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Now don’t get us wrong – we love winter in the UK. Cold, crisp mornings, roaring fires, hearty stews and if we’re lucky, a covering of soft fluffy snow. But here’s the thing – winter lasts quite a long time. And it’s not always blue skies and frost – a dark, cold morning with the sleet stinging your face is enough to make the most ardent winter-lover dream of warmer times.
That’s where a winter walking trip to southern Europe comes in. A week or two soaking up some warm sunshine, topping up the vitamin D levels and experiencing some fabulous food, nature and culture is the perfect way to break up the winter. Plus, a winter walking holiday will help you burn off some of those comfort food calories.
So, as you reach for your slippers and turn the central heating up a notch, take a look at our top picks for a warm winter break.
Best known for its gourmet food and wine, year-round, mild, sunny climate and breath-taking scenery everywhere you look, Madeira is the ideal destination to visit at any time of year. Our walking holiday in Madeira is focused on the south and eastern parts of the island, where you’ll have the chance to stay in small charismatic villages full of friendly locals, explore lush green levada walking trails and feel on top of the world as you perch on the highest peak in Madeira.
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Available as an 8-day or 11-day trip.
La Gomera is a spectacular volcanic island, away from the hustle and bustle of the busier neighbouring islands. Because of its relative lack of beaches, La Gomera has escaped the levels of development that other parts of Spain and its islands have experienced. As a result La Gomera has an old world, rural feel to it with homesteads, small vineyards, layers of terraces and large rocky peaks set in an amazing crown of Laurisilva - a laurel cloud forest.
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Walking in Tenerife is hugely varied and the aim of our walking holidays is to show you as much as possible. From the ancient university town of La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the elegant resort of Puerto de la Cruz on the north coast, we have selected a programme of varied walks. Your trip includes a walk to the crater of Mount Teide, a spectacular 3,718m high volcano.
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Cyprus may be best know for its popular, and busy, seaside resorts – but head a few kilometres inland and you’ll find an older, sleepier world of villages, farms and forests. The trip is focussed around the Akamas Peninsular, a beautiful nature reserve populated by friendly, welcoming people. If you’re there at the end of winter, you’ll witness the bloom of wild flowers that cover the landscape from February onwards.
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This walk along the Vermillion Coast starts in France and finishes in Spain, taking you along the coastline where the mountains of the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean. You’ll experience pretty fishing villages, amazing French and Spanish cuisine, and spectacular coastal landscapes. This is also a region with a strong artistic heritage – from the French sculptor Aristide Maillol to Spanish master of surrealism, Salvador Dali.
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The daily walks on this trip are relatively short, giving you plenty of opportunities to relax or try some of the many activities available on La Gomera, such as swimming, snorkelling, kayaking or whale-watching. The places you’ll visit are peaceful and unspoilt, with plenty of family-run restaurants to help you sample the delights of the local cuisine as you make your way around the south of the island.
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The Summer was a busy time for our resident guide, John, who tried out a couple of new walks that we will be operating in 2019. In fact, the first one was not a new walk at all, but the oldest National Trail in Britain - the famous Pennine Way.
Walking by Hadrian's Wall on the Pennine Way
Blessed with great sunshine, and with only 1.5 hours of rain during the duration of the walk over some 20 days, the 260 mile walk was completed in ‘redneck’ style! The trek follows the high trails, packhorse routes and Roman roads from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yethom in Scotland, along the Pennine chain of hills, aptly named by the Romans after their own Appenines running along the spine of Italy. There are some amazing views and features on this walk, particularly the waterfalls of the Tees Valley, the limestone scenery around Malham and the most attractive part of Hadrian’s Wall. Hopefully you’ll get the views from several big peaks such as Kinder Scout, Blackhill, Cross Fell and The Cheviot. Very few people walk the Pennine Way compared to the Coast to Coast -some areas have limited accommodation, but those who do tend to revel in the experience of visiting attractive villages that they would not normally have heard of, such as Edale, Bellingham, Dufton and Alston - mixed with more famous places such as Malham, Horton and Keld. There are also some very idiosyncratic places such as Tan Hill and Byrness. It’s a tough old walk but the challenge is made worth it not by a medal at the end, but by a certificate and the free half-pint of beer given to you at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yethom. Mind you, by that time you’ll have probably already drunk at least 30 pints of the finest beer in Christendom!
