Winter is dragging; summer is still months away. Time to start looking into city breaks for spring sun then. If those Vitamin D pills just aren’t cutting it, and you’re craving the rejuvenating effects of actual sunshine, then good news. You don’t have to jump on a plane to Dubai or the Maldives to bask under cloudless blue skies. Summer starts early in southern Europe, meaning that uninterrupted sun and mild temperatures are just a short-haul flight away.
With temperatures already nudging the early 20s, spring breaks to Europe’s southern cities offer the best of both worlds: sun-drenched attractions without the crowds. Typically, flights and accommodation options are also more affordable. Win, win, win. These short-haul city destinations promise both a sun tan and a culturally-rich mini spring holiday. We could be wrong, but we doubt you’ll locate any Caravaggios in Florida.
Even in darkest December, Porto enjoys an average of more than four hours of blue sky each day. By July, that figure rises to more than 10 hours. In March, unless you’re unlucky, you’ll enjoy close to six hours. It might not be bikini weather, but temperatures reach highs of 17°C and only dip to around 8°C at night. Plenty warm enough, then, to enjoy the UNESCO World Heritage site that is the historic centre of Portugal’s second-largest city.
Where to stay: The Yeatman Hotel
The hotel of choice for musicians and footballers whenever they’re playing in Porto, The Yeatman sits among the port lodges on the south slope of the Douro River – offering stunning views of the most scenic part of the city. There’s a Michelin-star restaurant, an award-winning spa, and an infinity pool in the shape of a decanter. Oh, and this being fortified wine country, there’s a 25,000-bottle wine cellar below. Saúde!
Rooms from approx. £258 per night.
Summers in Lisbon are hot. From late June until early September temperatures regularly exceed 35°C (and average temperatures are taken in the shade, remember, so things will feel even hotter in the sun). The city receives most of its rain in November and December, and basks in more than 300 days of sunshine across the year. However, you don’t travel to Lisbon for its beaches (unless you’re a surfer). Lisbon is all about exploring its castles, churches, squares and markets – making spring the ideal time to visit.
Where to stay: AlmaLusa Alfama
In October 2023, AlmaLusa Alfama opened in one of the oldest and most picturesque neighbourhoods in Lisbon. Architectural design at the third hotel from the Portuguese-owned hospitality brand, AlmaLusa, is rooted in the traditional Pombaline style, which is characterised by its chic simplicity. The meticulously restored 12th-century building combines the charming old features of Lisbon with contemporary design touches. A proponent of Portuguese craftsmanship, AlmaLusa has fitted rooms with fabrics and furniture from local artists.
Rooms from approx. £160 per night.
In 2023, Google revealed that sunny Seville, the Andalusian capital and Spain’s fourth-largest metropolis, was its most searched-for flight-only destination. If you’ve visited during the summer, you’ll know the city can get unbearably hot. So hot, that Seville has begun naming its heatwaves in the same way that the rest of the planet names hurricanes. The first, Zoe, arrived in July 2022, with temperatures peaking at 43°C. The second, Yago, landed in June 2023, nudging the mercury to 43.9°C. Far better to visit Seville’s 13th-century Islamic castles, 14th-century palaces and 15th-century squares during the spring, then. By the end of Feb, the city is already experiencing average highs of around 20°C.
Where to stay: Corral del Rey
Less than a 10-minute walk from Seville’s UNESCO-protected Old Town is a cobbled street called Corral del Rey. Behind a heavy-studded Moorish door is the low-key reception of a splendid little hotel of the same name. A former ‘casa palacio’, or palace home, the thick-set 17th-century building has been tastefully transformed into a soothing 17-bedroom bolthole that boasts many of its original features, including marble columns, Mudéjar-style doors and ancient timber beams. Each bedroom is a quirky mix of natural textures – stone, wood, marble – individual furniture and high-tech mod cons. A low-key, high-minded hideaway from the breathtaking furnace outside.
Rooms from approx. £260 per room per night.
Averaging around nine hours of sunshine a day, and with average highs of around 20ºC, there’s a lot to recommend visiting Marbella between March and May. As well as sandy beaches, the area is home to some of Europe’s most celebrated golf courses. Often overlooked, Marbella Old Town is home to 19th-century whitewashed buildings, flower-draped balconies, and a labyrinth of pretty winding streets. There’s the scenic Paseo de La Alameda park, with a fountain that dates back to 1792, and the 15th-century Ermita de Santiago church. Ronda, with its famous bridge, is an hour away by car, while the fortresses of Granada are accessible in two hours.
Where to stay: The Marbella Club
Celebrating its 70th birthday this year, The Marbella Club entered the European Hotel Hall of Fame decades ago. What began as a humble family home slowly evolved into a 132-room, year-round destination resort with a world-renowned golf course and iconic restaurant to boot – an institution, as much as a hotel. The club occupies an enviable beachfront location on Marbella’s ‘Golden Mile’ and is surrounded by mature, tropical gardens. Seven decades on, the club remains committed to life’s simple pleasures – good food, comfortable surroundings, and a slow and mindful way of doing things.
