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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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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.