Cross Fell from Dun Fell
Descending towards the Schill from Cheviot
The second new trip is one to join those that we already offer in the Canary Islands - this time to La Palma, a gorgeous dormant volcanic island whose rich soils have spawned a profundity of the special Laurisilva vegetation, that at times creates its own clouds on the eastern side of the mountain.
La Palma - the Caldera de Taburiente
The island of La Palma is essentially one huge caldera that tapers to the south to more recent volcanoes - the last eruption was in 1971. On a two centre based stay in the towns of Santa Cruz and Los Llanos, John ventured out on walks that threaded through the forests to view points, and others that took him to the highest points of the island on peaks, down gorges and to the coast. La Palma is quite old fashioned, offering a good selection of restaurants and a nice family atmosphere in the villages and towns. As expected there is a lot of great seafood including tuna, squid and octopus. There are avocados, apples and a large banana cultivation, which is the island’s main economy. There are certainly things to do on a day off from walking, including boat trips to whale watch and a visit to dramatic sea caves. La Palma is also a world centre in astronomy. Visiting the island has certainly been made easier by the introduction of Easyjet flights from London Gatwick from autumn through to spring.
La Palma - Coastal Scenery
Near the caldera
Both of these trips will be available to book soon – so watch this space. To register your interest, email [email protected] and we’ll contact you when booking opens.
If you are after an activity break with a dose of some salty sea air this Christmas, consider the great islands and coastline of Europe’s seas and oceans. From windswept cliff-top bicycle rides to more leisurely seaside strolls and walks off the mainstream tourist radar, you will be surprised of the options for a pleasant break during Christmas. For the active traveller wanting to visit Europe, winter tours are a great option to consider.
Popular year-round holiday destinations because of their excellent conditions for outdoor activities such as walking and cycling, these places do tend to attract a fair number of travellers during the winter season. Here is an overview of our favourite active winter trips in Europe.
Active Europe: Winter Tours
- Southern Trails of La Gomera | Relatively short walking days exploring the southern trails of La Gomera & leaving time to relax.
- Madeira Island Walking | Year round self guided walk following the Levadas and trails through the dramatic and rugged mountain scenery on the island of Madeira.
- Exploring La Gomera – 11 Days | Experience La Gomera's lush plantations, mountains and whitewashed villages.
- Walking in the Canaries | Year round walking opportunities exploring the mountains and coasts of Spain's most exotic islands.
- Hiking the Vermillion Coast | Discover the coast and mountains along the edge of the Pyrenees. Walk through beautiful seaside towns enjoying famous Banyuls wine and seafood.
- Exploring La Gomera – 8 Days | Experience the lush plantations, mountains and whitewashed villages of exotic La Gomera.
- Cycling in Sardinia | Cycle along the spectacular southwest coast of the island biking past white quartz beaches and towering sand dunes, Phoenician Ruins and Ancient Mines.
- Dingle Peninsula Walk | Experience on foot the history and natural beauty of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula.
- The Portuguese Road – Coimbra to Porto | Walk the quieter trails between historical Coimbra and Porto on stage two of the Camino Portuguès.
- Rota Vicentina – the Fishermen’s Trail | Traverse the Atlantic coastline of Portugal to reveal a landscape of deserted beaches, fishing villages and dramatic cliffs on foot.
Or How About these..
Especially during the Christmas period, accommodation is in high demand. We therefore advise to secure your winter break as early as possible. To discuss any special requirements or to chat about the best options for you, please feel free to drop by at our office in London (we’re located right along the Thames Path), give us a call or send us a message.
To give you a deeper understanding of our cycling and walking holidays in Europe, we like to introduce you to the On Track feature. This is a series of quick Q&A’s on a specific trip from the Sherpa Expeditions offer.
Today’s FAQs (frequently asked questions) are answered by resident guide John, who is one of our experts on walking in Tenerife.
