After a winter of meteorological discontent, nothing quite lifts the spirits like the prospect of an April vacation. As the mercury starts to rise, flowers are starting to bloom, festivals kick it up a notch, and artists and poets converge on café patios to bask in the soft April sun. From Europe’s eternal cities, to Mexico’s surreal beaches, to Japan’s post-modern brand of Zen, or the mind-blowing exoticism of North Africa, there is no better time for travelers to plot an escape. You can beat the maddening summer crowds, spare yourself the sticker shock of peak hotel rates and airfares, and avoid the frustrations of packed restaurants and long museum lines. Forget T.S. Eliot’s “cruelest month,” April is all about carpe diem.
Come April, once Europe’s winter malaise has lifted, the ancient and modern glories of the City of Lights are worthy of every cliché. In spite of the odd downpour, Paris in the springtime rarely disappoints. Cherry and apple blossoms, daffodils, sweet peas, and tulips form an invigorating backdrop to the city’s sublime cultural attractions. As booksellers return to the bridges and banks of the Seine and Parisians flock to the pavement cafés of the Latin Quarter and St Germain, an intoxicating, creative energy fills the air.
If the weather isn’t cooperating, there’s no shortage of breathtaking art to be admired in the city’s stellar museums, churches, and avant-garde galleries. There’s the French Gothic masterpiece of Notre Dame, the majestic domes of the Sacré Cœur, and the polemical Center Pompidou bearing its inner bowels for all the world to see. The Louvre’s monumental collection (35,000 works) spans paintings and artifacts from the Middle Ages through the 19th century. Crowd pleasers include: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; the Seated Scribe; Venus de Milo; and Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave.
Housed in a former Art Nouveau train station, the Musée d’Orsay is a national treasure, boasting the world’s most significant impressionist and post-impressionist collection. From the sumptuous Luxembourg Gardens to the harmonious Tuileries, Paris’s public gardens are at their technicolor best in spring, with pathways lined with flowers overlorded by centuries-old sculptures — the perfect place to grab a baguette loaded with pungent cheese and slivers of ham to watch the locals at play.
Seville knows how to party in the name of gods and men. From the impassioned cries of the bullfighting arena, to the pulsating beats of flamenco, nothing quite stirs a melancholy winter soul like the passion and the glory that is Seville. With temperatures hovering around 21 degrees Celsius, it doesn’t take long for the gorgeous, sun-soaked Spanish city to work its magic. Two weeks after the sombre parades of Semana Santa (Holy Week), Sevilla’s post-Lent Feria de Abril slips into gear as the whole city trades saintly devotion for unbridled Bacchanalian pleasure. The city’s ancient cobbled streets and Moorish courtyards are bathed in the scent of orange blossom, erupting into impassioned rhythms of Sevillanos (folk music.)
Andalucía’s regional capital has no shortage of superlatives. The city’s venerable history is revealed through a mind-blowing juxtaposition of ancient architecture — Mudéjar, Renaissance, and Baroque — that line the streets of the historic Old Town. Seville boasts some of Spain’s most exuberant nightlife, compelling architecture, and beautiful people. Medieval alleyways lined with whitewashed houses surround the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary (the city’s spiritual heart) with its poster child, Giralda (bell tower.) The city’s Moorish legacy finds its greatest expression in the Alcázar Palace, a stunning synthesis of Iberian and Islamic architecture that often ranks among the world’s finest edifices.
Crete in April is a feast for the mind and senses. The cradle of Minoan civilization and the land where Zeus and El Greco were born, Crete’s natural beauty and cultural antiquity is best appreciated during the halcyon days of spring — before the peak summer tourist onslaught — when the island’s traditional way of life is evident and calm prevails. Wildflowers carpet hillsides where shepherds tend to their flocks and whitewashed villages tumble down to golden sandy beaches backed by pine forests where there’s not an umbrella in sight. Within the space of a day, you can explore the otherworldly grottos of Matala’s horseshoe beach, hike up the snow-capped Mount Idha, or dive into the gaping chasms of the Samaria Gorge.
