Pump up the central heating and turn down your blankets; winter isn’t coming to Europe, it’s very much here and it’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, now the festivities of Christmas are over and you can’t even wear your Christmas jumper anymore, there’s really nothing warm to look forward to for months. Unless, of course, you’re smart enough to escape and head south, which is something I’m thinking of doing. So, I set about doing a little research and a lot of daydreaming and here are the results, my top five favourite places in Europe where I won’t need my winter coat.
credit: Thomas Tolkein
Without comparison, the warmest place to be in Europe during winter months is on one of the Canary Islands. Sitting pretty in the Atlantic, off the coast of West Africa, winter months have nearly 200 hours of sunshine and temperatures are warm enough to sunbathe in. With a wide variety of activities to enjoy on each island, and some quite dramatic scenery and interesting history to explore, the Canary Islands don’t disappoint as a winter holiday destination. Indulge in some luxury on Gran Canaria, ride a camel on Lanzarote, discover Tenerife’s foodie scene or lie on one of Fuertaventura’s white sand beaches. And if you’re not sure which Canary Island is for you, read this post to find out which one is best suited to you and your family.
Another island lost in the Atlantic, Madeira is where many go to escape winter thanks to its mild temperatures and as much as ten hours of sunshine a day in January. A gem worth discovering at any time of year, Madeira is especially great to visit in winter months due to the reduced numbers of visitors and the low cost of living will make it a very affordable trip after your Christmas splurging. The island’s capital, Funchal, is a wonderful mix of modern and historic with a steep sprawling hillside offering magnificent views of the sea and white-walled and red-roofed houses below, but don’t panic, there’s a cable car to facilitate your climb. Away from the city you can find black volcanic sand beaches, the world’s largest laurel forest and some of the best nature treks in Europe. Don’t forget your sun cream!
Island of Crete, Greece
Greece’s largest and most populated island is found deep in the sunshine-happy Mediterranean Sea and promises temperatures that stay well above 15 degrees Celsius. While the locals will consider this to be positively chilly, for visitors from colder climes, it’s the perfect temperature for taking a hike or bike ride through the island’s mountainous landscape – though be warned it will be chillier up there! Alternatively, stick to the south coast, which is the warmest side of the island and here you’ll find it’s warm enough for the local swallows to stay here all year-round rather than flying off to Africa like their northern European cousins, which tells you how mild it can be during winter. In addition to an abundance of beachside restaurants and bars to enjoy sea views, Crete is a great choice for winter-dodging history buffs as the island is considered to the home of the earliest recorded civilisation in Europe and there are several historic sites to explore including ancient Minoan castles and century old churches.
A little further southeast in the Mediterranean and quite a bit warmer, Cyprus is another island worth escaping to during winter. Temperatures can be as warm as 20 degrees Celsius on the coast and having warmed up all summer, the sea is almost as warm too. This should mean it’s comfortable enough to swim around Aphrodite’s Rock near Paphos, an act that is supposed to give your love life a boost! On average, Cyprus has around 180 hours of sunshine in winter months, which is as much as London gets in May! In terms of what you can do while staying on Cyprus – apart from gloating on Facebook about how warm it is – the choice is yours; enjoy fresh seafood in a coastal restaurant, set off on a hiking adventure, take a boat cruise along the Akamas peninsula or get lost in Old Paphos, an area of great archaeological wealth where you can view mosaics dating back to the 2nd Century.
With a similar climate to Cyprus, Malta is one of the Mediterranean’s best kept secrets, often forgotten in winter, which means that the streets of capital city Valletta or the beaches of nearby Gozo, are emptier than during busy summer months. Surround yourself with some of Europe’s finest examples of Baroque and Neo-Classical architecture by staying in a penthouse apartment in Valletta where you’ll have a range of museums and galleries on your doorstep, or enjoy the city’s growing coffee culture, where you can sit – outside, of course! – and watch the world go by. With temperatures dipping in and out of the low twenties, expect sunshine and a blue sky above, perfect a boat trip to the island of Comino’s turquoise waters or head north on the mainland to Popeye’s Village, a colourful collection of houses built for the 1980 Popeye movie, a favourite with children.
