Okay, so your summer holidays didn’t turn out as you thought. The good news is, you can still plan and dream about winter escapes. Long, intercontinental trips may still be some ways off but, if you’re craving some winter sun, there are several destinations that fit the bill — both in Europe and in our own backyard.
These Winter Sun destinations are currently open (or soon opening) for travellers
One of the first countries in Europe to reopen for travellers, Greece’s warm climate makes for a great winter destination. Because of its location at the southern end of the Aegean sea, Crete, the country’s largest island, averages 14-15°C in the winter. The island offers a spectacularly diverse nature, with snow capped mountains and lush hills giving way to endless beaches. Take advantage of the lack of crowds to explore that beauty; Crete is very popular in the summer. You can visit the ancient ruins of the Minoan Palace outside Heraklion, stroll the old streets of Chania and Rethymnon and marvel at the Venetian architecture, or lose yourself in the palm forest of Vai. Cretans are famous for both their food and their hospitality, so expect at least a glass of complimentary raki (strong, local spirit) to come your way when dining out.
This Costa del Sol gem in the South of Spain may be famous for its beaches and nightclubs that attract partygoers in the summer — but Marbella also makes for an excellent winter destination. Take a stroll along the beachside promenade of Paseo Maritimo and allow yourself to get lost within the picturesque streets of the Old Town, discovering boutique shops and cute little eateries along the way. Most days, even in winter, you can actually eat by the sand in one of the chiringuitos, the local beach bars serving tapas and great wine from nearby areas, such as Serranía de Ronda. If you’re into golf, Costa del Sol’s 70 golf courses will keep you happily occupied, while shopaholics can head to Puerto Banús, a Mediterranean-style marina home to some great designer shops. Looking for something more active? During wintertime, the weather is actually ideal for a hike in the Caminito del Rey walkway that will take you 100 metres up the El Chorro gorge.
Your gateway to the beautiful Algarve area of Portugal, Lagos is only a 2.5-hour ride from Lisbon. A charming town laced with ancient Moorish walls, Baroque churches and a 17th-century fort, Lagos will welcome you to walk on its cobblestone streets and explore its lively marina. With temperatures ranging around 11-17°C, you can do anything from going on a boat ride around Algarve (boat trips are available year round) to visiting the many caves of the area, like the ones in the fishing village of Carvoeiro. Silves, Portimão, Praia da Luz and Sagres are also nearby picturesque towns you should pay a visit to.
Winter Sun on the Channel Islands? The thought wouldn’t have occurred to you last year. But one of the positive outcomes of our situation is that we’ve all gained a new appreciation for domestic travel. Guernsey was the first place in the British Isles to be declared Coronavirus free, so as of July a 14-day quarantine is still in place — but the prognosis is looking good for travelling later in the year. Plus, the adjacent Gulf Stream makes Guernsey’s climate the mildest and sunniest in all the British Isles. Visit 13-century Castle Cornet at the St Peter Port Harbour (home to five museums and panoramic views), check out the waves in Vazon Bay (a surfing destination, if you’re up for it) and don’t forget to pay a visit to Hauteville House where Les Miserables writer Victor Hugo lived during his exile from France.
Already open to tourists (with some adjustments for safety) as of July, Newquay is a great solution for when you want to experience that Winter Sun feeling without really travelling abroad. Snow is not really a thing in Cornwall and winter surfing in the definitive surf capital of the UK will make you feel you’re having a tropical holiday (provided you don’t forget your wetsuit). The Cornish coast is after all uniquely blessed with beautiful beaches for all tastes, from family-friendly Great Western Beach, to protected Praa Sands, to Victorian-chic Fistral Beach. And if the weather doesn’t play nice, there are still many things to do in Newquay. For example, you can visit the Blue Reef aquarium or play Tudor games with the whole family at Trerice, the secluded Elizabethan manor house at Kestle Mill.
Until we’re ready to travel far away again, check out these hot and tropical destinations that give us major Winter Sun feels
The Canary Islands
There are several reasons UK travellers traditionally flock to the Canary Islands when they head south for the winter. There’s the sub-tropical climate – the islands stay a balmy 20°C when most of Europe is freezing – and the snappy flight time (less than four and a half hours from London). Then there are seven islands to choose from depending on your holiday style, and all of them come with inviting beaches and impressive volcanic landscapes. Choose from something-for-everyone Tenerife, glamorous Gran Canaria, rugged Lanzarote or surfers’ paradise Fuerteventura – the latter two are slightly cooler, but also drier. Whichever island you choose, look for hotels and resorts on the south coast for the most pleasant weather.