Temperatures in April average 19 degrees Celsius, providing ideal conditions to explore Crete’s mythical landmarks. From Byzantine chapels to bulbous domed mosques that stand as a vivid testimony to the Ottoman Empire’s 250-year-rule over the island, Crete’s cerebral pleasures are overwhelming. Crowning a craggy hilltop, the Venetian fortresses of Rethymno were built in 1573 to defend the island (ineffectually) from piracy and Turkish invasion. Iraklion’s Archaeological Museum showcases artifacts that span over 5,000 years. The Palace of Knossosthe (dating back to 1950 B.C.) — the mythical home of the Minotaur and the world’s most important Minoan site — is overrun with tourists during the summer. In April, you can contemplate the striking confection of ochre columns and vibrant frescoes in peace.
Exotic, mystical, chaotic, and confounding, Marrakech is an assault on the senses, especially after a long, harsh winter. Morocco may be just a three-hour flight from Northern Europe, but this rich tranche of North Africa ripples with ancient traditions, mystery, and more than a whiff of modern cool. Everyone from Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich, and Yves Saint Laurent found inspiration in the Imperial city’s fascinating blend of Eastern and Western influences.
While summer temperatures can easily exceed 30 degrees Celsius, spring’s 20 to 25 degrees Celsius weather is ideal for just about anything. You can immerse yourself in the labyrinthine souks, experience the food stall vendors, snake charmers, and firejugglers of the theatrical Jemaa el-Fna square, sip tea on a hip rooftop bar, or hike and camel trek in the High Atlas Mountains. You can retreat to the the glorious gardens of Jardin Majorelle, an arboreal wonderland of soaring palm trees, stubby cacti, and a dazzling confection of flowers.
Baja California, Mexico
If consistent heat, outdoor adventures, and ease of use are your priorities, Baja in April is pretty hard to beat. Immortalized by John Steinbeck, the lunar landscapes, majestic sierras, and striking coastline of the Baja peninsula defy hyperbole. Unfurling south from La Paz, hirsute cacti (cactus) rise abruptly from a breathtaking desert bearing surreal rock formations. A choppy boat ride from La Paz, the cluster of islands known as Los Islotes, rewards with a gregarious colony of sea lions who captivate snorkelers and divers. South from La Paz, a string of pretty beaches culminate at the gently sloping sands of El Tecolote (perfect for families) where, just offshore, the rich ecosystem of the uninhabited island of Espíritu Santo can be experienced only by boat or kayak; scorpions and rattlesnakes are not the only prickly bedfellows for intrepid campers.
If glamping isn’t your thing, just a short drive north from the spring break revelers of Los Cabos, a string of luxurious hotels occupy stunning, palm-fringed beaches and combine elegance and fine taste with every conceivable amenity. This gilded corridor funnels north to Cabo’s more authentic sibling, San José del Cabo, an understated colonial town awash with galleries and restaurants. From mid-October to mid-April, the ocean off Los Cabos is home to eight species of whale, which affords great whale-watching opportunities.
A land of reinvention and infinite possibility, Japan’s national psyche lends itself quite nicely to the April traveler’s quest for renewal. With pleasant weather (the average temperature is 20 degrees Celsius), April is one of the best times to visit Japan. It’s worth noting, however, that late April sees tourist numbers rise (and corresponding rate hikes) due to the start of the national holiday period known as ‘Golden Week.’
Everyone loves a fine cherry blossom show and nothing quite compares to the pearl-pink cherry blossoms of Tokyo’s Ueno Park, which is also home to stellar cultural institutions such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, National Science Museum, and National Museum of Western Art. Framed by April blue skies, the perfect cone of snow-capped Mount Fuji provides an ethereal counterpart to the sci-fi vision of Shinjuku with its glass and steel skyscrapers emblazoned with neon.
As for awakening the palette, Japanese cuisine is a sensational fusion of innovative, clean flavors, and refreshing ingredients sporting innumerable Michelin stars. Über fresh sushi or the artful, haute cuisine known as kaiseki provide the perfect antidote to months of comfort food.