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It’s that time of year when summer already feels like a distant memory, nights are drawing in and the sun seems to have vanished. So how to cheer ourselves up as winter approaches? Well, here’s one obvious way! Book next year’s big family break before Santa has even harnessed his reindeer. Not only do you then have seven days away fixed in your 2011 diary – an event to look forward to through the darkest months – but you’ll also save up to 20 per cent if you make an early villa booking in any of these great destinations...

Glorious Greece

The home of Zeus has long been a favourite of holidaymakers seeking self-catering breaks amid stunning scenery. Villas in Greece range from simple hideaways for couples to five-bedroom palaces ideal for two families to share. But where exactly to go? One frequently overlooked possibility is Lefkas. The most northerly of the Greek islands is less busy than some of its counterparts, yet blessed with beautiful beaches, endless hidden coves, a rugged interior great for hiking, and superb views across to neighbouring isle Meganissi. Lefkas villas on offer include properties in Ligia, an idyll on the east coast, from which you can see the mainland in the hot hazy distance.

Captivating Cyprus

Greece’s near neighbour has long been famed for unfussy bargain tourism. But this ancient island also caters for those who fancy something a little more exclusive. You can find a whole range of luxury villas in Cyprus, not least in Latchi, a small town on the west coast that, although no longer the sleepy fishing village it once was, has not lost its appeal as it has grown. Various sand and shingle beaches, gently lapped by the Mediterranean, add up to lovely locations for idling away the day, while a pretty marina, with its selection of bars, shops and restaurants, takes care of the evening. Or you can simply relax in the sun by your villa’s pool, admiring the glint of light on the ocean below.

Magical Malta

There is an argument that says Malta is the Mediterranean’s most underrated island – a craggy bluff that has been a key point on the European map for over three millennia. This plays out in some of the wonders of the past dotted across its map – the medieval citadel of Mdina, the historic capital Valletta, whose fortifications and churches still rear above a wide harbour. But more than this, Malta is a place to chill out, especially on Gozo, the rural sister island that lies just north of its bigger sibling. Gozo villas are available in Ghasri, a place where you can certainly get away from it all – nestled in a hillside setting, this is the village with the tiniest population in the entire country.

Marvellous Majorca

Sometimes dismissed – unfairly – as a haven for stag and hen parties, Majorca is far more than a gaudy hotspot of tacky late-night bars. The largest of the Balearic islands is defiantly Spanish, and home to some breathtaking scenery – picturesque Andratx in the west, the dramatic sweep of the Serra De Tramuntana mountains in the north. And the east, too, has its charms. Pollensa is a hugely pleasant town of squares and cafes, surrounded by fields and olive groves, and a mile inland from an excellent stretch of beach. Furthermore, some of the best villas in Majorca are located here, each making a fine base for a week of cosy family meals – or a few evenings of tasty local tapas.

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