Winter can be a tough time. The days get shorter, the nights draw in and inexplicable Christmas ads start to appear without warning. But how to stave off the seasonal depression and barrage of overenthusiastic festivity? That’s right, book a holiday.
To give you some inspiration, we’ve compiled a list of our top 5 winter destinations for visiting during those bleak winter months, when an escape to something new is the perfect remedy.
If you visit Seville in the height of the summer, we can guarantee two things. One, you’ll spend a fair amount of time dodging crowds of tourists and grimacing unhappily at lengthy queues, and two, you’re going to be hot.
The temperature can reach up to 40⁰ centigrade in Seville, which makes proper, off the beaten track exploring a sweaty, tiring excursion. To kick off our rundown of our top 5 winter destinations, we bring you a city that is often best explored in the low season.
When you visit in the winter, expect shorter queues and perfect temperatures (up to 17/18⁰) for exploring this incredibly beautiful city. You’ll have free reign of this weave of Christian, Roman, Moorish, Jewish and Gyspy cultures, and be able to aimlessly wander the narrow, cobbled alleys to stumble upon hidden squares and secret alcoves throughout the day, which actually lasts quite a long time even during the darkest days of the month.
Then spend your evenings with the locals in cosy, authentic taverns, trying chickpea stews, marinated anchovies, fried dogfish and manchego cheese, washing it down with a traditional dry sherry.
And if you don’t know where to look? Join us on our Tapas Off The Beaten Track tour, where we steer you away from the tourist traps to the most authentic gems in the city, secrets jealously guarded by the locals, so that you can enjoy tapas the local way.
Tuscany is a similar story to Seville, in particular the major cities such as Florence and Siena, and can become a little overwhelming during high season.
But it’s not just escaping the crowds that makes winter a great time to visit this region in northern Italy, because it’s also when the medieval hilltop towns are at their most atmospheric. Think dramatic morning mists, hanging in wraithlike tatters over the rolling hills and stands of cypress trees, and silent, snow-dusted lanes winding through heart-achingly beautiful medieval towns and villages.
It is cold, admittedly, but as November draws to a close, the olives and grapes are harvested from the hillsides, and the new olive oil is on the table, along with the ‘vino novello’. And if you don’t think the answer to the winter blues is a glass of Chianti in front of a roaring log fire as the snow settles in soft, gentle drifts on the surrounding hillsides, we defy you to prove us wrong.
And the weather doesn’t need to be sweltering to master the incredible cuisine yourself. With us you could learn to cook like a local, with a local, as a chef, practicing his art in the stunning city of Florence, shows you to the best markets, selects the best ingredients, and has you mastering the art of Tuscan cuisine like you were born and bred in this wonderful region.
We were a little dismissive of the festive season in our introduction, but in reality, it can provide some of the most magical sights in Europe, which can be found in places including, but not limited to this absolute gem of a city – Kraków.
Kraków’s Christmas market is regarded as one of the very best in the world, and it’s easy to see why. Situated in the already stunning Main Market Square, this huge collection of stalls, rides, and beautiful, hand-crafted ‘Szopki’ turns the heart of the Old Town into a maze of colour and festive treats to enjoy in the cold, crisp air.
Try the market’s famous gingerbread, spiced wine, grilled meats and sausages, and, if you’re feeling adventurous, hot beer.
Away from Christmas, Kraków still makes the ideal winter destination. Settle in a warm café with a coffee and a hot pastry, or join the locals in the evenings, staving off the cold with the crackling energy of the city’s nightlife, and copious amounts of vodka.
And then, of course, there are the countless activities that provide unique, interesting experiences that can be enjoyed in any weather. For example, the iconic Wieliczka Salt Mine, a crystalline, subterranean labyrinth of twisting passageways and dramatic underground lakes, is so far underground that the temperature remains constant all year round, and is perfect for exploring when the crowds are smaller.
Few places on earth can touch this far-flung corner of Finland when it comes to feeling otherworldly, unique, and downright magical.
Vast swathes of pine forest fall under a heavy, silencing blanket of snow, the stillness only interrupted by frozen lakes groaning under the weight of thick, solid sheets of ice. The entire landscape is bathed in an unearthly blue glow, as the sun peaks over the horizon for a few brief moments, before sinking back below the endless, dramatic fells.
As the night (and day) becomes ever darker, Lapland reveals its showpiece, the Northern Lights. Waves of brilliant red and vibrant green billow across the jet-black sky, obscuring clouds of stars that hung there just a moment before, in one of nature’s great displays of beauty.
There aren’t many better ways to enjoy the darker months of the year than sitting by a glowing campfire in a surreally beautiful natural setting, gazing in awe at the brilliant spectacle as it whispers its way through the atmosphere.
And with us, you can experience the phenomenon in a totally unique way. Whether it’s by heated sleigh, whether you’re trekking across the fells on snowshoes, or getting a rush on a snowmobile, our guides will ensure you have the very best chances of catching the incredible display, guided as they are by years of experience in chasing the northern lights.
1. Sri Lanka
So this one is cheating slightly. Well, a lot. But let’s face it, if you can live that dream of escaping the cold (or even just slightly chilly) weather of Europe for sunnier shores on the other side of the world, Sri Lanka is a pretty safe bet.
As the one of the world’s most up and coming destinations, our number one choice for our top 5 favourite winter destinations, Sri Lanka, combines rich culture and heritage with stunning cuisine, packed full of exotic flavours, and spectacular natural wonders.
With temperatures sitting at a rudely pleasant 26⁰-32⁰ all year round, you can be absolutely certain that the pictures you send home will inspire that satisfying reaction of pure envy from those struggling with another beast from the east.
December through to March is dry season as well, so if spending time on a white-sand beach, dipping in and out of ludicrously warm, deep blue seas, or sweeping over colonial railway bridges through dramatic hillsides, dripping with lush jungle sounds like a great way to wash away those winter blues and get a good hit of vitamin D, then head to Sri Lanka.
All this means that there’s no bad time to discover the lush, rolling hills of tea country or hike to dramatic waterfalls and remote villages through untouched, secluded countryside that you simply wouldn’t find if you didn’t have the insider, local knowledge.