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Three the magic number for winter sun

18 February 2012 - Norwich Evening News - Derek James

If you are looking for some hot African sunshine where the welcome is as warm as the weather then how about considering three very different countries on and off the West Coast of Africa - Cape Verde, Senegal or The Gambia. DEREK JAMES reports.
Where to go for a winter holiday? You may be tired of the Canaries where the weather can be dodgy. You may think the Caribbean too expensive or the Far East too far. And other, closer to home, winter resorts such as parts of Egypt and Tunisia report low bookings for obvious reasons.But due south - roughly six hours flying time away - there are three fascinating countries with sweeping and stunning beaches waiting to be explored.
Each one has so much to offer. Each one is very different with its own rich history and culture. Each one will give you a good value holiday with a difference. One was a former Portuguese colony, the other French and the third British.
Cape Verde
Let’s start with the former Portuguese islands of Cape Verde. There was talk a few years of transforming these island just off the coast of West Africa into the next Canaries – thank goodness that hasn’t happened. This collection of ten islands each have their own appeal with varied  landscapes, an eclectic cultural heritage and a variety of activities to suit all. The islands are an ideal winter sun destination and a great place to escape the crowds.
The leading tour operator is The Cape Verde Experience and commercial manager Paul Kenny says the flight is relatively short and the weather remains consistent throughout the year - between 24 and 29 degC. Beyond the beaches the islands offer great diversity in their landscapes and culture and if
you are visiting it makes sense to opt for a twincentre holiday or an island-hopping itinerary which can be tailor-made in any combination. Bookings to Cape Verde are stronger this winter, mainly due to the increase in flights from the UK and an improvement to the infrastructure and accommodation – namely the opening of the Melia Tortuga Beach & Sea resort on sale and improvements to a number of other properties.
The islands all offer something different – from beautiful clean beaches to soaring mountain landscapes and lush green valleys - go and see for yourself.
Senegal
The French love their former colony Senegal but why should they have it to themselves. This is a great country to visit - offering so much. The UK’s destination specialist, The Senegal Experience, offers a wide range of accommodation, with a select choice of luxury hotels and properties.
The Gambia’s larger French neighbour is a fantastic country to visit with its superb climate, great beaches and thriving culture plus, its three mighty rivers and wonderfully intricate coastal lagoons and waterways support a great wealth of wildlife including numerous bird species and mammals.
There’s also opportunity for visitors to spot larger animals such as rhino, giraffe and zebra within its protected wildlife reserves. Where to stay? One place I can recommend is the 5* Lamantin Beach Hotel located in the beach resort of Saly, about 80kms south of bustling Daker. This impressive hotel re-opened just before Christmas following a major refurbishment and now offers guests a wider choice of rooms along with a new beach club providing a la carte dining overlooking the sea.
With its own private beach and adjacent marina, the Lamantin provides a real “wow” factor.
The Gambia
One of the best value winter warmers is the former British colony The Gambia, the smallest country on the continent with one of the biggest hearts. Board the plane to Banjul and the chances are you will be sitting next to “repeaters” – people who travel to this country every year because they love everything about it - the people, the culture, the way of life. Some people go for the sun, others for the
bird life, some for the fishing at sea or on the rivers and there are those involved in various charity projects. Others have bought homes in the country. It is still the best value winter sunshine holiday around. In recent years some excellent smaller, upmarket yet affordable “boutique” hotels have been built away from the coastal strips. You tend to find many people tend to go back to the same place to stay because the staff have become friends. It is that kind of country. And you never know who you will bump into - on my last visit in January I met Teresa Elmassry who runs a busy restaurant and bar
with her husband called Yasmina’s the corner of the main road leading into the Senegambia “strip.” In a previous life she was Teresa Slater, formerly of North Walsham and then Lawson Road in Norwich, who worked at Mann Egerton, Sedgwick’s and the Co-op before heading off to work in Gambia. And it was there that she met Roberto, fell in love, settled down to get married, raise a family and run a thriving business. I’ll tell you more about Teresa in the Evening News soon but if you are visiting the country then pop in and say hello. So be warned. Visiting these countries can change your life. You may not want to come home.
Get Packing
The Cape Verde Experience (0845 3302071, capeverde.co.uk) offers a wide variety of holidays with flight options to Sal and to Boa Vista from Gatwick. The company is offering seven night  packages at the 4* Hotel Morabeza on Sal (capeverde.co.uk/ morabeza), a popular family-run hotel with good facilities on the edge of Santa Maria’s white sandy beach from £899pp travelling in May.
 The Senegal Experience (0845 3388706, senegal. co.uk) is offering half board packages including flights and transfers from £1,199pp for holidays in March. This price is based on two sharing a garden room at the Lamantin Beach and return flights to Daker via Brussels from Heathrow.
Call for more details of holidays to Senegal, including twin centre options combining a stay in the Gambia, plus tailor made tours and Rivers of West Africa cruise and stay opportunities.
 The Gambia Experience (0845 3302087, gambia. co.uk) has a complete range of places to stay from basic 2* hotels offering a real taste of Africa to intimate 5* luxury hotspots and from family fun
hotels to stunning river lodges. If you want to travel in March here are two offers at beachfront hotels. A week at the 3* Kombo Beach costs from £399pp based on two sharing a standard air conditioned room on b&b. A week at the 4* Sheraton Gambia Hotel, all-inclusive, from £699 based on two sharing a standard Baobab room with air con. These budget prices include Gatwick flights with a reduced allowance of 15 kilo and does not include airport transfers. A supplement of £15pp applies for transfers and £25pp for an increased 5 kilo luggage allowance.
Travel Tip: Airport Comfort
It is the perfect, peaceful start to a holiday. Airports are busy, bustling places but there are quiet corners where you can relax - the exclusive airport lounges are not just for those travelling first
class. You have probably noticed people popping in and out of them as you queue for an overpriced soggy roll and coffee. No.1 offers airport lounges at Stansted, Gatwick North and South and
Heathrow Terminal 3 which are great places to visit where you can recharge your batteries before boarding. Pay the entrance fee - it is cheaper to book in advance - and food and drink plus other
facilities are all there for you. Spa services and showers at some do cost extra.There are two lounges at Stansted, one serving all international gates (except Ryanair) and the other serving
Ryanair flights. They are open from 4am to 9pm and cost £15pp for up to three hours (children £7.50). The lounges are Gatwick North and South cost £20 (children £10) if booked in advance and
the flagship lounge at Heathrow is £30 (children £15).
 For more details and to book up visit www. no1traveller.com or you just turn up when you get to the airport.
Travel Tip: Getting To The Airport
The easiest way to get to the airport - Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick - from Norwich and otherNorfolk towns is by National Express (08717 818181, nationalexpress.com) coach which travel 24
hours a day. They run an efficient and convenient service in and out of Norwich and the coaches stop at Thickthorn, Wymondham

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