Like the Canary Islands, Cape Verde is an archipelago of volcanic islands west of Africa. It’s a little further away – a six-hour flight – but with the extra distance comes warmer weather. Even midwinter, temperatures range from 21-26°C. Expect to find Creole Portuguese-African hospitality that’s just as warm as the weather. Fill your days hiking craggy mountains, sunning yourself on powdery beaches – Sal and Boa Vista islands have some of the best – and when the sun goes down, hit the bars and clubs for a taste of the lively music scene.
It may be the smallest country in Africa, but there are plenty of postcard-worthy beaches to be found in The Gambia — it is, after all, known as The Smiling Coast. Daytime temperatures hover in the high-twenties, often tipping 30°C. Plus, winter is dry season, so you can leave your brolly at home. Soak up the sun and sea at the coastal resorts of Bakau, Fajara and Kotu – you’ll be spoiled for choice with cheap and cheerful hotels, too. After you’ve had your fill of beaches, head inland to explore the namesake river at the heart of the country. Its verdant basin brims with wildlife: spot hippos, manatees, monkeys and hundreds of bird species.
Morocco feels a world away despite its relatively short flight. Perched on the edge of the Sahara Desert, it remains warm throughout winter, which also happens to be the cheapest time to fly. For a city break in the sun, head to the enticing city of Marrakech. After you’ve whiled away the day sipping mint tea and wandering the labyrinthine souks, relax in a traditional Moroccan house, called a riad. Already explored Marrakech? A trip to Agadir or Fez could be an equally affordable, sun-soaked Moroccan escape.
Winter feels like spring on the island of Madeira owing to its pleasant climate, mild waters and fresh mountain scenery. There are some lovely beaches, but the lush flora and laurel forests are real highlights. The island’s volcanic peaks and rich-yet-rugged terrain make it the perfect place to get outdoors for walks, rambles or hikes with a view. Hire a car to experience the landscape on four wheels or catch a boat for a spot of dolphin and whale watching. Get a taste of Portugal in the capital, Funchal, where you can photograph the colonial architecture, listen to traditional fado music and have a tipple of its namesake wine.
Year-round sunshine and a relatively short flight are two big draws to this shimmering oasis in the desert. Superlative Dubai is well known for its glitz and glamour but, skyscrapers and malls aside, we’ll be returning here for the sun. Even in winter, expect temperatures of around 25°C. That’s perfect weather for sun-worshipping on Jumeirah beach or heading out on a desert safari for a camel’s-eye-view of the city. The overwhelming choice of flights and hotels keep top-line prices down. But be warned, the cost of eating, drinking and shopping can quickly add up in this sleek city.
Similar to the UAE, this Middle Eastern country comes with year-round sunshine and an achievable flight time. Oman isn’t as well-known or flashy as Dubai, but what it lacks in cutting-edge modernities, it more than makes up for with its rich cultural heritage. It’s perfect for adventure lovers looking for something a little more than a fly-and-flop beach break. Instead, spend your days driving to Jebel Shams (Oman’s highest mountain) and exploring the desert wilderness of Sharqiya Sands.
If you’re willing to spend a little more time in the air, unlike other long-haul, winter sun destinations like Thailand or the Caribbean, there are plenty of deals that make Mexico an affordable option. Winter is the coolest time to visit Mexico, which helps bring the price down further. Plus, thanks to its tropical climate you can still expect temperatures in the early- to mid-twenties most days. Head to the Riviera Maya for beautiful beaches and golden sand and soak up the varied Mexican culture. You’ll be spoilt for choice with budget hotels too.
Sometimes referred to as ‘the new Dubai’, Doha is one of the most dynamic cities in the Gulf and a world-class city in the making. While it might not spring to mind as easily as its glitzy neighbour across the water, everything in Qatar’s capital is, quite literally, up and coming. With reinvented souqs, a new metro system, several world cup stadiums in the works, and skyscrapers popping up all over the place, this city has plenty to boast about. You can expect the weather to stay in the low twenties, and so unlike the summer months (when everyone becomes a slave to the aircon) winter is a great time to explore the city on your own two feet. Stroll along the Corniche, a long seaside promenade that curves around Doha Bay with places to eat and beautiful views.
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