Rooms from approx. £477 per night.
Morocco was the tenth most Googled country in 2023, with would-be visitors drawn to its exquisite mosques, vibrant culinary scene and famous souks. Marrakech, or the Red City, is a labyrinth of bustling markets, romantic riads, lush gardens, grand palaces and lively theatres. Temperatures pass 30°C from May through to September, making spring the perfect time to visit. Expect the mercury to flitter around the mid-20s in March and April, a time of year when the city receives an average of just three days of rain a month.
Where to stay: Royal Mansour Marrakech
The Royal Mansour’s reputation precedes it. In 2020, the palatial property was recognised by Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards as the number one hotel in Africa. In the same year, Royal Mansour was named as the second best hotel in North Africa and the Middle East at Travel + Leisure’s World Best Awards. An opulent oasis crafted by more than 1,500 local artisans as an ode to traditional Moroccan architecture, the hotel provides a quiet retreat steps from Marrakech’s historic Medina. Guests are welcomed into an open-air courtyard before they are free to explore four acres of lush gardens, complete with their own garden kitchen. Private, multi-storey riads are dotted along petal-pink pathways. You’ll find no carts or crowds at Royal Mansour, just quiet, time-defying comfort.
One-bedroom riads start from £1,200 per night (inc. breakfast, fast-track immigration and airport transfers).
When German landscape artist Otto Geleng exhibited his paintings of Taormina at an art gallery in Berlin in the 1860s, critics refused to believe the scenes he depicted were real. ‘Come to Sicily,’ Geleng challenged his detractors, ‘and if Taormina differs from my paintings, I’ll pay for your journey and your accommodation. Otherwise, you will write of the town’s beauty in your newspapers.’ You suspect Geleng wasn’t left out of pocket. Taormina is Sicily’s prettiest city, a Medieval village-on-a-cliff from where Ernest Hemingway wrote his first short story and D H Lawrence began writing Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Where to stay: Villa Carlotta
On a hill in the crook of a hairpin bend next to some Roman ruins somewhere between Isola Bella and Corso Umberto – Taormina’s main cobbled boulevard – is Villa Carlotta, a stately-home-turned-boutique-hotel from the Quartucci family. Rooms, of which there are 23, are opulent, with gilded mirrors, elaborate headboards and freestanding antique wardrobes. An outdoor pool offers incredible views of the city below. Breakfast is pies, pastries and mounds of pistachios served as Mount Etna, snow-capped and cartoonishly conical, broils in front.
Rooms from approx. £209 per night.
Coming ninth in 2023’s most Googled destinations, Malta is a small island packed with centuries worth of history. The capital, Valletta, takes up less than a square kilometre of land, making it the smallest capital city in the European Union. As of last year, the city had a permanent population of fewer than 6,000 residents, who get to live among 16th-century palaces and cathedrals; the baroque St. John’s Co-Cathedral houses Caravaggio’s masterpiece The Beheading of Saint John. Temperatures reach average highs of 20°C in April, still early enough in the year for affordable flights and out-of-season accommodation prices.
Where to stay: The Xara Palace
OK, so The Xara Palace is not actually in Valletta, because, as explained, the Maltese capital is absolutely tiny. But the hotel is less than half-an-hour’s drive away from Caravaggio’s famous painting and located in an ancient walled city of its own, Mdina. Known as the ‘silent city’, Mdina is actually Malta’s former capital. Remarkably, it’s even smaller than its current capital, with just 150 full-time inhabitants. Perched on centuries-old bastions and surrounded by stunning baroque architecture, 17th-century The Xara Palace has 17 bedrooms. Each is individually and tastefully designed with antique furniture and paintings, and luxurious Parisian fabrics. There are three restaurants, one of which boasts a Michelin star.
Rooms from approx. £202 per night.
Long a summer gateway to the country’s famous sun-drenched islands, Greece’s capital blossoms to life in spring. A variety of native and non-native trees burst into colour as temperatures pick up and winter fades into memory. With so many of the city’s streets lined with orange trees, parts of Athens swim in a cloud of citrus perfume in April. To make the most of the spring blossom, hike up Mount Lycabettus, where, among blooming wildflowers, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of ancient Athens. For vibrant bougainvillea, make for the picturesque neighbourhood of Anafiotika, in the shadow of the Acropolis.
Where to stay: One&Only Aesthesis
One&Only Resorts launched its first property in Greece in 2023, and only its second outpost in Europe following the launch of One&Only Portonovi in 2021. Located next to Glyfada marina, yet only a half-hour drive from the main sights of central Athens, One&Only Aesthesis boasts 1,600 metres of private seafront, part of which is given over to its own beach club. The hotel is home to a Chenot Spa, three restaurants and three bars. Aesthetics-wise, think 1960s and '70s Greek glamour.
Rooms from approx. £488 per night.