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How to turn 26 days of annual leave into 56 days of holiday (and where to go)

Mauritius is a must-visit destination for 2024
Mauritius is a must-visit destination for 2024 - Alamy Stock Photo

Much as work always seems to expand to fill the time allowed, so – inversely – your annual leave allowance never seems to fill the working year it is designed to brighten. No matter how careful you are with those precious nuggets of 24 hours, you could always use a few more of them; for a long weekend here, or a much-needed dash to the sun there.

So how to ensure that, by November, you haven’t burnt through every minute of your permitted time off? One way is to eke out some crucial extra moments via judicious use of bank holidays and other national days off. Depending on where you live in the UK, you are entitled to at least eight of them over the course of the year, and with a spot of clever planning, they can ensure that your out-of-office memo is turned on to maximum effect.

How to deploy them in 2024? Read on…

Easter

Book nine days off for a 17-day holiday (March 29-April 14)

Bank holidays: March 29 (Good Friday); April 1 (Easter Monday)

Book off: April 2-5, 8-12

March and April have always been a fertile field when it comes to making the most of your annual leave, with their two precious bank holidays book-ending the Easter weekend. But with the summer becoming increasingly hot worldwide – witness last July’s wildfires on Greek islands – it may be worth reframing the working year’s first proper pause as a chance, not just for an easy mini-break, but for that main annual getaway. Particularly as the school holidays fall neatly within this same window. A full fortnight away? Why not?

Big idea: April is a perfect month to visit Florida. The Sunshine State is not yet trapped in the humidity of summer, and is well clear of the hurricane threat of September. Bon Voyage (0800 316 3012) offers a 15-day “Discover the Real Florida” road trip that explores the state in detail, starting on the Gulf coast in Tampa, then taking its time down the Atlantic shore, ending in Miami. From £2,125 per person – with flights.

La Menara Gardens in Marrakech
La Menara Gardens in Marrakech - Alamy

Family fun: The extended Easter period is long enough to accommodate the “Highlights of Morocco” trip offered by family-travel specialists Stubborn Mule (01728 752751) – a 15-day odyssey that combines Saharan camel rides and Atlas mountain hikes with Fez and Marrakech. From £2,400pp, including flights.

Home shores: A fortnight in Cornwall at Easter? That isn’t the worst idea – the county should be less busy than in August, and the weather should be pleasant. You can still book yourself into “Lakeside”, a four-bedroom retreat that sleeps up to eight on the south coast at Millbrook. A 16-night stay, checking in on March 29, costs £3,426 in total, through Sykes Cottages (01244 356 6666).

Early May

Book four days off for a nine-day holiday (May 4-12)

Bank holiday: May 6 (May Day)

Book off: May 7-10

Unless there is a very unexpected turn of events, there will be no coronation this year to plump up the bank-holiday count (May 8 popped into the diary in 2023 as a bonus day off, 48 hours after crown and King had formally met at Westminster Abbey). But the traditional national halt for May Day merriment is an opportunity for a week off without a week’s cost in annual leave – just as Europe is reaching its shoulder-season sweet spot.

Big idea: In contrast to the attritional high 30s endured last summer, the temperature in Greece tends to be hovering in the low 20s come the start of May; an ideal context for a getaway to the beaches of the Ionian Sea. Here, Kefalonia is an excellent choice – not just the largest island off the country’s west coast, but a tourism hub served by a wide array of flights from the UK. An eight-night stay at the four-star Magnolia Resort (on the southern shore, at Katelios), flying from Gatwick on May 4, starts at £816 per person, with Olympic Holidays (020 8492 6868).

May is a great month for a walking holiday to Pembrokeshire
May is a great month for a walking holiday to Pembrokeshire - Alamy Stock Photo

Home shores: May also brings the sort of weather where you can readily step out into the British countryside in shirt sleeves, rather than cower by the fireside in a jumper. And eight days is long enough to take strides along one of our most significant stretches of shoreline. Macs Adventure (01415 304497) offers an eight-day trek along the central section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path – covering 59 miles from Pembroke to St David’s. From £910pp – including hotels and daily bag transfers.

Spring Bank Holiday

Book four days off for a nine-day holiday (May 25-June 2)

Bank holiday: May 27 (Spring Bank Holiday)

Book off: May 28-31

Unlike the month’s first state-mandated day off, the Spring Bank Holiday at the end of May coincides exactly with the school half-term break. Great news if you have children and want to grab a week in the sun before the Mediterranean really heats up; and still a pretty special scenario if you are unencumbered by youngsters and just want to relax by a pool.

Big idea: Much like the Greek islands, Mallorca may be at its best in May, flirting with the mid-20sC where July can be 10 degrees higher. There is also a greater availability in the villas dotted across what – beautifully, and with a mountainous drama along its north-west flank – is the biggest of the Balearics. Vintage Travel (01954 261 431) offers a wide range of Mallorcan properties – including Marinara, a two-bedroom retreat, with swimming pool, close to Pollenca in the north-east of the landmass. It is still available for the week starting May 25 for £1,474; flights extra.

