Relaxation means something different to everyone. Perhaps you love laying out on the beach and paddling in turquoise waters; maybe you’d rather soak up some culture in a quirky town, or go off the beaten track to explore otherworldly landscapes.
With destinations ranging from Suffolk, England, to Stone Town, Zanzibar, however you want to kick back, we’ve got just the escape for you.
Greece’s Ionian Islands are perfect for brilliant beaches and sunny escapes
To make the most of the Ionians’ crystal-clear turquoise waters, you need to visit in summer, when every day is a beach day. This cluster of six islands, west of mainland Greece, has some of the country’s best sands, and hot-blue skies make them even more inviting.
July will be busy, but there are ways to avoid the crowds. For instance, there are many resorts on Corfu, but plenty of undeveloped countryside between them, especially in the north (where writer-naturalist Gerald Durrell lived) and in the herb-scented mountainous interior. Gorgeous Kefalonia balances mass tourism with authentic Greek towns; as the largest Ionian, it’s better able to absorb visitors. The wine’s good too. Or try largely undeveloped Lefkada – find untamed beaches on the west coast or join the windsurfers catching summer thermals in Vassiliki Bay.
- Trip plan: Fly to Corfu and explore elegant Corfu Town, the interior and quiet northwest beaches. For a multi-Ionians trip, hop between Lefkada, Kefalonia and the pebbly coves of Ithaki, legendary home of Odysseus.
- Need to know: Add on a side-trip to Albania – Corfu Town to Saranda takes 30 minutes by hydrofoil.
- Other months: Mar-May – warming, chilly swimming; Jun-Aug – hot, busy; Sep-Oct – sea still warm; Nov-Feb – facilities close.
Be artistically inspired in Suffolk, England
Pack up your paintbrushes, it’s time to head for ‘Constable Country’. John Constable, born near Suffolk’s Dedham Vale in 1776, became England’s most beloved landscape artist. He was deeply inspired by his home – a place of big skies and sylvan meadows, threaded by the River Stour – just as visitors continue to be today.
Book an artists’ retreat here in July and August, when the weather is warmest for days at the easel. This is also the season in which Constable painted his famous Hay Wain; the view, of the Stour running past Willy Lott’s Cottage, remains unchanged. Follow Constable’s footsteps, strolling around pretty villages such as Flatford, Stratford St Mary and Stoke-by-Nayland, or explore at river-level – perhaps a two-day canoe trip from the market town of Sudbury towards the sea. Visit Dedham Vale Vineyard for a tasty drop too.
- Trip planner: Art courses run at Willy Lott’s Cottage, Flatford Mill and nearby villages. A week here could include boat trips, visits to medieval wool towns and beach time at arty Aldeburgh.
- Need to know: Manningtree, near Dedham Vale, is one hour by rail from London Liverpool Street station.
- Other months: Jun-Aug – warmest; Apr-May – flowers, quieter; Sep-Oct – mild; Nov-Mar – wintry.
Delve into Zanzibar’s Stone Town and the Indian Ocean under blue skies
The spice island Unguja – known to most as Zanzibar – is a scent sensation. Stroll the maze-like alleys of old Stone Town on a warm evening and you’ll catch whiffs of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon in the Darajani bazaar, frying seafood at stalls in Forodhani Gardens, and the aroma of black coffee in Jaws Corner, where old men gather to watch TV and gossip.
Zanzibar’s historic heart, with its crumbling palaces and heart-rending slave-trade relics, is just one gem of this treasure-trove island, at its best in July, in the middle of the dry season. Board a dhow to snorkel off the west coast, watching for dolphins; sniff the leaves and buds of a spice plantation; and find your own patch of coral-sand perfection on one of the wonderful beaches.
- Trip plan: Spend at least a couple of days wandering the labyrinthine alleys of Stone Town and visiting a spice plantation before heading to a beach – Nungwi is a good base for dives off Tumbatu and Mnemba islands.
- Need to know: Incidence of malaria has dropped in recent years, but consult a physician for the latest advice.
- Other months: Jun-Oct – cool, dry; Nov-Dec & Mar-May – rainy; Jan-Feb – hot, dry.
Enjoy sunshine and smooth seas in the mid-Atlantic
Remote indeed, the nine islands of the Azores are scattered 930 miles (1500km) west of their Portuguese motherland. The result of seabed volcanoes, this mid-Atlantic archipelago is a playground of gnarled rocks, black sands, lava tubes, crater lakes and soaring cones. July is the driest and warmest month. It’s also when the ocean is calmest – best for boat trips to spot 20 cetacean species, including sperm whales. Landlubbers can watch from clifftop vigias instead – these old whale-hunters’ lookout towers are now used by ecotourists.
What else? Head to Pico island to bag Portugal’s highest peak (7713 ft; 2351m) and dive with manta rays (July to September). Find inland lakes, hike, birdwatch and gawk at flowers on Flores. Or plan a cycling adventure on Terceira, the ‘lilac isle’.
- Trip plan: Base yourself on one island – São Miguel is largest, with most tours. Or spend a week or two island-hopping: clustered Pico, Faial and São Jorge (The Triangle) are easy to travel between by ferries.
- Need to know: São Miguel is home to Ponta Delgada International Airport.
- Other months: Apr-Jun – sunny, flowers, whales; Jul-Aug – warmest, whales, diving; Sep-Oct – warm, whales; Nov-Mar – rainy.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out our book Where To Go When for 360 ultimate escapes from family-friendly adventures to animal encounters and relaxing retreats.