If you know where to look you can still enjoy the last few rays of sunshine with just a short flight from the UK. Mr and Mrs Smith pick the best late, late summer sun breaks
So summer’s over, and sleepy stays by the beach are off the agenda. But the autumn season means the kids are back at school, the crowds are smaller and peak-season prices are no more. Boutique hotel specialists Mr and Mrs Smith pick the best late, late summer sun breaks, in Florence, Seville, the Dordogne and Marrakech.
This fine city – a love affair between culture, commerce and good living – has long been fêted as the most aesthetically pleasing in all Italy. Tuscany’s capital notches up more past glories than the average continent, and still leads from the front: between its fairy-tale squares, centuries-old churches and sprawling palaces run streets alive with energy, style and irresistible shopping.
The city centre is architecturally breathtaking, and compact enough to stroll around in an afternoon. Follow heart-stirring glimpses of the gingerbread-hued Duomo and its frosting-pale Campanile down narrow streets, and eat Italian soul food in a simple trattoria.
Florence is packed with tourists throughout the summer, when it’s also very humid, making autumn the time to go.
Where to stay: Il Salviatino is a ravishingly updated 15th-century villa high in the hills over Florence. It’s home to a museum’s stash of 19th-century frescoes, antique bath tubs and valuable artworks. Beautiful boudoirs are graced with oak floors, silver candelabra and fresh orchids, and there are two restaurants, a bar and a spa to explore.
Seville province, Spain
The sultry Andalucian province of Seville is the very soul of southern Spain: whitewashed villages decked with orange blossom; tapas and sherry after an evening stroll; passionate nights of flamenco and fiesta. The city of full-blooded Sevillanos is rich with Moorish influence and Catholic ceremony, and filled with cathedrals, ornate palaces and foot-stamping flamenco clubs.
The pristine beaches of the Costa de la Luz, equally wild and untamed, stretch for miles along the coast. Yet only an hour’s drive away, you can calm your heartbeat in the chestnut woods and sleepy pueblos blancos of the sierras.
The Seville region can be very hot in summer but autumn is warm and peaceful. The region enjoys plenty of sunshine, even in winter, so there’s never really a bad time to visit.
Where to stay: Corral del Rey. This whitewashed boutique hotel, tucked away in one of the labyrinthine narrow streets of Seville’s old quarter, is a reinvention of a 17th-century casa palacio that preserves Roman marble pillars alongside medieval Mudéjar wooden doorways. You can see the whole city from Corral del Rey’s poolside rooftop mirador.
In the warm valleys of south-western France, where the Dordogne, Isle and Lot rivers wriggle their way to the Atlantic, the lush landscape, sunny days and mild temperatures combine to produce perfect conditions for grapes and truffles. Happily, these are also ideal surroundings in which to linger and enjoy the world’s finest wines and the region’s gastronomic specialities.
The names of the honey-coloured mediaeval towns, villages and châteaux of the Périgord are instantly recognisable to gourmets, from the vineyards of Bergerac and St-Émilion to the truffle stalls of Périgueux. Here, time is measured in vintages and happiness comes by the glass.
Summer in the Dordogne is when the mercury soars but so do the crowds. September and October, however, are quieter and you’ll still enjoy fine weather (as well as the all-important grape harvest).
Where to stay: Château les Merles near Bergerac has a pool, tennis courts and golf course. Enjoy Perigordine cuisine in the hotel’s restaurants and try wines from the château’s own vineyard.
Marrakech is a city unlike any other: nowhere is exoticism better showcased than in this ochre-and-rose-hued North African hive of activity. Indulge in a hammam at your tile-and-tadelakt riad, barter for treasures in the kaleidoscopic souks, then snack on pigeon pie from a stall in the grand place, amid snake charmers and belly dancers.
To escape the hurly burly of the medina, sup on tajine and couscous in a chic cushion-filled restaurant in the Kasbah, or sip Cristal by candlelight in a hip, muslin-draped, after-hours hang-out in the new town of Guéliz.
July and August are unbearably sweltering in the Moroccan capital, but autumn is delightfully balmy and October/November is a wonderful time to visit.
Where to stay: Les Deux Tours, situated in the city’s lush Palmeraie, is a stylish boutique resort of traditionally styled, tartari-ceilinged villas, sitting in some of the loveliest gardens in Morocco. With a hammam, some incredibly chic bars and two top-class restaurants, it’s the sort of place you could lose days in.