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Beautiful scenery and a spa at La Donaira.
Ten of the best winter escapes

Ten of the best winter escapes

From local to long-haul, here's inspiration for a special seasonal getaway

Andrew Forbes

Friday, 14 December 2018, 15:47

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December is already knocking at the door, promising not only festive fun but also the shorter days of winter. One way to beat the winter blues is to plan a travel escapade. To whet your appetite, I've pulled together ten ideas from home and away.

1. Andalucía

Many of you might think it's not worth taking a 'winter escape' when we're living in one of the best travel destinations in Europe. It's true that despite the seasonal storms and occasional rain, the chances are we'll still enjoy, over the next few months, more sunshine than anywhere else on the continent.

That's reason enough to stay close to home, and Andalucía offers winter sun, winter sports and winter escapism.

I regularly head up into the Serranía de Ronda, the unspoilt countryside around this mountain town, that is a favourite for visitors and residents alike.

Clear skies, crisp mountain air, award-winning wine, and comforting local food make for a great start to a winter escape that's close to home. Christmas and New Year in the mountains is certainly a way to capture a more traditional and homespun festive vibe than the amongst the palm trees of the coast.

They say Almeria is the province where the sun goes to spend the winter. This semi-arid, eastern region, home to the continent's only desert, (as well as fantasy film sets and locations from international blockbusters) is well-known as the fruit and vegetable garden of Europe. Yet it's also becoming increasingly renowned for its cuisine. Almeria city has been awarded the 'Spanish Capital of Gastronomy 2019 accolade' so now is a good time to discover the region's market-fresh food-scene, showcasing organic produce grown in the province.

Almeria's Cabo de Gata is the most remarkable natural park. Meander along country roads, between fishing villages, set amongst a striking coastal landscape. It's a place for agro-turismo; charming, boutique hotels and guest houses found within tiny hamlets and sleepy villages; and all of them are close to the sparkling blue Mediterranean.

Andalucía's Sierra Nevada ski resort is continuing its transformation into a world-class winter sports destination with facilities and accommodation to match varying budgets and expectations.

2. France

Consistently amongst the most popular countries for international visitors, France is undeniably a safe choice for foodies and culture-vultures. At this time of year, it's all about winter sports, and Courchevel certainly delivers with its beautiful setting, excellent facilities and abundant runs. This diverse resort can be all things to all people. From high altitude chic for the conspicuous consumers in the upscale hotels and resorts at 1850; to relaxed family fun with good-value hearty dining at Courchevel Moriond; to old school mountain charm in the lower altitude resort or Le Praz.

3. Austria

If you prefer your winter sports holiday to be a tad more elitist, then few places can match the exclusivity of Lech. It's the destination to rub shoulders with A-Listers, Royalty (and yes, wealthy showoffs too); yet it also has mountains of old-world Alpine charm and rustic authenticity. Even if you never head to the slopes, the charming town, it's markets, and historic Alpine hotels will transport you to a magical winter wonderland.

4. Bermuda

Before you start to feel chilly with all this talk of mountains and snow, let me take you to warmer climes. Bermuda is an all-year-destination (although admittedly it is warmer in Summer). If you're heading to New York for Christmas shopping or New Year's celebrations, then I recommend looking-out for last minute flight deals to this historic British Overseas Territory.

Expect warming rum cocktails, exotic island vistas; and a fascinating Anglo-American interpretation of the festive season.

5. Cyprus

This Mediterranean island is successfully discarding its well-worn image as simply a package holiday destination. It combines the classic attractions of the eastern Mediterranean (a mild, dry climate with plenty of sunshine) with the potential for cultural adventure. The whole island is part of the EU so one can also easily cross the blue line and explore the occupied north and experience the Turkish influenced cuisine and culture.

6. Canary Islands

To be guaranteed warmth and sunshine at this time of year means wondering a little further afield. The Canary Islands promise an eternal spring but the reality is much more like an eternal summer. Think pool-side cocktails for the grown-ups and kids-club shenanigans for the young ones.

Yet the islands are so much more than the resorts. For example, Lanzarote is the most extraordinary island of nature with a unique artistic and cultural legacy thanks to the vision of local artist César Manrique. Whilst Tenerife has emerged as a world-class resort destination that still has fabulous hiking routes, charming old towns and a local cuisine that will surprise.

If you're willing to take an internal flight, then the smaller islands of La Gomera and El Hierro are like island botanical gardens - a must for nature lovers.

7. Cuba

The Caribbean remains the perennial choice for a winter escape; and if you fancy spicing things up a little then take advantage of the low-cost flights, from Spanish hubs like Madrid, to Cuba, the island home of salsa. Here visitors can stay with a resident in their home; or splash out on a holiday at one of the new luxury hotels that are contributing to the renaissance of Havana.

8. Morocco

This has to be one of the most exotic destinations that is tantalisingly close to us in southern Spain. New air routes from Malaga have made a long weekend in Tangiers a little easier; and if you want to enjoy a self-drive break, the fast-ferry from Tarifa makes taking your car a feasible option too. The country's Atlantic towns are a delight to explore; and thanks to the new motorway network it's easy to reach Marrakech and the desert beyond as part of a short break.

9. South Africa

Summer is now being welcomed in the Southern Hemisphere, making South Africa's Western Cape, with its Mediterranean climate, a compelling choice. Think beautiful winelands, with quaint Cape Dutch architecture, exceptional food, and award-winning wines - and prices that are very reasonable. It all adds up to a winter escapade of a lifetime.

It's possible to add on a safari too; taking the train from Cape Town up north or a flight to Nelspruit airport, well-placed for the private game lodges in and around the Krugar National Park. It'll be the rainy season that far north but the game viewing in Kruger, as well as in neighbouring Botswana, is exceptional.

10. Home Sweet Home

Chances are, many of us will not to travel over the next month or two, instead choosing to share the festive period with friends and family. Yet there are many ways to truly make the most of these days together.

Taking a food tour is an original way to get a fresh perspective of where we live. Along the coast entrepreneurial small tour firms offer tasty ways to discover the history, and of course, the food of our region - from creative tapas tours; historical walking routes; to themed experiences around regional specialities like wine.

Also, if you dream of experiencing the indulgence and extravagance of an upscale hotel or resort but don't fancy the hefty check-out bill, then visit one of our local 5-star resorts for the day to feel like VIP. Book a treatment in a luxury resort spa; reserve a table in a gourmet restaurant; or enjoy a sundowner at the bar, with a professionally prepared artisan cocktail. You'll feel special yet won't be left with a big winter holiday bill for January. For news of local cultural events, live music, arts and more, remember to check out our listings in the What To Do section.

Wishing you safe and enjoyable winter travels!

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