Feeling tempted to escape the winter for a warmer European destination? Let me know where you decide to go and if any of these take your fancy you can find a self-catering apartment in all five destinations here – Canary Islands, Madeira, Crete, Cyprus, Malta.
200km of walking trails: even if we decided not to mention the sub tropical climate, rave about the stunning coastline or the ancient history, we didn’t bother with all the birthplace of Aphrodite stuff or big up the idyllic Mediterranean location, even if we said nothing at all about the forests and mountains, the Byzantine churches and Ottoman architecture, even if the only thing we said was – 200km of walking trails, we can honestly tell you those alone would be worth a visit to Cyprus.
Farming, hunting and forestry have been the backbone of Cyprus for centuries so getting about on foot has a long pedigree and even unofficial, off-the-beaten-track routes here are eminently walkable. Most trails are well signposted and mapped and, with a few exceptions, the level of difficulty and length can be worked out before you even begin to lace your boots.
All the usual walking rules apply: water, high spf, food and low salt/sugar energy snacks, hats, walking shoes or boots, a map (take a paper one as back up because batteries can die), tell someone where you’re going and when you’re leaving and how long you’ll be and always walk to the ability of your youngest or least fit.
Cyprus is the easternmost island in the Mediterranean and its sub-tropical climate means mild weather all year round, but come summer it’s hot – not for nothing is it one of the most popular places in Europe for beach holidays. So it’s a bit of a given that walking anywhere you want to walk is probably best in spring and autumn, but you can trek Cyprus in any season if you tread carefully.
Take To The Hills
The highest mountains on Cyprus are the Troodos, rising to 2,000m above sea level. Mt. Olympus is the range’s highest peak (before you go getting all excited, our scant knowledge of geography/ancient mythology leads us to suspect that any mountain that’s kind of big and grand and lives round these parts, gets to be called Mt. Olympus – if you want you can call this particular one ‘Chionistra’, the locals do). This is the place to head if you’re hiking in summer on Cyprus.
There are four main ‘nature treks’ on the Troodos of varying length and difficulty so there’s challenge for the experienced walker or groups with same-ability members and glorified strolls if you’re just looking for a day out or you’re walking with children or in a mixed-age group.
Atalante – 10km round the base of Chionistra, moderate
This circular walk starts in the town of Troodos and takes you round the base of Chionistra. It’s not a difficult walk and there’s plenty of forest so it’s nice and shady in summer but take care in autumn and winter because they hunt on Cyprus – not for walkers we don’t think. Bit of a hunting side note here: care should be taken walking in most of Western Europe during hunting season– don’t ignore official warning signs and watch your feet in woodland and dense undergrowth, traps are legal in many places.
Artemis – 5km upper level route round Chionistra, low
Again this walk starts in Troodos and takes you higher than Atalante so it’s great for views and vantage points. It’s not a stroll, but it’s not difficult and gives you a good introduction to the Troodos range if you’re thinking about moving on to some of the more ambitious walks/hikes.
Persephone – 4km low level circular from Troodos, low
If you’re packing a picnic and walking with children this is the one for you; circular, easy going, well signposted, lots of pretty places to see and a picnic spot at the half-way mark.
Kaledonia – 3 km walk to Kaledonia Waterfall, moderate
This can be a trek but it’s worth it for the Kaledonia Waterfall at the end, the highest waterfall on Cyprus. The walk starts between Platres and Troodos and climbs up towards the waterfall through woodland, it’s not a great distance but it isn’t a pathway so be prepared.
Keep To The Coast
Cape Greco on the SE coast of Cyprus, close to Larnaca, is famous for its sea caves and there are several easy walks from between 5 and 10 km. The going is good. But build in plenty of time for exploring, swimming and sitting around enjoying the views.