#1 What aspects about the weather make Tenerife great for walking?
Tenerife has a pleasant sub-tropical climate with average daily maximums of over 20°C throughout the year, but it rarely gets too hot outside of high summer because of the prevalent north-easterly Trade Winds and because the island is cooled by the Canary Current. This means that temperatures are slightly cooler than would normally be expected at this latitude and keeps temperatures in the high-twenties rather than the mid-thirties.
The sun is very strong so you do need to use sunscreen and wear loose fitting clothes. The island is pleasant for walking year-round. Trekking on the coast and up in the mountains in winter time can be slightly colder due to winds and the altitude you gain.
#2 What is special about walking in Tenerife?
Clean air, fantastic lapis blue sea views over to other islands, extensive well waymarked trails, and the chance of finding a small bar or restaurant to take in a fish dish or tapas while drinking a nice glass of wine or golden beer. There is a great cheap bus service on Tenerife which enables you to really explore and do some full day walks. It doesn’t take too long to get to starting points and really get walking on some great mountain and coastal trails.
#3 What language do people speak?
Spanish is the language of Tenerife, with local dialects. It would be worth learning a few phrases in Spanish such as greetings, but many people who work in the hospitality sector speak some English. Being polite and asking if people understand English is always a virtue.
#4 As Tenerife is such a well-known island, are there still quiet places?
The island is quite densely populated on sections along the coast such as Los Cristianos, Puerto de la Cruz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. There are also vast sections of cliffs and coast where there are just small holdings or wild terrain, you’ll discover these while walking in the Canary Island. In the interior of Tenerife, where the slopes of Mount Teide and the volcanic Caldera rise, there are very few settlements and it becomes a barren moonscape.
#5 Will we encounter other walkers on this trip in Tenerife?
The island of Tenerife is very popular with Dutch, German and British travellers. They usually come either for the beaches or for hiking and some of the paths do get a lot of traffic, but you will rarely feel as if you are in the crowds. At times around Mount Teide it can get busier due to the arrival of coach tourists.
#6 To what other region in the world can you compare Tenerife?
Well, you can compare a walking trip in Tenerife to the other volcanic islands around: such as La Gomera, La Palma, Hierro, Gran Canaria, and of course Madeira and the Azores, although these latter are much greener islands. Then globally, you can compare the landscape to the volcanic areas in Central America: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and parts of Mexico, these also have similar Spanish or Portuguese colonial heritage.
#7 What extra costs will I have on Sherpa’s Tenerife walking trip?
You can find very keenly priced restaurants and well-priced drinks as well as some very expensive places. What is nice is discovering a traditional restaurant that the locals are using and having a meal with a local wine for under EUR 25. Buses are cheap and you can purchase a Bono travel card for EUR 15-25 on arrival and keep it topped up for bus transfers. There is 1 bag transfer to Puerto de la Cruz (EUR 75) on day 3 of our Tenerife walking holiday, this has to be paid directly to your hotelier on arrival.
We hope this information has indeed answered some of the questions you may have had on walking in Tenerife. If you have other queries, please get in touch with John and the Sherpa team via phone or email.
Did you like this Q&A and would you like to get similar details of one of our other active Europe holidays? We’d be happy to hear about your suggestions.
Or if you like to be among the firsts to hear about the latest On Track Q&A destination, sign up for our monthly e-newsletter here.
Oscar-winning director Ron Howard’s latest film ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ (released in the UK on 26 December) is expected to put the quaint Canary Island of La Gomera in the spotlight.
Based on the true story of the Essex whaleship, ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ was filmed extensively on location, including the remote Tapahuga beach and the town of Playa de Santiago, with many scenes at sea shot off the island’s south coast.
Easily accessible from Tenerife (the boat trip takes just over an hour), yet largely off the beaten track and unlike its famous neighbour, La Gomera is not moonscape-like but surprisingly lush green. Its deep ‘barrancos’ (gorges) are densely wooded at the top, covered by mountain rainforest and shrouded in cloud and mist.