Mallorca's beaches are best explored late spring
Mallorca's beaches are best explored late spring - Alamy Stock Photo

Family fun: The same delicate dance on the temperature gauge applies to the Algarve, which clings to 22C or so in May, but is a good 10C hotter come August. A good moment for a getaway with younger family members, then. Maybe to the five-star Pine Cliffs Hotel – which hangs tall above Praia da Falesia beach, outside Albufeira. Here, a range of kids’ clubs entertain children up to the age of 12, but there is also culinary finesse in restaurants like seafood specialist O Pescador. An eight-night stay for a family of four, flying from Birmingham (to Faro) on May 25, starts at £6,498 in total, including private transfers and breakfast – with Sovereign Luxury Travel (01293 324157).

Home shores: Britain’s woodlands are a little easier to reach – and accessible via Forest Holidays (0333 011 0495) and its portfolio of cabins under the canopy. Thirteen of the company’s sites have availability for half-term stints of hiking, biking, foraging and winding down – including the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire (from £1,895), Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire (from £1,835), Cropton in North Yorkshire (from £1,645), and Strathyre in the Scottish Highlands (from £1,465). All prices relate to a seven-night stay for a family of four – arriving after school on May 24.

Summer bank holiday

Book four days off for a nine-day holiday (August 24-September 1)

Bank holiday: August 26 (Summer Bank Holiday)

Book off: August 27-30

Big idea: If you have decided to avoid the Med when the mercury is at its highest, you may need to look north. Perhaps to Scandinavia. Sweden is as sun-dappled and pleasant in August as it can be snowy and dramatic in December, and the last pre-Christmas bank holiday of the year falls at a time when the land of Abba and Ibrahimovic is still enjoying long evenings. Baltic Travel Company (020 8233 2875) offers a tour of the Swedish south that makes maximum use of the available window, ticking off Stockholm, Gothenburg and the pastoral delights of the Dalarna region. This nine-day “Highlights of Sweden Fly-Drive” costs from £1,085pp, with flights and car hire.

Stockholm is an alternative summer holiday destination
Stockholm is an alternative summer holiday destination - Alamy Stock Photo

Family fun: As well as looking north for cooler climes, you can look up. The August Bank Holiday is a last chance to squeeze in a summer break with the children before school restarts – at a moment when the French Alps are offering a mix of warmth and wildness. Club Med (0345 367 6767) has a raft of Alpine resorts that, though primarily geared to winter and skiing, are splendid options in the middle of the year. A week’s stay at the group’s Val d’Isère property, flying from Heathrow to Geneva on August 24, starts at £7,292 in total, including meals, transfers and kids’ club activities.

Home shores: Of course, you can look north and up at the same time – without leaving the UK. Exodus Adventure Travels (020 3553 0108) will happily fill this August window with its “Walking the West Highland Way” break – a self-guided nine-day hike across 94 miles of Scottish scenery, from Milngavie to Fort William via Loch Lomond, Ben Nevis and Glen Coe. From £1,079 per person, including accommodation.

Christmas and New Year

Book five days off for a 12-day holiday (December 21-January 1)

Bank holidays: December 25 (Christmas Day); December 26 (Boxing Day); January 1 (New Year’s Day)

Book off: December 23-24, 27, 30-31

Big idea: If you have ever told yourself that next year you will swap over-feasting and fraught family conversations for Christmas on the beach, the three bank holidays of the festive period make the fantasy entirely realistic. Line up flights on the correct days, and you could be in Barbados long before Santa has landed on your roof, and away until the strains of Auld Lang Syne have ceased. True, December is one of the costliest months for a Caribbean getaway, but what price can you put on turkey-free relaxation? An 11-night all-inclusive escape to the five-star adults-only Sandals Barbados, flying from Heathrow on December 21, costs from £5,607pp, through Virgin Holidays (0344 472 9646).

Spend Christmas in Barbados
Spend Christmas in Barbados - Alamy Stock Photo

Family fun: If you are really ambitious – or are just grimly determined to avoid another bad-tempered game of charades – then you could treat your entire brood to festive seafront finesse. You can just about squeak in a Christmas dash to Mauritius – this Indian-Ocean jewel’s rainy season does not begin until January. A 12-day half-board holiday for a family of four to the four-star Preskil Island Resort, flying from Gatwick on December 21, starts at £9,904 in total with Last Minute (020 3386 8411).

Home shores: If you would prefer, beachside Christmas escapes – the bracing, blustery kind – are also available in the UK. Luxury Coastal (0330 113 7005) has a wide range of seafront properties, including the three-bedroom Lighthouse View at Brixham, in Devon. An 11-night stay, arriving on December 21, will cost £1,590 in total.

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