As another British winter tightens its icy grip, the idea of a Mediterranean holiday may seem little more than a distant fantasy. But it doesn’t have to be. Despite the season, Europe still has much more to offer than simply cold weather pleasures.
Bag yourself a budget flight to Málaga and discover how Andalucía, or more specifically its south-eastern provinces of Granada and Almería, contains the best of all worlds. Here are just a few reasons why the region is not just a summer hotspot, but also a winter wonderland.
Sea, sand and maybe even sun
Judging by the locals – seen huddling in their warm winter coats – talk of the beach is little more than the desperate rambling of someone starved of sunshine for too long.
But in fact temperatures on this stretch of coast can rival an English summer, with averages remaining in the high teens. This is as good as mainland Europe is going to get just now, so make the most of it.
The city beaches in Málaga are sandy, long and clean and certainly convenient – a perfect place to stop for a beer and remind yourself what you’ve got to look forward to when summer really does come knocking again.
Try heading east towards the city of Almería, the whitewashed village of Mojácar or Cabo de Gata, Spain’s most south-easterly point and home to spectacular, lonely bays. This corner of the country has its own micro-climate and is so hot and dry that its desert-like landscape was used as the film location for numerous Spaghetti Westerns.
The Almerían coast boasts an average of 320 days’ sunshine a year, so by those odds you’re bound to find some. Not only that but even a splash in the Med isn’t out of the question, as the temperature of the water is said to be warmer than that of the air.
The city of Granada has much to offer, not least its old Muslim quarter and café lifestyle. But top of your list should be the Alhambra Palace. Perched above the city, this fortress-cum-luxury royal pad oversaw the last days of Islamic Spain.
Rightly regarded as one of the must-see sights in Andalucía, its popularity is also its downside. During summer season the Alhambra crams in thousands of visitors a day through a timed entry system, with tickets selling out weeks in advance. But visit in winter and the crowds melt away. Stroll through the gates and have the place almost to yourself.
The original fortress was built in the 9th century and much of it remains despite being used as a barracks by Napoleon in its more recent history. The complex also includes some stunning gardens known as the Generalife but the real draw is the Palacio Nazaries, which dates back to the 14th century. Its patios and courtyards, intricate carvings and tiling, fountains, rivers and terraced gardens were designed as a representation of paradise, and it will transport you to another time and place.
Let it snow, let it snow
Once you’ve had your fill of sunshine and Islamic culture, you deserve some more traditional winter pursuits. Take a look out over the walls of the Alhambra. Panoramic views to the south-east are dominated by snow capped peaks, swathed in ethereal mists, rising up above the city.
This is the Sierra Nevada range, home to mainland Spain’s highest peak. The ski station at Pradollano is the most southerly in Europe, meaning it’s just a couple of hours from the lure of the coast. It’s also only 33km from Granada, so it can be accessed either as a day trip or by basing yourself in the resort itself at slightly greater expense.
Some 76km of runs cover all abilities and all equipment is available for hire, so there’s no excuse for even the most devout of culture vultures or beach bums.