Where To Find Your Winter Sun In Europe
When you haven’t seen the sun for what seems an eternity, when you snap your credit card while using it to scrape the ice from your windscreen. When folk all around are discussing in earnest, how tender and emotive the latest John Lewis advertisement is, and the only colours you see outside your window are variations of Payne's Grey, it’s time to escape to warmer climes. There are corners of Europe during the winter months, where temperatures can still be referred to as, balmy! With that in mind, here are 5 of our favourite European destinations for those seeking the winter sun.
Crete - Greece
Crete is cosseted by the sunlit Mediterranean Sea, and if you’re a culture vulture, as well as a winter sun seeker this is the place for you. In the Winter months there’s not a tourist in site, and happily most of the museums and attractions are still open. Potter around the archaeological museum in Chania, which can be found in the church of San Francesco, a charming example of Venetian ecclesiastical architecture. The museum houses pottery, weapons, seal-stones and bejewelled trinkets; all from the Minoan and Neolithic Roman periods. When your done, take a stroll through the sun washed cobbled alleyways of Topanas. Notice the Venetian mansions, and picture book perfect chapels, then grab a coffee at one of the cafes, bars or bakeries on the waterfront at the old harbour. With the elements on your side, the winter months in Crete are perfect for biking and hiking. Samaria Gorge at 16 kilometres in length is one of the longest gorges in Europe. The Gorge is a striking natural beauty, and along the way you’ll find remnants of Byzantine churches and castles, take your time and have a peek. You can’t beat the aesthetics of winter in Crete, by January the place is verdant, the spring flora and fauna have arrived, and there’s a leisurely carefree off-season atmosphere to enjoy. During the winter months, temperatures can reach lows of 10°C, and highs of 17°C, so if your very good you may just be able to sunbathe in silence on the pink sands of Elafonisi beach. The major tourist resorts are closed in winter, so it’s best to stay with the locals in villages and towns such as Chania and Plaka. Try the local food and drink found in the Tavernas of Drapanos, Kalives, and Armenoi. Public transport is not reliable during off season, but car hire is at its cheapest in winter, so you’ll still be able to get around without breaking the bank.
Lisbon - Portugal
Lisbon is appealing at any time of the year, but in the winter months there’s a special something. The light seems softer somehow, fountains, gardens, and 18th century cafes; like the Café Nicola, seem to be waiting just for you. There’s not a queue or coach tour in sight, and sumptuous Neoclassical monuments such as The Palace of Ajuda, draw you in while whispering they haven’t seen a soul all day. In the milder winter climes, your more inclined to spend hours dawdling in cities and rambling through Lisbon’s rural idylls. While you’ve done away with your winter woollens, the locals find the winter temperatures positively chilly, and warm up with hearty servings of traditional Portuguese cuisine. For truly authentic dining, head to Sr Fado, treat yourself to their Seafood Cataplana, it’s overflowing with sea bream; mussels and shrimp. When you’ve had your fill, lean back in your chair and listen to the melancholy sound of the traditional Fado music. If it’s a winter thrill you seek, the waves brought in by Portugal’s Atlantic coastline are always impressive, but winter brings the monster waves, just the ticket if you’re into surfing. Conditions for kayaking, canoeing and rafting are all best during the winter months, the rapids are faster and the rivers swollen. The best surf in Portugal can be found at Peniche Beach, where they hold the ‘Rip Curl Pro’ event, and in the extreme south-west between Sagres and Comporta. Temperatures December through to February can reach lows of 10°C, and highs of 16°C, and of course there’s more rainfall, so though you won’t need your winter coat; do pack a Gilet.
Almeria - Spain
Almería is partly desert, so it follows that it’s coast stays warmer for longer than any other part of Andalusia, making Almeria an ideal spot to escape your winter blues. In the winter months, a walk along the seasonally deserted beaches that line the coast, will put a pep in your step. The Cabo de Gata, a terrestrial-maritime Nature Reserve, is a must see. Obscured coves, ravaged castles, crescent shaped bays, and the unspoiled arid landscapes; are a little hypnotic in the cloudless winter sun, not to mention the expansive coral reefs. Speaking of coral reefs, how about a spot of winter scuba. Mojacar, situated in the south east of Almeria, has some first-rate dive sites for divers of all ability’s. The dives are remarkably colourful even in the winter months, not a bit of Payne’s Grey to be seen. If winter scuba isn’t your cup of Darjeeling, there’s always golf. Inspired by the desert courses of Arizona, Desert Springs is Europe’s only award-winning Par 72 international championship desert course. The course has its very own cacti, dry river beds and rocky nooks, making for an authentic desert golf experience. For a little culture head to the Alcazaba, a magnificent Medieval fortress built by the Caliph of Cordoba, in AD 955. Wonder through the grandiose gardens at your leisure, and admire the Moorish aspects. During the winter months, temperatures in Almeria can reach lows of 10 oC, and highs of 18 oC, and while you run the risk of some cold and rainy days; it’s mostly shorts & T-shirt weather.
Cefalu - Italy
Situated midway along the Tyrrhenian coast, between Palermo and Messina, you’ll find Cefalu. If you’re the unhurried easy-going type, then winter in Cefalu will suit you. Winter days still bring reasonably warm weather, and though it can be crisp at night, it’s never prohibitively cold. Off season, you’re not fighting the crowds, making it so much easier to soak up the historic old-world Sicilian atmosphere. The little shops found in the tangled narrow streets, will still be open in winter, as will the museums and churches. Norman in architectural style, the Cathedral-Basilica is a masterpiece, with its gothic accents and cloistered gardens, its the jewel in Cefalù’s crown. There are several pieces of note to be found at the Mandralisca museum, it’s also worth seeing the Lavatoio, a Saracen wash-house, where women would gather and wash clothes century’s ago. A seamless blend of modern living and medieval heritage, Cefalu in the winter is a sun dappled refuge. If you’re a foodie, Cefalu is a culinary hotspot, though French in name, the Ristorante Le Chat Noir serves authentic Sicilian fare. Rustic and traditional, you’ll enjoy the Caponata, an aubergine dish seasoned with sweetened vinegar, served alongside capers in a sweet and sour sauce. Al Porticciolo, is undeniably cosmopolitan, and from the terrace there's an exquisite view of Cefalù’s rocky coastline. Try the Wild Boar & Porcini, served with a celeriac sauce, and if you’ve room for dessert, order a classic Sicilian cassata. Temperatures in Cefalu during winter can reach lows of 7oC, and highs of 14oC.
Words by George Carter