The Best Destinations to Book Now for Winter Sun
Where to find a blast of vitamin D to see you through to spring
This island really does have it all. Winter sunshine, plenty of historical sites and lots of well-travelled cycle, hiking, cultural and even wine trails, all without the crowds. Great for nature lovers too (there are 1,000 species of flowers in the open fields at this time of year) this makes for the perfect winter destination for pretty much everyone (you might even get snow on the higher parts of the Troodos Mountains).
Multilayered in many ways, from history to cuisine and from its traditions to its landscape, head inland from the beaches to hike the many mountain trails, wander through the sleepy mountains villages unchanged by time and enjoy some of the most delicious cuisine.
The Troodos Mountains are where to pull on your hiking boots and follow the many trails which take you through pine forests, over mountain streams and stunning wild terrain. If wine is more to your tase then the best wineries are found in the mountain villages known as Krasochoria.
To make the most of your island trip rent a car and drive all over. The scenic route between Limassol and Troodos is famous for its twists and dips as it climbs upwards through spectacular landscapes, whilst the easier but no less scenic drive from Paphos to Petra tou Romiou, the famous Aphrodite’s Rock, is far more enjoyable without the summer crowds.
History buffs will love Cyprus – a small island with a long history and a rich culture that spans 11,000 years making it one of the oldest civilisations in the Mediterranean. No wonder there are so many fascinating cultural sights, museums, monuments and galleries. Situated at the crossroads of three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa – the island is an open-air museum of prehistoric settlements, classical Greek temples, Roman theatres and villas, early Christian basilicas, Byzantine churches and monasteries, Crusader castles, Gothic cathedrals, Venetian fortifications, Moslem mosques, and British colonial-style buildings.
With such a melting pot of cultures, Cyprus is well known for its diverse cuisine and from hearty meat dishes and specialty cheeses to unique desserts of carob and grape, the Cypriot cuisine remains an exotic blend of Greek and Middle Eastern flavours found in the welcoming tavernas and restaurants across the island.
Where to Stay
Families will love the laid-back hotel scene (and the 160 beaches) and couples can hide away in the smart but secluded mountain retreats. Almyra is a five-star hotel within easy striking distance of the best beach in Paphos. Cool and contemporary, its design-led spaces mean you’ll spend your time enjoying sundowners at the Helios Lounge Bar and the sanctuary of the Almyraspa before heading out to explore more.
Sporty families will love the hilltop resort of Aphrodite Hills, sprawled across a clifftop between Paphos and Limassol with tennis and golf, a soccer school and horse riding all available on site. There are five restaurants, and families will love the Stone Grill Terrace, where you can cook your own steaks on hot stones. There’s a creche and kids’ club with crafts and activities every day.
Want a winter reset? Hide away in the mountains at Secret Forest, a wellness retreat surrounded by nature. Experience the hot springs, relax in the spa, hike the surrounding hills and take part in mindful workshops and yoga classes.
The Eastern Algarve
Portugal’s Algarve is a sun-drenched stretch of this beautiful country, enjoying better weather than most of its European counterparts. It may not be all about sunbathing in January but the winter months are usually mild, bright and sunny, and with a myriad of great golf courses, long stretches of sandy beach and plenty of bars and restaurants it’s a great place to while away some of the winter.
Flying into Faro, turn west and you’ll soon be in the manicured playgrounds of Quinta do Lago and Val do Lobo, where the streets are lined with vast white villas and upmarket restaurants, there are championship golf courses at every turn, and an uninterrupted stretch of beach which takes you all the way past Albefueria. Turn right, towards Spain, and you’ll soon find a very different, more authentic Algarve, one which retains a much more sedentary pace of life where locals still rub shoulders with tourists in the back street bars and cafés, and you can often have the famous sandy Ria Formosa to yourself in winter.
Head past the busier town of Olhao to Fuseta, a tiny fishing village still relatively unspoilt, and wander down its sleepy cobbled streets lined with pastel-coloured houses to find authentic Portuguese cafés serving fresh seafood. Join the locals at the market which dominates the harbour and sit at the waterside cafés with a coffee to watch the fishing boats bobbing about in the marina, or take the tiny ferry to the Praia da Fuseta-Mar on the Ilha da Armona in the Ria Formosa lagoon and enjoy the white sandy beaches and crystal clear water.
Further east, Praia do Barril is one of the area’s most stunning beaches (and there are many). The beach is reached via a floating footbridge that crosses the Ria Formosa (a mini train runs during high season to transport visitors across the island to the sea) and unlike elsewhere along the Algarve’s Atlantic coast the sea is relatively calm here. Once a centre of tuna fishing, the anchors from stranded or abandoned tuna boats gradually piled up on Barril Beach and you shouldn’t miss the rather moving Anchor Graveyard here.
