Many destinations bloom in the off-season, offering better value, fewer crowds and charming atmosphere, writes Nick Trend.
There are drawbacks to off-season travelling. A cold, wet, windy seaside resort where most cafes and hotels are closed is hardly appealing. But some places come into their own at times when most visitors might consider them too hot, cold or wet. Visit then and not only can you enjoy the sights without the crowds, at lower prices, but you may get a glimpse of the true character of a city or landscape.
I arrived in Bruges in January and it snowed overnight, transforming the Belgium town into something that looked akin to a Pieter Bruegel painting. Once, when travelling across Siberia by train in December, the immensity of the landscape was made even more mind-blowing by the intensity of the cold.
Here are eight places that can be particularly good out of season.
Marrakesh in August
The wall of hot air that hit me as I stepped off the airconditioned overnight train to the platform for a first visit to Marrakesh was something I had never experienced before. It took a day or so to get used to, but the desert heat is very dry and it seems to intensify the exotic side to the city - somehow the colours seem brighter and the sounds and smells more mysterious. If it gets too hot, escape to the cool of the nearby Atlas Mountains.
Tuscany in October
This is harvest time and is a wonderful season to explore a region fixated on its food and wine. Enjoy the grapes, nuts, mushrooms, figs, olives and chestnuts, harvest celebrations, and a general air of fun and festivity that breaks out after most tourists have gone home.
Tanzania in November
The great sight for safari-goers in Tanzania and Kenya is the wildebeest migration north in August. Prices are sky-high and parks and lodges crowded. But in November, you can see animals on their way back south in, for example, the Lobo Valley in northern Tanzania. In November, prices are lower yet the all-round experience is just as fascinating.
Venice in November
In summer, heat draws pungent odours from the canals; in winter, Venice can be bitterly cold. However, there's a window between the fall-off in visitors at the end of October and winter. Those first few weeks of November still have warmth in the air and the first atmospheric mists of autumn arrive.
Reykjavik in winter
Ever bathed in a hot spring while the temperature outside is below zero and you're watching the Northern Lights electrify the sky? Try Reykjavik in winter for the chance to combine it all, as well as enjoy lively nightlife and good restaurants. It's an offbeat off-season holiday.
St Petersburg in December
Russia is all about winter - ask Napoleon. Unlike him, the Russians know exactly how to cope. As long as you bring the right clothes you will not be cold, you can enjoy the Hermitage Museum without a sea of tourists, and you'll experience a snowbound city of atmosphere.
Rome in January
Although it's generally mild and sunny enough to be pleasant exploring sights during the day, the Italian capital in January can be chilly at night. However, the city's residents are used to it and make their restaurants and hotels cosy. You will even find open fires in some back rooms.
Provence in February
The risk of visiting Provence out of season is that it can be cold and grey. But the first taste of spring comes early. I have basked in the sunshine in mid-February when the almond blossom is already out, the skies are luminous and there are few other visitors. Reduce the risk of encountering bad weather by watching the forecast and booking late in the month.