They may not be top of your bucket list for some winter sun, but these unique destinations offer the promise of better climes combined with something a little different!
The idea of winter in Europe might conjure images of snow-capped mountains and mulled wine at Christmas markets, but the reality often involves biting wind, and rain. Fortunately, you don’t need to venture far to find mild temperatures and a plethora of exciting adventures to satisfy the keenest history buffs, foodies, fitness fanatics and TV aficionados. Enjoy!
Spice up your life in Istanbul
Culinary magic is woven into the very fabric of Turkish culture, and winter offers mild days which are perfect for enjoying a delectable journey through this enchanting city. One of the top spots to hit is the Grand Bazaar – a food lover’s paradise. With over 4,000 shops, this historic market is a treasure trove of culinary delights from exotic spices and fragrant teas to local sweets and succulent dried fruits. Another option is to spend an evening wandering through the captivating neighbourhood of Ortaköy along the Bosphorus, where food vendors tempt you with their delectable offerings. While you’re here, sampling Turkish coffee is an absolute must for anyone who can’t live without their morning brew. Brewed in individual pots over an open flame or on hot sand, this aromatic elixir is a must-try. Embrace the winter with heartwarming Turkish dishes sampling local favourites such as Iskender kebap, a zesty lahmacun, or a freshly baked simit. Finally, make sure to stop off at the Spice Bazaar in the Eminönü district is bursting with vibrant colours, intoxicating aromas and generous samples to tempt your senses.
Malta: the real-life Westeros
Game of Thrones lovers will be spoilt for choice in Malta. As winter descends upon this pretty
Mediterranean island you can still expect temperatures of 46°F to 59°F, perfect weather for exploring!
Head to the ancient city of Mdina, which served as the backdrop for King’s Landing.
Stroll through its narrow, winding streets and discover Mdina Gate, which featured prominently in several episodes. Next visit Fort Ricasoli, where the Red Keep scenes were brought to life. Explore the fort’s impressive architecture and enjoy breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea. Heading out of the towns, Manikata stood in for the rugged Dothraki Sea. Explore the scenic landscapes and relive Daenerys Targaryen’s journey with a horseback ride or a leisurely stroll. Visit the picturesque Azure Window on Gozo Island, an iconic location which featured in the very first episode of Game of Thrones, While the natural arch sadly collapsed in 2017, the stunning coastline remains a sight to behold. Finally, be sure to stop by the Capital city of Valletta where the Upper Barrakka Gardens played host to the Great Siege of King’s Landing.
Athens in Winter: an historical odyssey
Winter in Athens offers a unique opportunity for history enthusiasts to embark on a captivating journey through time without the bustling crowds and scorching temperatures of summer. Start your historical expedition with a visit to the crown jewel of Athens – the Acropolis. In the crisp winter air, the ancient citadel reveals its secrets with unparalleled clarity. As you ascend the sacred hill, you’ll be greeted by iconic landmarks like the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, all standing proud against a backdrop of clear blue skies. Immerse yourself in the treasures of the National Archaeological Museum which houses an extensive collection of artifacts, sculptures and relics from Greece’s illustrious past. Another spot worth checking out is the Ancient Agora, the heart of ancient Athens, where philosophers once gathered to ponder life’s mysteries. Explore the well-preserved ruins, including the Stoa of Attalos and the Temple of Hephaestus. Next wander through the charming streets of Plaka and Anafiotika. In winter, these neighbourhoods exude a tranquil ambiance that allows you to appreciate their architecture, quaint cafes, and artisan shops. Stop for a warm cup of Greek coffee or a traditional meal at a local taverna. See where sporting competitions began and in the footsteps of ancient athletes as you visit the Panathenaic Stadium, also known as the Kallimarmaro. The marble grandeur of this stadium, where the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896, is particularly striking against the winter backdrop.
Hiking adventures in Funchal, Madeira
While the rest of Europe may be bundled up, this still mild Portuguese archipelago offers the perfect playground for hiking enthusiasts. Begin your adventure by exploring the famed Levada trails. These centuries-old irrigation channels crisscross the island, creating a network of picturesque trails. In winter, these routes are adorned with vibrant flora and glistening waterfalls. Next conquer the island’s highest peak, Pico Ruivo, as it stands majestically at 1,861m (6,108 ft.) above sea level. During the winter months, you’ll encounter a unique spectacle as the summit is occasionally dusted with snow, contrasting beautifully with the island’s subtropical vegetation. Hike along the striking Ponta de São Lourenço peninsula. The winter sun casts long shadows over the dramatic cliffs, creating an otherworldly atmosphere for intrepid hikers. Embrace the tranquillity of Rabaçal and embark on the 25 Fontes Trail, revelling in the awe-inspiring beauty of the 25 cascading waterfalls that give the trail its name. A quick work of advice: don’t overlook the trails that begin right in Funchal. Head to the city’s outskirts and embark on hikes that lead you to panoramic viewpoints like Boca do Risco, where you can witness the dramatic meeting of land and sea.
Rejuvenate your spirit in Seville
For those seeking to combine mild temperatures with a wellness escape, this vibrant Spanish city is perfect. Known for its lively culture, the winter season brings an opportunity for a more contemplative and rejuvenating experience. Seville’s boutique hotels offer spa retreats that cater to your every need. Soothe your senses with rejuvenating massages and holistic treatments that banish winter blues. Discover the secrets of Spanish cuisine through cooking classes and savour locally sourced, seasonal ingredients that support your overall well-being. Heading outdoors, Seville’s parks and gardens, like Parque de María Luisa and Parque del Alamillo, provide serene settings for nature-based wellness retreats. Connect with the healing power of nature through forest bathing, guided walks, and outdoor yoga while for further wellness activities, discover the healing properties of Seville’s thermal baths, such as Aire de Sevilla, which are perfect for a winter wellness retreat. Immerse yourself in warm pools, steam rooms, and relaxation areas while surrounded by exquisite Moorish architecture. Combine wellness with culture by participating in retreats that blend mindfulness practices with Seville’s rich artistic heritage.
Explore the city’s museums, galleries, and architecture, finding inspiration in every corner.