A holiday is a great way to mark the start of the new year, making January a fantastic month for a holiday (especially if you need a bit of a boost after Christmas). Here is our pick of the best destinations to visit for some much-needed escapism during the post-Christmas period.
Tropical backwaters in India
Take a bamboo raft or houseboat cruise through the Keralan backwaters
While it may be a bleak month elsewhere in the world, January finds the Indian state of Kerala in full bloom. This southern Indian, tropical state is nicknamed God’s Own Country, thanks to a tourism ad slogan from the 80s that stuck. But it’s true; the scenery really is quite divine. The beaches are long, wide and often bathed in a hazy heat while inland, the mountains of the Western Ghats form a haven of glowing green rainforest and tea plantations. You also might have heard of the Keralan backwaters, a 900km-long network of waterways lined by coconut groves and tiny fishing villages. Embrace the Keralan tourist rite of passage and take a bamboo raft or a houseboat cruise around these calm canals, enjoying the constant sunshine and relatively cool temperatures that January brings. Stay at the beautiful beachside Maadathil Cottages.
Skiing in Bulgaria
Bansko in Bulgaria is an up-and-coming ski resort
Regardless of whether you’ve never set foot on a ski slope or you consider yourself to be a slalom maestro, there’s only one place to go skiing this January. The rapidly up-and-coming resort of Bansko – at the foot of the Pirin Mountains and in the middle of Bulgaria’s Pirin National Park – is affordable, naturally beautiful and has miles and miles of pistes and modern lifts. It’s an old mountain town that acts as a gateway to the slopes on and around the huge Todorka Peak and Vihren Peak, with plenty of off-piste adventures to be had, winding your way through powder and pine forests. Check into the highly rated Villa Vera Guest House, a short walk from Bansko’s ski lift.
Mediterranean escape in Malta
Colourful balconies in the Maltese city of Valletta
Built by the Knights of St John on a tiny peninsula, Valletta is the historic Maltese capital, whose honey-coloured stone walls and 16th-century buildings contrast with the surrounding deep blue sea. Although winter won’t bring sunbathing temperatures, it is mild and often sunny (Malta gets 300 days of sunshine per year), plus the prices are drastically lower and there’s still much to do in the capital that isn’t weather-dependent. Valletta is known for its museums, palaces and ornate cathedrals, as well as fine Mediterranean fare. It's a small city and thus easily walkable, so take an evening amble down to the waterfront to eat in a restaurant within one of the city’s 17th-century mansions for an authentic Maltese meal washed down with local wine. The Ursulino Valletta is the most highly rated accommodation in Valletta, no doubt partly thanks to its roof terrace with cityscape panorama.
Sunshine and spice in The Gambia
Senegalese and Gambian fishing boats moored on the sand
Not only does The Gambia offer ample January sunshine, it’s also great value for post-Christmas travel budgets. It’s an easy destination to immerse yourself in the local culture as the people are warm, welcoming and mostly English-speaking, and you’ll find a range of excursions and courses that allow you to experience Gambian life. Book yourself onto a cookery course with local, Ida Cham-Njie, for example, and you’ll get to visit a fish market with her, before being invited back to her home to learn how to use local spices and herbs in rich Gambian recipes like Benachin (a deliciously comforting one-pot dish). Stay at The Nemasu Eco-lodge, where activities available include cycling, fishing and hiking.
Yoga on the beach in Mexico
Beach life in Mexico's coastal city, Puerto Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta in Mexico is a sunny January destination full of colour and character that will certainly pick up your post-Christmas spirits. Wander the cobblestone centre full of ornate churches, pretty fountains and the Mercado Río Cuale flea market, with red, fuschia and orange bougainvillea sprouting up on the roadsides. The weather is perfect in January; hot but not oppressively so and with barely any rain. You can do yoga on the beach, sunbathe, gorge on moreish, fresh Mexican food and perhaps go on a whale-spotting tour in the Bay of Banderas (the season for this runs from December until March). Stay at HOTEL CINCO22, just 100 metres from the centre of Puerto Vallarta.