If you are looking for a relaxed walking itinerary on this beautiful, largely untouched by mass tourism island, European activity holiday specialist Sherpa Expeditions offers a number of trips to La Gomera:
Southern Trails of La Gomera
A trip that concentrates on the southern – and sunnier – part of the island, with nights spent in traditional family-run pensions and small hotels. Highlights include: climb along coastal cliffs to reach the picturesque quaint bay at Playa de la Guanches; take one of the original mule tracks that cross the island, the breathtaking route from Chipude to Valle Gran Rey; follow the short rocky steps (dotted with small cascades along the way!) for spectacular views of the Arure waterfall; and discover a series of beautiful hamlets poised below the Matterhorn-like pyramid of Roque Agando. Find out more.
Exploring La Gomera
From high rocky mountains to misty cloud forests and even exotic banana plantations – if you want the feeling of walking alone with nature then this is the place to be. Relaxed and unsophisticated, La Gomera was Columbus’ last port of call before crossing the Atlantic in 1492. You can walk around the historical centre of capital San Sebastian, go in search of awe-inspiring volcanic chimney stacks of basalt or head towards the highest peak of Alto de Garajonay (1,450m) – from here you can see four other islands on a clear day! Find out more.
We also offer a 15-day itinerary that combines the island of La Gomera with Tenerife. Let yourself be surprised by the natural treasures of the island in the winter months. On our Walking in the Canaries self guided holiday you will explore the third talles volcano in the world, an ancient (UNESCO protected) university town, black sandy beaches and cactus strewn valleys. Find out more.
Image of Ron Howard around the Canary Islands, copyright of ©Jonathan Prime/Warner Bros. Pictures
Beat the European Winter!
Are you looking for an active break combined with some winter sun? Here are some of our trip destinations that enjoy a much milder climate and warmer temperatures in the winter.
La Gomera is a year-round breathtaking destination. The variety of the landscapes that you will see in such a small area is amazing and Gomeran hospitality is truly memorable. This trip covers the south – and sunnier! – side of the island and the shorter walking days will give you the opportunity to do other activities such as relax by the sea, snorkelling, kayaking or whale watching. La Gomera has a good infrastructure of roads, amenities and services, including good restaurants and small, family-run hotels. Find out more >>
The Portuguese island of Madeira lies well out in the Atlantic, where the Gulf Stream affords it a mild and equable year-round climate. Volcanic in origin, the rugged interior rises abruptly to over 1,800 metres/6000 feet. A characteristic feature of the island is the elaborate system of ‘levadas’ (irrigation channels), which over the centuries has extended to more than 2,000km of channels and 40km of tunnels. Many of the levadas can be followed on foot and these together with a network of local trails make even the most remote parts of the island accessible. Find out more >>
Tenerife is the highest island in the Atlantic and the largest of the Canary Islands. Your first view of the great volcano Mount Teide, Spain's highest mountain and the third tallest volcano in the world will probably be from the aeroplane window… and a few days later you will be there, walking across the massive crater of Cañadas del Teide! Hiking on North Tenerife is hugely varied – from banana plantations to pine forests and from laurisilva cloud forests to lava fields – and our aim is to show you as much as possible. Find out more >>
Cyprus is an island of natural beauty in a region with an abundance of ancient and modern civilisations and cultures. Away from the cosmopolitan towns and beach resorts you will find large areas of natural, unspoilt countryside. Rugged, conifer-clad mountains, woodland and gentle orchards and vineyards are interspersed with tranquil, timeless villages. The people extend a warm and friendly welcome and their hospitality will add greatly to the enjoyment of your tour. Find out more >>
If you have been walking on the Spanish mainland, or have been to The Canaries before and you come to La Gomera, you will probably notice that this, the second smallest island of the Canaries is something special, altogether quite different. Some people liken it to Spain in the 1970s, but if you have travelled to countries of Central or South America, there are certainly Latin American elements that you will recognize in the villages and landscapes.
Due to the fact that most Spanish tourism has been beach focused and that Gomera has little flat land and only a few small beaches with deep water and sometimes strong currents, it has survived from the frenzy of development seen elsewhere in the Spanish territories. As a result the island has an old world rural feel to it with homesteads, small vineyards, layers of terraces and large rocky peaks set in an amazing crown of Laurisilva - a laurel cloud forest. A remnant of the last Ice Age and Tertiary period, the Laurisilva is kept alive by trade wind rains and the sound conservation by the Garajonay National Park (which enjoys UNESCO recognition),where other islands have been largely deforested.