The Akamas Peninsula on the NW Mediterranean coast is where you’ll find cliffs, sea stacks, lagoons and some of the island’s quieter beaches. The most popular walk is from The Baths of Aphrodite to Cape Arnaoutis. This stretches 16km there and back and covers the whole length of the peninsula: a favourite for bird watchers, botanists and wildlife enthusiasts.
Mountains, forests and coasts are the obvious walking choices. But pre-history, history, ancient myth and legend combined with breathtaking scenery mean one of the best ways to enjoy walking on Cyprus is to build your own route.
If you can’t resist temples the island has dozens; make them the key to your walking holiday and map your own route to see as many as possible. Cyprus has some of the most beautiful and beautifully preserved Byzantine Churches in Europe (10 of them are World Heritage sites). The island’s home to the elusive Mouflon Goat (yes, we too thought Mouflon was something our mum made up to get us to wear scratchy jumpers), the super-vain Hoopoe and rare Griffin Eagles. So whether you make Aphrodite and her legion of lesser legends your focus, or go for wildlife, seafood, towns or villages, Cyprus is the ideal place to pick a walking theme and own it.
And of course, if you’re self-catering and living local you’ve got an advantage straight off because no one will know how to walk Cyprus quite like a Cypriot.
Featured image by TeryKats.
In this week’s Flickr Friday we are heading to one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean. Cyprus, this beautiful, unique hodge-podge of an island brings together a huge variety of different cultures. While predominately influenced by the West, its closeness to Africa and Asia lends any holiday spent in Cyprus a hint of the exotic.
From tourist-centric resorts to quaint unexplored villages and wildlands, whether you prefer to spend your time lapping up the sun in luxury, or exploring citrus-scented groves and wildflower-strewn medieval castles, the island of Cyprus truly is a magical place with something for everybody.
Please enjoy this collection of unusual snaps of this unusual island, and have a terrific weekend.
By Dr Phil.
By Brian JC Osborne.
Featured image by tomasz.cc.
It’s a funny thing. Love, the most inconvenient and unpredictable of all emotions, is neatly celebrated once a year on Valentine’s Day. Because of course that’s the day the world at large feels romantic. Apparently every single one of us wakes up on the 14th of February with nothing on our minds but roses and hearts and kittens and chocolate and strangely inflammable looking lingerie. Well here’s a handy Valentine’s Day tip: ‘if it’s supposed to be romantic, it probably isn’t’.
Romance is imaginative, sincere, memorable, unexpected – not rings in pudding, that’s just silly and dangerous. Romance isn’t about a gesture or a day, it’s a shared experience that no one else can have in quite the same way.
So in the true spirit of romance we’re leaving Valentine’s Day to the Divine Order of Retailers and laying claim to the rest of the year instead.
Romance is wherever you happen to be. By yoga – photowork.
Giudecca Island, Venice
When it comes to romantic experiences that just aren’t, The Gondola has to be right up there with a carriage ride round Central Park. We defy you to find a pic. (not posed by models) where the ‘happy couple’ don’t look as if they’re thinking, ‘Please Venice sink faster and take us with you’?
True romantics catch a vaporetto and cross the lagoon to Giudecca Island. Giudecca is the best place to see an uninterrupted panoramic view of St. Marks, its breathtaking Campanile and the skyline of Venice itself. The island’s also home to the world famous Hotel Cipriani and, since you saved a fortune foregoing a gondola, you could afford a cocktail and the pleasure of the hotel’s seductively beautiful gardens.
Hotel Cipriani, Venice. By sabinaharlacz.
The Giant Pandas, Edinburgh
We can’t vouch for any romantic entanglement between Tian Tian and Yang Guang themselves as yet, but we can tell you that Edinburgh’s Giant Pandas are now so popular with everyone else you need to book a time to see them. Good news is you don’t pay extra and you can choose your 20 minute Panda Experience time slot on-line and print your pass. Plus you’ve got the rest of one of the world’s best zoos to enjoy while you’re waiting.
Tian Tian. By afcone.
