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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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With so many gorgeous islands scattered all over Europe, they are perfect holiday destinations attracting tourists from all over the world. Whether interested in culture, history, sunbathing, the delicious food or more active activities like walking and cycling, they offer something for any type of traveller. Sometimes there’s a risk of islands getting packed and we therefore thought it a good idea to list below a few little known and remote European islands that are great for walking holidays off the beaten path.
Isle of Wight
Ideal for anyone looking for a short town-and-country cycling or walking break, the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom is your go-to European island! Routes are undulating and distances on our walking and cycling holidays on the island are kept fairly short, giving you time to stop and explore. Highlights on the Isle of Wight include sophisticated Cowes, world famous for its regatta; the astonishing brick-built Quarr Abbey; and taking the path to Freshwater Bay, which follows an old railway line.
The island is easy to reach from mainland UK and the only time of year it’s flooded by travellers is during the annual Isle of Wight Festival that’s been running since the 1960s.
Visit the Isle of Wight between April and October >>
If you have been walking on the Spanish mainland, or have been to the Canary Islands 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 and others feel there’s Latin American elements to recognise in the villages and landscapes of this remote European Island. La Gomera is a relaxed, unsophisticated island with a population of around 20,000 people who live mostly in the capital and villages of the north. The island has a good infrastructure of roads, amenities and services, including some good restaurants and small family run hotels. It is off the mainstream tourist radar so you won’t encounter many other visitors.
Visit La Gomera yearround
Zagoria (we know, not quite exactly an island)
Treasures of vernacular architecture, many of these late 18th century stone-built villages are within what is today a designated conservation area in northwestern Greece: Zagoria. The area is brimming with dramatic wilderness of striking peaks, deep chasms and extensive natural forests. The virtually virgin Vikos Gorge, sometimes referred to as the Greek Grand Canyon, is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the deepest canyon in the world in proportion to its width.
By western European standards Zagoria is a relatively wild and remote area. However, the footpaths have been marked and with our route notes and a detailed map you will be able to find your way easily.
Visit Zagoria between May and early October
Away from the burgeoning coastal resorts, the majestic Sierra de Tramontana is a massif of limestone peaks tumbling to the turquoise waters. Venture forth on a series of hikes through shady forests, olive groves and ancient farmsteads, visit tiny sun-drenched beaches and spend the night in a traditional monastery, listening to the sound of nightingales from your bedroom window.
Follow parts of the restored Pilgrims’ Way along the Sierra de Tramontana in Majorca, have a look here for a picture impression. On our Sierras and Monasteries walking holiday, three nights are spent at the atmospheric Santuari de Lluc monastery - the most important pilgrimage site on the island. Guests can attend the choral singing in its church, which takes place on most evenings.
Visit Majorca between March and October
For more information and booking details, please have a look at the webpage of your chosen trip or get in touch with our team of travel experts in our London offices.
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
The Iberian Peninsula remains a firm favourite for many holidaymakers and not just during the summer months. Actually the coming months of December to February are an exceptionally good time to travel to Spanish and Portuguese destinations like Madeira, La Gomera, Andalucia, and the Sierra de Aracena. With pleasant temperatures around 20 degrees C, sunny days, and a landscape that ranges from subtropical greenery, to pine forests, and barren flatlands you have all the ingredients for a welcoming winter holiday. Ah, and the flights to Tenerife, Santa Cruz, and Seville have competitive rates for the winter months as well. So if you want to beat the tourists and enjoy a crowd-free break here are some tips for things to do in Spain and Portugal.
Canary Islands: Southern Trails of La Gomera
Despite being easily accessible from Tenerife (the boat trip takes just an hour), La Gomera remains largely untouched by mass tourism. The southern part of the island is also the sunnier part. The landscape is surprisingly lush green, with deep gorges densely wooded at the top, covered by mountain rainforest. Columbus’ last port of call before crossing the Atlantic in 1492, La Gomera is home to many friendly and small resorts. What you can do on the island is taking coastal walks, enjoy a view of Tenerife from Mt Garajonay, visit waterfalls, or take a historical walk of San Sebastian town.
Madeira Island Walking
Rising steeply from the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of Europe and Africa, Madeira offers both a mild climate and a 1,350-mile network of levadas through which you can discover the island on foot. Madeira island enjoys an impressive year-round flowering season thanks to its subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil – you can even find a dedicated Orchid Garden with more than 7,500 species here! Another thing to do is take a guided tour of a Madeira wine lodge - and try some local libations...
Hiking in Hidden Andalucia
There's a part of Andalucia that is a bit more off the beaten path: the unspoilt sector of the Alpujarras east of Trevelez. A visit in the winter months of December, January or February is great for walks on sunny days. There can also be snowfall and it can get a bit chilly, but the landscape is rewarding these months. Walking the southern fringes of the Sierra Nevada, following the Camino Real (Royal Trail), and staying at charming villages of Berchules, Yegen an Mairena make for a fantastic winter break, even when the sun doesn't show its face.
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.