Where to spend the European winter

Unfortunately, we are now coming to the end of another European summer. But rather than get bogged down with dread over the coming winter, plan a trip somewhere warm. Soak up some vitamin D and gain a natural sun kissed glow. Whilst everyone else grows paler by the day under a bleak grey sky. Now is the time to start planning.

Even if you call the southern hemisphere home, these destinations prove that summer isn’t the only time to head to Europe.

 

Europe in winter can be harsh. We experienced the snowy side of different cities in Europe in the bitingly cold month of January. But, what if you don’t like the cold?
To defrost after this icy adventure, we repacked our carry-on backpacks with summery clothes in Bristol and headed into southern Europe and Africa (only a little bit).

As much as one can love snow, we are definitely sunshine lovers.

Portugal

For a mere £15 flight (per person on Ryanair), we travelled from Bristol to Faro, Portugal. We jumped at the chance to see the beautiful Algarve region for such a good price.
Spending 5 days in Albufeira and in the beautiful sunshine, without unbearable heat, proved just what our cold bodies needed.

Sunset from Albufeira

Albufeira

We rented potentially the best Airbnb we have ever stayed in, in Albufeira for 5 nights.
Getting from the airport in Faro to the bus station in Albufeira is relatively easy, but do allow some waiting time as all the timetables don’t line up with the plane arrivals.
This area really does require a car, to see more of the region. As we were on foot and only really wanted a car for one day, we rented from Europcar in Albufeira.

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The Sea Caves and Coast

Words cannot do this area justice. So have some pictures instead.

Praia de São Rafael
Praia de São Rafael
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The Cats (my highlight)

Three kittens recently had a visit to the vet, their mum too. The teltale stiches were there.

Along the Albufeira coast, there are wooden boxes with signs posted above. They state that the local homeless cats are cared for by a local charity and vets. They are fed and watered daily within these wooden boxes, picked up and taken to the vets when care is needed, neutered and cared for. You can tell which cats have been neutered as they have the tip of one of their ears cauterised off.

If you go walking in the evening, you often see locals putting out food for them. They are greeted by a chorus of meows.

Being a self confessed crazy cat lover, one who carries cat treats whilst travelling to feed the homeless, I loved this.

Our new little friend

As the cats receive food and care from humans, they aren’t shy. Some won’t come near you, but that’s ok. Plenty come up for some pats and attention. A few even sat on our laps. Jacob had two at a time on his lap as they both wanted to be there.

 

Spain

We travelled from Albufeira to Seville using Eva bus. The bus station is 1.6km away from the centre of Albufeira, a nice early morning walk to wake you up. Be warned, there are no toilets on the bus, but they do stop at a few bus stations along the way. The toilets in them are questionable, but it beats peeing your pants!

Alcázar of Seville

Seville

Known as one of the largest old towns in Europe, Seville is a truly beautiful city. Not inundated with high-rise buildings, and with large beautiful gardens and old buildings that provide interesting architecture. My main reason for wanting to visit Seville was for the Metropol (below).

The walkway along the top of the Metropol

Barcelona

There isn’t much to say about Barcelona that hasn’t been said before. This is effectively a city dedicated to Gaudi, architecture and art. Beautiful viewpoints on nearby hills, the infamous and still unfinished Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and other works of art dot this huge city.

We were smart enough to get into Sagrada Familia for half price and Park Guell for free. Effectively saving us about 30 euro.

View from the top

Park Guell

To visit this amazing place for free, simply look at the opening hours of the park (which change depending on the season) and go before or after it opens. The opening times coincide with Sunrise and Sunset, so be there right on closing time in winter, otherwise, it will be too dark too quickly. We visited twice, just after sunset, and just before sunrise. Sunrise proved the least crowded.

Inside Park Güell

Empty Park Güell

Sagrada Familia

This one isn’t as simple as Park Guell. On Wednesdays in low season, Sagrada Familia offers under 30’s half price tickets after 4pm. Yes, very specific. But the tickets were 7 euro each! You do have to queue up to purchase, as there is no option online. Thankfully, this time of year the queue was short. It is open until 6pm at night, so you have two hours to see this place. Inside is simply awe inspiring. I don’t think I’ve ever looked up so much!

This deal may change, investigate first. You only find this deal, or any others, by going to the ticket page on their website, trying to buy a ticket, and then you can see the terms and conditions of such deals. Do not buy a ticket here though, this is just to check the times and price. This ticket is simply the entry to the Sagrada Familia, no tower climbing or audio guides.

 

Look up!

 

Morocco

Marrakesh airport reminds you that you have definitely left the EU. Back to filling in arrival and departure forms and passport control with humans, not computers. They make you sweat whilst looking over your documents, then at you, then back at your documents. Yes, that is me in that horrible photo, my resting bitch face is different to my current ‘smiling nicely so you let me into your country’ face.

The Moroccan Medina Cat

Marrakesh

The Medina is crazy! I’m guessing people either love it, or they hate it. I’m leaning toward the latter. If you enjoy crazy busy streets, people yelling at you to buy their shit, and it is shit, surrounded by monkeys on chains in diapers forced to perform, scooters and bikes wizzing past you on narrow streets, being stared at like you are a cash cow, and the constant bombardment of strange smelling meaty food, then your on to a winner!

Lights in the Medina.

I would not recommend staying inside the Medina. You need an escape from the craziness and some peace and semi quiet. On our second stint in Marrakesh, we did just that. We stayed near the palaces in a super cheap Airbnb with nothing but (almost) silence outside.

A note on the cats: They are not cared for or fed like in Albufeira. They also are wary of humans. They scrounge for scraps, so spare a piece of chicken and keep a cat happy.

Sunset over the roofs of Marrakesh

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Essaouira

This is the place to go to escape Marrakesh. Sun, sand, white painted buildings, ocean and a gentle sea breeze. It is a nice quiet fishing town that seems like winter is the time for the locals.

Essaouira

Things to consider

School holidays.

It creates crowds and queues. The main reason for travelling off season is to avoid these. So check out the school holiday dates for the country you intend to visit and plan accordingly.

Accommodation.

When booking on Airbnb, some places are actually not available, even when listed as vacant. We got rejected for 3 places in Barcelona alone! The hosts also holiday in this time of year or are simply not available. Although places can be cheaper, some places just aren’t open for business.

Weather.

Not always predictable, in winter there is no guarantee of the sunshine every day like there is in these destinations in summer. However, your chances of sunshine are still higher than rain. Barcelona was the coldest destination out of all these for us, but it was still a pleasant 15 degrees (celsius) and no rain this whole trip!

 

 

These are all low season dream destinations. Sun, sand and warmth. As highlighted in our wintery Europe post, the various reasons for travelling during this time is the same… minus the snow!

 

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