La Musée de la Vie Romantique, Paris
If anything can kill the spirit of romance quicker than a sweltering summer afternoon spent creeping along in a queue at the base of the Eiffel Tower, we’d love to know.
You’ll find us at 16 Rue Chapital, at the foot of Montmartre hill, taking tea in the garden of La Musée de la Vie Romantique. Once famous for its Friday evening salons where Chopin, Delacroix, Georges Sands, Ingres and even Charles Dickens were guests, 16 Rue Chapital is one of only three Literary Museums in Paris. Small (by Louvre standards) the museum is like a perfectly imagined Parisian home filled with eccentric and intriguing art and ephemera where you can wander around for free any day of the week – except Monday.
La Musée de la Vie Romantique. By eraritjaritjaka.
Orange Blossom, Seville
In spring the streets of Seville are filled with the scent of oranges and orange blossom. It’s not too hot just warm and pleasant. And the streets aren’t crowded with tourists ticking one after another of the city’s Moorish masterpieces off the ‘Must See’ list. If you want to make Seville the setting for your own particular romance, Spring is definitely the time to do it.
Orange lined street. By Simon & Vicki.
Vienna On Ice
When it comes to romance Vienna doesn’t make such a song and dance about things as Paris. It’s quite happy to let the city speak for itself. This is where the waltz was born, home to Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’, chocolate cake is considered part of a balanced diet and just about everyone looks confident, happy and almost unreasonably attractive.
Plus, every winter from January to March the kindly Viennese freeze large parts of the city to let you, and your love, skate. So if you want to leap and whirl or just stumble about try the grand rink in front of Vienna City Hall. Take to the frozen paths of City Hall Park. Go classical at the Wilhelminenberg Palace. Or join everyone else on Friday night for in-line skating – we think you may need to practice this first. It’s outdoors, very Viennese and who doesn’t look desirable in a beanie?
Skating on the Danube. By trbuh.
Wild and Wanton Winter Beaches, Cornwall
We’re the first to admit to a bit of a winter crush on wild British beaches. The weather doesn’t matter because it’s not August so we don’t (foolishly) expect too much sun. And crashing surf make us feel rugged and explorer like.
From windswept Godrevy on the North Coast to the gentler sweep of Praa Sands in the South, Cornwall does beaches – lots of them. And, as an added bonus, almost every Cornish beach comes with a cosy pub not too far away. So once you’ve braved the elements, faced down your fears and made it back from the wild, you can cuddle up and have tea.
Fresh, clear and cold. By grakki.
Night and Day Amsterdam
It doesn’t really matter what they’re showing at Amsterdam’s Theatre Tuschinski book a Love Seat. Then sit back with some food and wine and enjoy the old fashioned romance of this wonderfully grand and eccentric Art Deco cinema.
A Saturday picnic is a bit of a tradition and the best place to pick up supplies is De Negen Straatjes, the city’s irresistible shopping district. Just a short walk from Dam Square and spread out over the network of 17th century canals, De Negen Straatjes is where the very tall, very elegant and very charming citizens of Amsterdam gather at the weekend to make the rest of us feel like a sub-species. For your picnic spot choose nearby Vondel Park; sitting on the grass, holding hands and looking picturesque is almost the law here.
Tuschinski Theatre, Amsterdam. By Kees van Mansom.
Birthplace of Aphrodite, Paphos is known for beaches, glorious weather, secluded swimming coves and wonderful walks. What better way to worship the Greek Goddess of Love’s bounty than by making the most of her home town? Best time to visit is Autumn or Spring when the Mediterranean climate is only perfect for cycle rides, lazing in the sea, long picnic lunches and touring the Temples.
Cyprus sunsets. By sweenpole2001.
Horseshoe Bar, The Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin
The most famous thing about Dublin’s most famous hotel is the iconic Horseshoe Bar. Name checked no less than four times in James Joyce’s Ulysses, just having a drink here gives romance a glamorously louche and Worldly edge.