East again, and near the Spanish border, Tavira, which straddles the Gilao river, used to be an important harbour exporting figs, almonds, salt and wine until the river silted up and the harbour was abandoned. The town centre is now three kilometres from the sea but it retains much of its charm and history – there are more churches here than in any other town or city in the Algarve and tourists love the unusual tesouro rooftops, and the mix of Roman, Moorish and Christian heritage. The beach here on Tavira Island can only be reached by boat or water taxi but that often means it’s pretty deserted, except for the many birds who call the Ria Formosa home.
Where to Stay
Stay in the former 16th century convent of Nossa Senhora de Graca, now a boutique hotel centred around a pretty courtyard, it’s just minutes from Tavira’s Roma Bridge. Relax in the large gardens, swim in the pool or lounge in the shade of the cloisters with a book.
The family-run Colegio Charm House is a former 18th century palace and now a 20-suite hotel in the heart of Tavira. Spend sunnier days at the poolside deck, enjoy a classic cocktail on the upper terrace with views across the town’s rooftops, and dine on the restaurant’s delicious pot-luck Portuguese-style dishes dependent on what’s fresh from the market that day.
Those wanting a buzzier vibe should centre themselves in Olhao where the ultra-modern Pure Formosa Concept Hotel is a just a stone’s throw from the beach and marina, and the rooftop bar provides a 360-degree view over the town and Ria Formosa.
The Canary Islands lie off the north-west coast of Morocco and are arguably the best destination for guaranteed winter sun in Europe, with daytime temperatures averaging over 20 degrees. Given a bad rep as a tawdry package holiday destination in the 90s they are slowly making a more sophisticated comeback, and no-one can deny the spellbinding scenery this cluster of islands offers.
Lanzarote, Tenerife and Gran Canaria all share otherworldly volcanic landscapes and mountainous interiors interspersed with pockets of dense pine trees. Tenerife is the most developed but quieter corners can still be found in the north of the island. Gran Canaria is perhaps best known for its vast sandy stretches in the south, whilst Lanzarote’s lunar-type landscape and rocky beaches attract cyclists and surfers all year round. Less well known are the smaller islands of La Gomera which boasts some of the best food and local crafts, El Hierro, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve with a wilderness of an interior and low-key tourism, and La Graciosa, which was only recognised as part of the Canary Islands in 2018. Half an hour by ferry from Lanzarote, it remains unspoilt, there are no tarmac roads and just a smattering of restaurants and guesthouses.
But for sun, sea and sand in winter, what tempts us back are the white beaches and rolling breakers of Fuerteventura, where goats still seem to outnumber tourists. Its craggy mountains, terracotta lava fields, desert-like expanse of sand dunes, black sand of Ajuy and turquoise sea all add to its appeal. Known as ‘the windy island’ it’s a popular kite and windsurfing destination and for the novice there are plenty of surf schools to help you get started.
When you can drag yourself away from the 150 kilometres of picture-perfect beaches and sheltered lagoons, explore the island’s austere interiors and be amazed by the beauty of its rolling hills as you follow the many hiking trails, stop in villages where time moves at a different pace and discover the small, picturesque coastal towns where freshly caught fish and local cheeses dominate the menu (the island is famous for its Majorero coast cheese).
Where to Stay
Heading to Fuerteventura as a family? Caleta de Fuste on the island’s east coast is within easy reach of the airport. The sandy beach here is one of the most sheltered and the traditional seaside town is full of family-friendly hotels and restaurants. Book the Fueurteventura Royal Level on the beachfront and be in the sea within minutes of leaving your room.
Corralejo to the north is an oasis of sugary sand dunes and clear blue water. Perfect for first timers to Fuerteventura, there’s something for everyone here from the lively harbour and town to the many beaches within easy reach, and the Corralejo National Park is on the doorstep. Spoil yourselves at the boutique, adult-only Avanti Lifestyle Hotel in the old town and soak up the sun on the seaside terrace, or book a suite at the H10 Ocean Suites with its outdoor pool and many sports facilities.
Want to just chill? El Cotillo is a quieter resort but retains much of its charm as a former fishing village. More remote, on the north west coast, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a beach break without the noisy bars and nightlife, and El Cotillo is also famous for its sunsets. Cotillo Ocean Views is a modern beachfront aparthotel just five minutes walk from the centre of Cotillo. In the heart of the town, el Hotelito is a cosy townhouse in the style of a Moroccan riad, with a large roof terrace, loungers and jacuzzi.