Escape the Cold: 10 European Destinations for a Sunny Winter Getaway"
Spending the winter in Europe is not unpleasant: frost-covered forest roads, snow-capped mountains, and comfortable wooden chalets are not lacking in attractions. But when the reality is mostly dark clouds, biting winds, and gray, freezing melted snow, it may be a good time to go where the weather is milder.
And you don't have to go very far: if you won't find tropical temperatures, southern Europe offers plenty of blue skies and sunshine all year round. In addition, getting there in the low season means very advantageous hotel or car rental rates, while the beaches and local sights are not very crowded. Do you already feel that your toes are thawing? Escape the extreme cold with this winter holiday, in Europe and in the sun.
Malta: A Perfect Destination for Nature Lovers
Summer in Malta can be hot; winter days, cooler (but rarely below 10°C) are perfect for exploring nature. Climbing and hiking are delicious, and the countryside is green. Culture and history lovers will try to attend, at the time of the winter solstice, the sunrise at the temple of Mnajdra, when the sun illuminates exactly the contours of a megalith, or come to attend the Carnival of Malta, in February, with its parades and night festivals.
The weather in Malta is bad? If you have to take shelter, think big. The baroque interior of Valletta's UNESCO-listed Co-Cathedral of St. John is a magnificent way to escape a downpour.
Cyprus: Enjoy Warm Weather and Spot Flamingos
With over 340 days of sunshine a year, Cyprus is a good choice to spend the winter warm in the Mediterranean. If the snow sparkles on the peaks of the Troodos massif (skiers, take note!), the coastal regions, and especially the east, are warmer and drier. Stay in Larnaca to spot flamingos dancing near their winter home on the nearby salt lake, then see historical treasures like the Tombs of the Kings and the ancient city of Kourion.
The weather in Cyprus is bad? Spend a rainy afternoon visiting the antique artifacts of the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia, or find a cozy taverna, and have one of those long Cypriot feasts.
The Algarve: A Sunny Winter Getaway with Waterfalls and Empty Beaches
The Algarve is an increasingly popular destination in winter, thanks to more than 300 days of sunshine a year and 87 Blue Flag beaches. Winter brings waterfalls back to life in the eucalyptus forests of the Serra de Monchique, migratory birds stop at the Ria Formosa Natural Park, and the famous beach of Quinta do Lago is deliciously empty. If you can handle water at 14°C (57°F), now is the time to surf. Golfers are also spoilt for choice. Open your appetite before going to dinner in the cities with the limed houses of Faro, Lagos, or Tavira.
The weather in the Algarve is bad? The interior of the church of São Lourenço, near Loulé, is a paradise for lovers of Azulejos; These decorated blue ceramic tiles cover almost the entire surface, from floor to ceiling.
Crete: Experience Off-Season Life and Explore the Island's History
In winter, you will have to make a stopover in Athens to arrive in Crete. Many seaside resorts will be deserted or almost deserted: stay in Heraklion or Chania to get an idea of off-season life (and have the chance to find restaurants open) before renting, for next to nothing, a car and setting off to explore the island. On sunny days, you may have the pink sand of Elafonisi or the palace of Knossos to yourself. Temperatures can soar to 16°C (61°F) in January, but nights are much colder, so pack sweaters.
The weather in Crete is bad? Discover 5,000 years of history at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, one of the most beautiful museums in Greece.
Sicily: Immerse Yourself in Color and Culture
Winter is full of color in Sicily; citrus fruits are heavy with ripening oranges, lemons, and limes, market stalls in Catania and Palermo are drowning in fresh vegetables, fish and nuts – and all over the island people are preparing for Carnevale. The weather can change quickly but with eight hours of average sunshine and temperatures that can reach double those of London, the risk is worth taking.
The weather in Sicily is bad? Villa Romana del Casale houses the largest collection of Roman floor mosaics in the world, its wooden roof protects them – and will protect you – from the elements.
Seville: A City Break with Plenty of Sun and Monuments
If you're looking for a city break this winter, look no further than Seville. The temperature frequently reaches 17°C (63°F), with at least six hours of sunshine a day – but don't forget your umbrella, just in case. The most beautiful monuments, the Plaza de Espana and the Alcazar include covered parts and others in the open air, which allows you to enjoy the sun or shelter from a passing downpour. Take an evening stroll along the modern Metropol Parasol, nicknamed here Las Setas ("The Mushrooms").
The weather in Seville is bad? Visit Seville's splendid cathedral (and look for the tomb of Christopher Columbus) or hit palms and heels at the Flamenco Museum, where you can take a class or catch a performance.
Madeira: An Island with Mild Winters and Endless Hiking Opportunities
Madeira, the remote Portuguese island in the northern Canary Islands, renowned for its "eternal spring", keeps all its promises. Mild winters are the norm here, and the temperature rarely drops below 14°C (57°F). The beaches are rocky but the water is good, so pack your swimsuit, or sign up for a dolphin and whale-watching tour. If you prefer dry land, Madeira's mountainous interior is ideal for hiking; Walk along the Levadas, the ancient irrigation networks that have been distributing water throughout the island for more than a century, and which now provide hydroelectricity.
The weather in Madeira is bad? Relax with tea and watch the rain fall. The Belmond Reid's Palace in Funchal has seen Winston Churchill and Roger Moore (aka James Bond) – why not you?
Turkey's Turquoise Coast: A Hidden Gem for Off-Season Adventure
Turkey's Turquoise Coast attracts a lot of tourists in the summer – maybe it's because of the color of the water – but when the crowds leave, it's just you, sumptuous scenery, and an average of 10 hours of sunshine a day. Moderate temperatures guarantee hikes with much less sweat than in August, so why not tackle some of the 540 km (335 miles) of the Lycian Way? The road winds between Fethiye and Antalya, passing countless ruins and other perched wonders like the ruins of Levissi, ancient Patara, and the (almost entirely) sunken city of Simena.
The weather in Turkey is bad? Warm up, relax your legs and enjoy a treatment in a hammam (Turkish bath), which can be found in almost every major city.
Spain's Balearic Islands: A Winter Retreat for Sun, History, and Diving
Summer visitors love these Spanish islands but they are just as charming in winter. The music has fallen silent and the partygoers of Ibiza are long gone but the sunsets and beautiful beaches remain. Steeped in history, Mallorca is quieter and cheaper. Less known, Menorca attracts nature lovers with favorable weather for hiking and the Camí de Cavalls, its coastal path, while the small Formentera attracts those who are really looking to retreat from the world.
The weather in the Balearic Islands is bad? As long as you get wet, you might as well go diving. The temperature of the Mediterranean makes it possible to dive around the caves and wrecks of the Balearic Islands all year round.
Embrace the Weather in the Canary Islands
Want secret sand dunes and coves, volcanic national parks, and forested mountains? Colorful villages, attractive restaurants, and plenty of water sports? Everything is there, all year round, in the Canary Islands! Tenerife and Gran Canaria are often the warmest islands, in winter, with maximum temperatures around 22°C (71°F). Lanzarote and Fuerteventura can be windier, which is not necessarily a bad thing if you participate in the annual Fuerteventura Kite Festival, which takes place in November. Less known, La Gomera, La Palma, and El Hierro seem even more off the beaten track than usual.
The weather in the Canary Islands is bad? Adjust to the weather, slow down and book a massage at one of the island's many balneotherapy centers.