Horseshoe Bar. By aj842.
A Moment in Barcelona
At about half past seven on a late summer’s evening the crowds, queues and postcard sellers have moved on, La Sagrada Familia is silent and Barcelona is in between day and night. There’s a little park just opposite the Cathedral where you can sit and have a glass of wine in the last warmth of the sun. The Passion Façade is yours alone for just that very brief time. It’s an almost perfect moment.
The Last Supper, The Passion Facade, La Sagrada Familia. By bobcat rock.
Happy Valentine’s Day – and the rest!
Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat, please put a penny aside… so you can escape the cold and enjoy the festive season in one of these sunnier spot.
Admittedly not a city for a bikini holiday over Christmas, Rome is one European city where sunshine and blue skies are more likely to be unwrapped on Christmas morning than many others. From the Pope’s tour of the Vatican on Christmas Day to ice skating at the Auditorium and Christmas markets in many of Rome’s piazzas, enjoy a traditional Christmas while wearing you most stylish pair of sunglasses and perhaps only one layer of thermals.
Campo dei Fiori – Image © Giulia Mulè
St. Peter’s Square at Christmas – Image © Bruce McAdam
Heading slightly further south we find ourselves in Cyprus, an island where temperatures rarely drop below 18° centigrade in December. Find yourself a spot near the beach for a special stroll along the sand on Christmas morning and explore nearby villages displaying Christmas traditions like hanging crucifixes that are wrapped in basil leaves and eating Christopsomo (Christ Bread), a special sweet bread the baking of which is considered sacred.
Image © disparkys
The predominantly Catholic island of Malta celebrates Christmas in the sun with traditional nativity scenes on display outside churches and houses. The celebrations take place on Christmas Eve, beginning with processions through many neighbourhoods and with most people going to Midnight Mass. In addition to traditional turkey which is often served in a casserole, Maltese festive food include a treacle ring desert and the interesting sounding chestnut and cocoa soup.
Image © Bob Jagendorf
Expect as many as 11 hours of sunshine in Marrakech during December and early January, although temperatures can dip tobelow 10° at night. Mix the hustle and bustle of Marrakech’s key sights like the market at Place Jamma El Fna and the dramatic looking Koutoubia Mosque with some valuable downtime relaxing in traditional Moroccan souks. With Morocco being a predominantly Muslim country you can easily avoid turkey and traditions but still treat yourself to a beautiful meal at one of Marrakech’s finest restaurants.
Image © le calmar
One of Europe’s worst kept secrets for winter suns, Lanzarote is one of the Spanish Canary Islands, which promise year long sun and temperatures warm enough to sunbathe in during December so you could easily spend Christmas Day on the beach here. Lanzarote is more than just a beach bum’s holiday destination; this volcanic island also offers great routes for hiking, cycling and burning off those extra Christmas calories which you can accrue eating local delicacies including Canarian tapas, freshly caught fish and Bienmesable, almond syrup, poured over ice cream.
Image © Paul Holloway
While Florida residents treasure December temperatures for being slightly cooler than the rest of the year, holidaymakers from around the world flock there because they are considerably warmer than other parts of the world during Christmas. For warm seas and a Christmas on the beach, head to the Gulf of Mexico. To experience a multicultural Christmas with a Latino flavour try out Miami and to make every child’s Christmas wish come true, stay in Orlando within striking distance of Disney World.
Image © SpreadTheMagic
Of all the destinations we have listed, Thailand is where you can be most confident of both sunshine and hot temperatures. You can definitely leave the thermals and in fact any full length trousers and T-shirts at home if you’re lucky or wise enough to fly to Thailand to spend Christmas on one of the country’s idyllic islands, in the exciting city of Bangkok or near a beach on the mainland. Locals do their best to help you celebrate Christmas with festive takes on their own fabulous food – turkey green curry, anyone? – and lots of festive cheer brought by Santa hats on the beach and fairy lights keeping you company as you enjoy late, lazy, warm Thai evenings.
Image © jeffgunn