Follow That Sun
Rage against the dying of the light with MR PORTER’s guide to places where the sun will shine until spring.
Mr Ray Davies may well have observed the long-term weather forecast before penning the Kinks’ acerbic paen to warm indolence. “Help me, help me, help me sail away,” pleads the bankrupt aristocrat in “Sunny Afternoon”. “Well give me two good reasons why I oughta stay.”
Sadly, MR PORTER can only provide two good reasons why he oughta go. And soon. There’s the yellow stuff. From November, Paris and Berlin will average around a paltry two hours’ sunshine each day. Then there’s the mercury. In New York, the temperature won’t rise above 5°C for the next three months. That’s the high. Don’t even ask about the low. Autumn is mutating into winter and there’s little we can do, except pull on our cashmere overcoats and scarves, and hunker down till spring.
You’ll never find a better argument, or more persuasive figures, to justify splashing out on a winter sun break. This isn’t indulgence; it’s survival. We’ve settled on some essential parameters – at least eight hours’ sun a day, no colder than 27°C (a temperature not many can argue with) – and pinpointed the peachiest places on the planet to escape to between November and April. There are private Maldivian islands unsullied by humanity, exquisite Australian beaches and coolly relaxed Brazilian coastal retreats. There’s gourmet food to eat in Cape Town, tropical mountains to climb in St Lucia and beachside massages to endure in Thailand. Your endless summer awaits. All you have to do is decide which one’s for you.
There are beaches, there are Maldivian beaches (or sand supermodels) – and there is Whitehaven Beach. Forget the fact that it’s named after a less-than-exotic northern English port. The swirling lava lamp of bright, white, 98% silica sand and sapphire water, garlanding 7km of Whitsunday Island’s east coast in the heart of Queensland’s Barrier Reef, is the world’s most photogenic beach.
November is your chance to compete in one of its two spectacular open-water swimming races – or, more luxuriously and less energetically, to arrive by private yacht. Sail from the exclusive qualia resort on nearby Hamilton Island aboard its 45ft luxury yacht, Atomic, and your most taxing task will be raising an ice-cold beer or perfectly poured G&T.
You can, of course, remain on dry land, happily marooned on Hamilton, its lush national park interior laced with bush-walking trails. The private resort island is also the launch point for a scenic flight over a slice of the 2,300km-long reef, providing a wonderful view of the coral, and of course, of Whitehaven’s mesmerising sands.
On the pristine northern tip of Hamilton Island at qualia, where 60 pavilions of harmonious timber and stone, with decks and infinity pools, are weaved through the native eucalyptus. Owned by Mr Bob Oatley, wine producer and top-notch ocean sailor, it will host an alfresco performance by the Australian Ballet in early November: a pas de deux in paradise. For total privacy, book Qualia’s beach house with its two ensuites, massive deck, 10-person dining room and private 12m lap pool.
Phuket boasts neon-bright shallows, striking limestone mountains and relentless cyan skies – all things of which MR PORTER thoroughly approves. Yet it’s a tad too hungover, a wee bit too popular, to classify as a true tropical idyll. An hour north however, around Khao Lak, it’s a different story. Mixing low-level villages – local planning laws keep buildings below palm-tree height – splendid sands and forested hills, it has several secluded high-end resorts overlooking the warm Andaman Sea. It’s the stepping-off point for snorkelling excursions and live-aboard diving trips to the nine rather gorgeous Similan Islands, 64km offshore, where the translucent water around the likes of Miang, Payu and Payan islands offers 30m visibility and are reputedly some of the planet’s best sub-aqua sites. Back on the mainland, Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park sews together a tapestry of sea cliffs, 1,000m-high hills and estuaries with picture-postcard beaches, forest valleys and mangroves – a gloriously fecund home for tapirs, gibbons and even Asiatic black bears.
The oceanfront Sarojin, 15km north of Khao Lak town, has chic Asian-contemporary suites and residences swaddled by tropical ocean. The tastefully neutral interiors surround a pool lined with LA-style lazing pavilions, an award-laden spa on the edge of the mangroves, and an acclaimed cellar, winner of Wine Spectator’s award of excellence for the past four years.
Prepare to gasp: the Benguela current ensures that the South Atlantic washing Cape Town’s Clifton, Camp’s Bay and Llandudno beaches is a cojones-curling 13°C. That’s the bad news – but it’s the only bad news. Swimming – and of course there are several warm and spectacular hotel pools – is one card in a very fine hand. No wonder South Africa’s Mother City is such a major draw for winter escapees.
You’ll find fabulous-value, seriously decent dining at The Test Kitchen and Umi; memorable wine from the vineyards around Stellenbosch and Constantia; and dramatic, near heart-stopping scenery along the Cape Peninsula’s western coast, rising up Chapman’s Peak, past wave-lashed Noordhoek Beach, en route to Cape Point. You can surf at Muizenberg, head down to Africa’s southern tip at Cape Agulhas, or simply kick back and Instagram images of a show-stopping blood-red summer sunset over Hout Bay.
Ellerman House has 11 rooms, two suites and two private villas laced through tiered gardens on the slopes of Lion’s Head in Bantry Bay. As well as glorious ocean views, including the infamous Robben Island, the Edwardian mansion boasts an acclaimed collection of Southern African art, from an early 20th-century oil painting of Camp’s Bay by Mr Jan Volshenk to a Cape landscape by Mr Erik Laubscher and contemporary depictions of African life by Mr Vusi Khumalo.
