to Lafayette’s Festival International. The largest outdoor free Francophone event in the United States, it offers dozens of shows over a party-like five day period (festivalinternational.com).
Springtime San Diego combines ever-sunny skies and temperatures around 20 C. But it’s not just the tan-tastic weather that lures many to California’s second-biggest city, according to local master gardener Leslie Crawford (3000tomatoes.com).
Beach-fringed Coronado Island – technically a peninsula – is home to one of North America’s largest floral showcases. “April’s Coronado Flower Show has been a tradition since 1922,” Crawford says.
She recommends at least a day for the fragrant event, perusing tented displays that include orchids, roses, wild flowers and bonsai trees. “Save time for the bandstand music, the food stands and the marketplace,” she advises, adding that you can also tour prize-winning private gardens around Coronado’s sunny streets.
The show isn’t the area’s only green-thumb magnet. Palm-lined Balboa Park includes themed gardens and the tropical Botanical Building. “It’s a beautiful place,” Crawford says.
There are plenty of other activities to keep you occupied on a spring visit. Consider the USS Midway aircraft carrier museum and wander around the preserved adobe buildings at Old Town State Historic Park. Then rest your feet with a seasonal beer: San Diego is one of America’s top craft beer cities. Look out for hoppy IPAs from Stone Brewing, Mission Brewery and Ballast Point Brewing.
Eat: Coronado Brewing Company, for house-brewed beer and a full menu of perfect pub-grub comfort dishes. Go for the ale-soaked mussels (coronadobrewingcompany.com).
Stay: 1906 Lodge at Coronado Beach. Two blocks from the water, this lovely 17-room property is like a mini-resort. Treat yourself to a garden suite for an extra dash of luxury (1906lodge.com).
Tip: If you’re travelling with young children, Legoland California is a 30-minute drive north of San Diego in the sunny seaside town of Carlsbad (california.legoland.com).
Send your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. John won’t plan your trips, but as a long-time traveller and guidebook writer, he has lots of tips to share.
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