The upper reaches of this densely wooded region are often shrouded in cloud and swirling mist, which has maintained this lush and diverse vegetation. In ancient times the local population (Guanches) used to collect the water dripping from the trees into jars and fill their reservoirs with it. Even today the tap water on the island comes from the ground water aquifers and although it is treated, it is drinkable – you don't need to keep buying bottled water.
Landscapes of La Gomera
La Gomera is of volcanic origin and the mountainous Gomeran slopes are criss-crossed by paths, presenting varying levels of challenge to walkers and stunning views to reward the energetic. The island is roughly circular, about 22 km (15 miles) in diameter and rising to 1487 m (nearly 5000 feet) at the central peak of Garajonay. It is shaped rather like half of a peeled orange from which the segments have been parted, leaving deep ravines or barrancos which are coated with laurisilva.
Between the extremes of the high cool vegetation and the warmer sun-baked cliffs near sea level, the Gomerans have for centuries farmed the lower levels, channelling water for the irrigation of their vines, fruits and vegetables, such as bananas. Because of the narrow barrancos, Gomerans have a unique way of communicating across the valleys by an amazing kind of whistled speech called Silbo. Silbo Gomero is an indigenous language, whose existence was known since Roman times. Invented by the original inhabitants of the island, the Guanches, Silbo was adopted by the Spanish settlers in the 16th century and survived after the extinction of the Guanches. When this was about to die out early in the 21st century, the local government required all children to learn it in school.
Eating your way around La Gomera
Canarian cooking is Mediterranean in style but with its own unique character. There is a distinct preference for traditional farm produce and meats, with low reliance on fatty foods. Gofio, a traditional staple of the Islands, has its roots in Spanish Canarian culture. Made from ground and toasted maize or wheat, gofio is highly nutritious and can be eaten as a dough mix, with savoury foods such as fish, or as a drink in milk. There are also a number of excellent cheeses made on the island, the best are those white cheeses from goats. There are a lot of pigs kept and pork is a common ingredient of succulent stews and hearty soups. Fish is probably the most common Canarian staple, be it fresh or salted and usually accompanied by one of a large selection of ‘Mojo’ sauces which range in flavour and strength, from the extremely hot and spicy to medium or very mild. ’Sancocho’ is one of the traditional fish stews made from salted sea bream, stone bass or wreck fish (this species has no English equivalent) which should be tried.
Potatoes are another common ingredient and come in a variety of ways. Outstanding are the potato stews orthe ubiquitous and aptly named ‘Papas arrugadas’ (wrinkled potatoes), which are boiled in extremely salty water and eaten with hot ‘Mojo’ sauce. To round out your taste experience, there are shellfish and a variety of tropical fruits. Atypical product of La Gomera is ‘Guarapo’, the sap taken from the countless palm trees dotted around the Island which is cooked to make ‘palm honey' The local wine is 'distinctive', and complements a tapa (snack) of Gomerian cheese, roasted pork or goat meat. The better ones are the whites such as 'Asocado'. Brands to look for include 'Garajonay' and 'Roque Cano.'
Self-Guided Walking Holidays in La Gomera
Sherpa Expeditions offers three different trips designed to help you get the most out of your self-guided walking holiday in La Gomera.
Getting to/from La Gomera
The easiest way to get to La Gomera is to fly to Tenerife (not Tenerife North Airport – further out of the way) and then get the ferry or catermaran to San Sebastian. If you are pushed for time you can take a taxi from the airport to the "Ferry Los Cristianos" (25 Euros approx) which is the port at Playa de Las Américas, for onward ferry to La Gomera taking 40 minutes approx. If however, you are not pushed for time, there is a bus service that leaves from directly outside the terminal to Los Christianos interchange building, 2 Euros each way (approx) you need to check times locally. There are two main ferry operators between Los Cristianos and San Sebastion, with a number of daily departures.