Discovered by São Paulo’s wealthy hippy set in the 1970s, Trancoso is the embodiment of laid-back beach living. Many of the old fisherman’s houses have been reinvented as bars, restaurants and posadas in the lush vegetation around the Quadrado “village green” – the heart of the languorous sunspot where shops don’t open until 3pm, with mornings dedicated to swimming and sunbathing. Life centres around the Quadrado – the home of capoeira, soccer and socialising – and the “widescreen” surfy beach, where you can gallop half-blood Arab horses through the waves at sunset.
Head here in February to catch the Festa de São Brás – but also be sure to travel 10km south to the calm, reef-protected Espelho Beach to lunch on the day’s fresh catch at Silvinha’s shack. Stop en route to meet the Pataxo Indians, who lure buyers to their craft stalls by wrapping sloths around their shoulders – a perfect symbol for the area’s chilled, gorgeously sane pace of life.
Grab a few friends and stay in eight-person Casa Quadrado, one of Trancoso’s lovely rental properties on a leafy lane just off the Quadrado. Fully staffed, with an infinity pool and a swathe of deck, it’s a superbly tasteful blend of white walls, mellow wood and handmade artisan furniture.
Tropical honeypots are rarely more paradisiacal than the 1,192 Indian Ocean islands that make up the Maldives. Recent bids to crank up the wow factor beyond powder sand, whispering palms and translucent lagoons include Niyama’s underwater nightclub, Huvafen Fushi’s sub-aqua spa and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island’s tubular glass seabed restaurant. But for a truly memorable taste of the Indian Ocean archipelago, we suggest the castaway-chic experience of Gaathafushi.
For one or two nights you’ll have sole ownership of the islet’s perfect curl of white sand, splatter of lush forest and multicoloured coral reef – our correspondent proved it takes four minutes to circumnavigate on foot; 14 by front crawl – along with a raised kingsize bed, a prepared fire pit and a BBQ, with supper delivered by speedboat and served by white-clad waiters. In short, it’s desert-island life as reimagined by Mr Ralph Lauren – and all the better for it.
Gaathafushi is run by the newly renovated W Retreat & Spa, a different world just a mile away from the islet with an underground club, tensile-domed spa and over-water villas offering plasma screens, plunge pools and ambient grooves. Stays at W can be punctuated with one or more nights on Gaathafushi as part of the package.
It is, perhaps, the Caribbean’s most iconic landscape – the vegetation-shrouded peaks of St Lucia’s twin pitons, spearing out of a glassy blue ocean off the island’s southwest coast. Stock up on sunscreen and stamina to scale the 771m Gros Piton, with amazing views of its shorter sister and the mountainous richly forested interior. The two volcanic plugs, a Unesco World Heritage Site, may hog the spotlight, but there’s more to the honeymoon hotspot – far more. St Lucia, of course, has beaches: golden Anse Mamin, dark blonde Anse Chastanet and bright white Sandy Beach, a breeze-blasted magnet for kitesurfers. There’s the colonial-era architecture of Soufrière, the east coast’s surf, cliffs and fishing towns, and Anse La Raye village where the “Friday-night fish fry” blends streetfood stalls and rum-fuelled hedonism. But to fully appreciate St Lucia’s emerald quilt of rainforest, we recommend stepping away from the sun lounger and catching one of the 11 zip wires that cruise through the treetop canopy near Chassin: a unique, adrenaline-fuelled end to your pursuit of winter sun.
High above Anse Chastanet Beach, Jade Mountain offers divine views of the pitons. Its striking open-fronted architecture has bedrooms, living areas and infinity pools seamlessly entwined into platforms that appear to float among the vertiginous foliage.
Five ways to keep the warm-weather vibe alive…
1: Pour a sun-drenched cocktailMake it a daily pre-supper ritual – the worse the weather, the greater the impact. Hit the blender to whizz up a Margarita Legendario with Grand Marnier, Don Julio Blanco Tequila and fresh lime juice – it’s one of a clutch of great summer recipes online at thebar.com
2: Play some hot-weather tunesNot kitchen-sink-ambient Ibiza, but something more evocative. Orchestra Baobab takes you straight to a sticky African shebeen, while Kassin +2 will give you an irresistible Brazilian snake-hipped wiggle. Possibly.
3: Read and dreamLose yourself in Mr Alexander Frater’s brilliant mix of memoir and travelogue, Tales From the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics. A perfect escape, it’s as much about state of mind as geographical location. Alternatively, feed your eyes and fight your winter lethargy with The Stormrider Surf Guide: Tropical Islands, a series of painfully beautiful photos and absorbing maps.
4: Hang some mood-lifting art The dazzling photography of Mr Gray Malin is a guaranteed tonic, from his aerial shots of Sydney’s Bondi and Coogee Beaches, speckled with sunbathers, to the red parasols on the sands of Rio de Janeiro and the retro dolce vita vibe of Positano and Capri. If you want it on the go, as well as on your walls, his images also decorate umbrellas, ceramics, iPhone cases and, naturally, surfboards.
5: Catch some celluloid sunshine Watch The Moon and Sixpence (1949) about Mr Paul Gauguin, or Mr Bruce Brown’s 1966 surf classic The Endless Summer. Avoid Castaway, Blame it on Rio and, Lord deliver us, Couples Retreat. Alternatively, get the box set of TV adventurer Mr Simon Reeve’s Equator or Indian Ocean.