Joanne O'Connor, The Guardian, January 05, 2014
Mexican beach bungalows
I can think of worse places to spend the dark days of January than a beach hut on the Pacific coastline of Mexico, especially when that beach hut happens to be designed by Latin America's hottest hotel chain. Grupo Habita's latest creation is a collection of 16 grass-roofed rustic-luxe bungalows on the white sand beach of Puerto Escondido, a laid-back surfers' resort which has managed – so far – to escape the high-rise development and glitzy marinas which characterise Acapulco and Cancun. If you can tear yourself away from the hammocks and private plunge pools, there are surfing and sea kayaking lessons on your doorstep while the colonial charm of Oaxaca is just 12 miles away. Doubles from US$185, designhotels.com/hotel.
Winter lights festival, Reykjavík
We are not sure why the prospect of a cold, dark Icelandic winter is more appealing than a cold, dark British winter, but it is. Perhaps it's the prospect of soaking in a thermal pool, sipping schnapps while the northern lights dance overhead. If this sounds like your idea of a good night out then head to Reykjavík in February. Pool Night, where the city's famed public baths throw open their doors for free until midnight, is one of the highlights of the annual Winter Lights festival, a four-day celebration which takes over the streets of the Icelandic capital. Light installations, cultural events and a Museum Night with free entry to 40 of the capital's attractions are among the many highlights. 6-15 February, winterlightsfestival.is. Stay in the excellent Kex Hostel, which has a mixture of private hotel-style rooms and dorms in an old biscuit factory from £12 a night.
Glasgow Film Festival
There's a big buzz around Glasgow hosting the Commonwealth Games this summer but you don't have to wait until July for an excuse to visit: the 10th annual Glasgow Film Festival kicks off next month and we can't think of a better antidote to the long nights of February. Now in its 10th year, the festival has gained a reputation for its innovative programming with pop-up cinemas in unusual venues (last year's highlights were a screening of The Warriors in the bowels of the Glasgow subway system and a Calamity Jane barn dance at the Grand Ole Opry). This year sees the launch of Street Food Cinema, giving audiences the chance to "eat along" with the on-screen action. Tasty and plot-relevant snacks will be served up at The Briggait, Glasgow's former-fishmarket-turned-arts space, during four films including GoodFellas and When Harry Met Sally. We'll have what she's having. From 20 February to 2 March, glasgowfilm.org.
Stargazing in Northumbria
The BBC's popular series Stargazing Live returns to the telly this week fronted by unlikely sex god Professor Brian Cox. The series will be accompanied by a nationwide programme of astronomy events, from open nights at observatories to nocturnal rambles. One of the best places in the UK to experience the night sky is Kielder Forest in Northumberland, which was recently designated a dark sky park due to its low levels of light pollution. Make a weekend of it by booking a stay at the Sky Den, a brand new treehouse designed by George Clarke (presenter of Channel 4's Amazing Spaces). Though it boasts many clever design features, the real pièce de résistance is the roof which opens up at the touch of a button to reveal the heavens above – perfect for starry-eyed lovers. From £150 per night, canopyandstars.co.uk. Look up local Stargazing Live events at bbc.co.uk/thingstodo.
Walking in the Canary Islands
Half-man half-Christmas pudding? Walk it off amid the sun-baked volcanic landscapes of El Hierro, the smallest and least-known of the Canary Islands. You can cover most of the island on foot in just a week and a new self-guided walking holiday from tour operator Inntravel will help you to do just that. Starting in the peaceful village of Mocanal, the trail takes you along coastal paths, through ancient lava fields, laurisilva forest, vineyards and pineapple plantations, finishing up with some hard-earned R&R in the peaceful Parador de El Hierro in Las Playas, with its Atlantic views, rock gardens, pool and coconut palms. From £798pp for seven nights, including return flight from Tenerife North to El Hierro. International flights extra, inntravel.co.uk.
Yoga and surf in India and Sri Lanka
Having established the first yoga and surf retreat in Kerala, British couple Ed Templeton and Sofie Radecki are expanding into pastures new with the launch of a pop-up Soul & Surf camp in Sri Lanka. For the month of February the team will be based at a secluded villa on the shores of Lake Koggala in the south-west of the country. Daily surf and yoga sessions are available and guests dine together, creating a laid-back, sociable atmosphere which is ideal for solo travellers. The beaches of Weligama and the fortress city of Galle are both within easy reach. From £650pp per week, excluding flights, soulandsurf.com.
Russian banya, London
The Russians know a thing or two about surviving cold, dark winters and we're not just talking about downing industrial quantities of vodka (though that does indeed help). Banya No 1 is a little slice of Moscow transported to Shoreditch, London – an authentic Russian bath house complete with wood-fired stove, a variety of steam rooms and a staff of mildly terrifying banschiki who will guide you through the various bathing rituals and treatments, including the invigorating venik massage, which culminates in a good thrashing with a birch branch. Recover with caviar and vodka in the lounge-bar. From £25pp for three hours, gobanya.co.uk.
If ever there were a cure for the winter blues then a couple of pisco sours and a plate of zingy ceviche at one of London's new wave of Peruvian restaurants is it. Lima (limalondon.com) in Fitzrovia recently became the first Peruvian restaurant in Europe to win a Michelin star, while the Sunday afternoon cocktail and cookery classes launched by Soho's Ceviche (cevicheuk.com) have been a big hit (and no, you don't need to spatchcock a guinea pig). But if you'd like to experience the food in its natural habitat, sign up for Journey Latin America's new Culinary Tour of Peru, a 12-day adventure which includes visits to markets, pisco distilleries and the chocolate museum in Cusco. From £3,180pp, including flights, journeylatinamerica.co.uk.
Art courses in Cornwall
If your New Year's resolution was to get in touch with your creative side, look no further than the Cornish coastal village of Newlyn near Falmouth. Long a magnet for artists, the community is now home to the excellent Newlyn School of Art, which offers a range of short courses in everything from pottery and painting to printmaking. In February, for example, you can sign up for its two-day watercolour painting course with artist Maggie O'Brien. Covering still life and landscapes the course will combine field work at local beauty spots in Sennen and Land's End, with lessons in the studio of a lovely old Victorian schoolhouse. Two-day watercolour painting course, 15-16 February, £130, (accommodation extra), newlynartschool.co.uk.
Island-hopping in Tasmania
Sometimes the best way of dealing with winter is to get as far away from it as possible – and destinations don't come much more far-flung than the Furneaux Islands, off the north-east tip of Tasmania. The 52 islands are all that remains of the land bridge that once connected Tasmania to the Australian mainland. The largest and most beautiful is Flinders, the final refuge for Tasmania's aboriginal community and now a haven for wildlife, with excellent dive sites and long, white sandy beaches scattered with huge granite boulders. Island-hopping among the archipelago is one of several new tailormade experiences being offered by Tasmanian Odyssey, a brand new travel company dedicated to Australia's Island State. tasmanianodyssey.com.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk