You don’t have to go long haul to find the sunshine this winter. Spain and Portugal have loads to offer.
The nights are drawing in and the temperatures are dipping fast, but you don’t have to travel far to find warmer climes.
Head south to the Mediterranean and the Algarve and you’ll still be treated to blue skies and sunshine this winter, even if you might have to pull on a cardigan or jumper in the evenings.
Better still, the kids are back at school, the tourist crowds have dispersed and prices are considerably lower too. For those lucky enough to have time on their hands, it’s the perfect opportunity to take an extended holiday to indulge in your favourite pastime and properly explore a region.
Here are just some of the reasons to jump in your car and escape the British winter.
1. Walking in the Costa del Azahar
This little known, unspoilt stretch of Mediterranean coastline runs north of Valencia and has more than 60 miles of sandy beaches and hills covered with olive groves and orange trees.
Known as the Orange Blossom Coast, it’s a part of Spain where you’ll hear few English voices, even in the height of the summer.
In the cooler months, it’s a mecca for walkers thanks to its nature reserves, protected park areas, mountains with waterfalls and mile after mile of glorious dune-backed beaches.
Explore its quaint medieval hilltop towns and villages, its Moorish castles and tuck into some of the finest seafood in Spain.
2. Golf in the Algarve
Regarded as one of the best golfing destinations in the world, Portugal’s Algarve attracts golfers year round, but come in the quieter season and you can enjoy more comfortable temperatures, fewer people, cheaper accommodation and, on some courses, the fees are lowered too.
There are more than 40 courses to choose from, suiting all abilities and budgets and including championship courses and some designed by prestigious players and golf champions like Jack Nicklaus, Sir Henry Cotton, Arnold Palmer and Ronald Fream.
If you want to invest in some lessons, in the winter the Algarve’s excellent golf pros will have more time to help you perfect your swing.
3. Wining and dining in the Costa del Sol
Rub shoulders with the rich and famous in Spain’s most glamorous coastline. With mountains on one side and the warm Mediterranean Sea on the other, the Costa del Sol is named for its climate: it enjoys around 320 days of sunshine every year.
It’s a millionaire’s playground with yacht-filled marinas and palm-lined promenades, fine dining restaurants, lively bars, gastrobars and cool cafés. It’s home to the cosmopolitan city of Malaga and the glitzy resort of Marbella, with casinos, nightclubs and its famous marina at Puerto Banus.
But head east and you’ll get a more authentic Andalucian experience, particularly in the low season. In the charming resort of Nerja you’ll find quieter bars and eateries in beautiful white-washed buildings, where you can tuck into delicious tapas and Malaga wine on sun-speckled terraces with sea views.
4. Cycling in Cantabria
The lush, green region of Cantabria in the north of Spain is perfect for cycling.
Along its pretty coastline are quaint fishing villages, secluded beaches and soft cliffs, while inland are the lofty Picos de Europa mountains, whose rugged peaks and deep valleys are dotted with sleepy towns and villages.
There are plenty of circular or point-to-point routes, some with long and gradual climbs and descents, others short and steep. Away from the coast, roads are quiet, particularly outside the summer months.
Take time to explore the prehistoric art of Altamira, El Castillo and Covalanas caves, some of the oldest and best in the world. Visit the Natural Parks of Cabarceno, the largest animal park in Europe, and don’t miss the vibrant capital of Santander, with its elegant squares, grand belle-époque buildings and beachside promenade.Save