The wheat fields and trulli of Italy's Puglia region
Spring in the UK hasn't quite set in, and like me, you might still be feeling the winter chills. It's during this time of year that I pack up the family and go in search of warmer climes. Early spring can be a great time of year to visit some parts of Europe that are often too hot and busy in the summer months. So why not join me, and take the car south for some early spring sunshine.
Puglia, Southern Italy
Along the heel of Italy's boot, you'll find a 400km stretch of picturesque land - the region of Puglia. This area is known for its dependable sunshine and pleasant temperatures, even in March and early April. It's an eclectic part of Italy, both in terms of architecture and landscape. You'll find long flat wheat fields to the north, and as you travel further east will be greeted by stunning hillsides and sloping beaches.
Relax on the stunning beaches of Puglia in Italy.
Personally, I love Cisternio. This town sits within the Itria Valley, and isn't as popular with tourists as the more polished city of Ostuni, which gives Cisternio a rustic and untouched quality. Alongside the coast, you'll find Vieste. Whitewashed buildings, sun-blanched cliffs and a handful of stunning beaches make this a perfect place to stop off for some relaxation. If you love history like I do, check out the area's Norman cathedral and castle.
Portugal's most famous city comes alive in the spring. If you're after a holiday that is packed with things to do, then Lisbon is the place to go. It's a charming and chic city with trendy suburbs like Bairro Alto, which boasts a bustling arts scene, stunning outdoor murals and cosy 1930s era cafés. Music from the cafés leak onto the narrow cobbled backstreets, and I love getting lost down these enchanting walkways.
Explore the beautiful squares of Lisbon in Portugal.
If you're into shopping, the Chiado square provides a great mixture of old and new shops, cafés and restaurants. My favourite square in the city has to be Praça do Comércio. The grand 18th century arch is often regarded as the gateway into the city, and it's quite fun to take one of the old trams from here. Use the car to take a daytrip to the nearby fishing villages and towns such as Sintra - which boasts beautiful beaches and a historic town centre.
Sintra's Pena National Palace, Portugal.
Andalucía, Southern Spain
Spain's southern Andalucía region has produced some of the country's most well-known traditions, and my family love spending time here when the weather isn't too hot. The home of Flamenco and bullfighting, Andalucía has its own interesting history, which is reflected in the architecture. The scent of lemon trees lingers in the air, and history thrives in the oldest inhabited city of Spain - Cádiz.
Cádiz in southern Spain.
It gets really hot here in the summer, but during March and April the temperature hovers around the mid-20s. My favourite Andalusian city to take the family to is Seville. Early spring brings with it Spanish fairs and festivals, and in the week before Easter you can witness Holy Week (Semana Santa de Sevilla), when the city booms with theatrical events, floats and sculptures. Head to the
Royal Alcázar of Seville
to get lost in an incredible complex which holds the city's history within its walls, showing architecture from the Arabic period through to the 19th century.
The Var, Southern France
The Var department in southern France boasts a warm Mediterranean climate, and this is one reason why it's on my list for early spring travel spots. Home to hilltop villages, a superbly preserved Cistercian monastery (Le Thoronet Abbey), and the beautiful port of Saint-Tropez, the Var is packed full of things to see and do, and is great to explore by car.
The colourful houses and boats of Port-Grimaud in France.
If you want to take the family hiking, head to one of the Var's many wooded areas. My favourite is the Tanneron massif with its beautiful flowers that bloom here early in the year. Many families head to the famous seaside resort, Saint-Raphaël, but I prefer to take the kids to the colourful lakeside town of Port-Grimaud, or to see the panoramic ocean views from the hilltop village of Mons.
Ready to go?
It's not too late to chase some early spring sunshine, so hop in the car and take the easy 35-minute journey with
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle
to start your journey today.
Italy's Puglia region © Zeta on Flickr
Puglia in Italy © Andrea Stefanini on Flickr
Lisbon in Portugal © pravin.premkumar on Flickr
Sintra's Pena National Palace, Portugal © Chrismatos on Flickr
Cádiz in southern Spain © Hernán Piñera on Flickr
Port-Grimaud in France © risastla on Flickr