Snowflakes pedal themselves softly to the ground while a warm Spanish sun shines overhead. This is an image not often associated with winter in Spain, and yet many visitors to the country during the winter months are surprised to snow crunching underfoot in many regions, let alone an impressive ski culture in high peaks of the Sierra Nevada or Pyrenees mountains. Yet despite the frosty weather, Spain remains one of the most popular warm-weather destinations in Europe during the winter months. Whether you are seeking adrenaline-filled adventure or a relaxing day at the beach, you can find it under the winter sun. From cozy to tropical, the destinations below offer something for everyone seeking the perfect winter escape. (photo by Ryan Opaz)
If you find yourself in the colder climes of northern Spain during the winter time and looking to ski, you would do well to head to Baqueira Beret, the ski resort nestled into the Pyrenees in the province of Lleida near the border between France and Spain. Although just west of Andorra, this region benefits from an Atlantic climate and favorable snow conditions much of the year. While this makes for excellent skiing, the region of Vall d’Aran is also an interesting one to explore. During your stay, visit the Aranese villages nearby, try the rich and hearty Aranese stew, known as olla aranesa for the pot it is cooked in, and spend some time getting to know the unique culture of this land. The small village of Vielha–and the region’s capital–is not your typical winter escape, yet it is a good place to stay while you are there. Only a few kilometers from the slopes, Vielha makes an easy commute and boasts one of the nicest paradors-the impressive network of state-run luxury hotels-with breathtaking views over the valley (vall in Catalan) below. Many of the paradors have been converted from beautiful historical buildings like castles, palaces, or monasteries and, despite its modern touch, this one is no exception.
The Canary Islands
Sun seekers will find what they are looking for in the Canary Islands, a group of six islands located off the south west coast of Spain only 100 kilometers west of Morocco. On the same latitude as Florida, the islands benefit from warm weather year round, with temperatures reaching the low 70s (an average of 21 degrees celsius) in the winter months. While each of the islands provides its own particular landscape and diversions, they all have the makings of a proper tropical escape. Fuerteventura, for example, is well-known for its starkly undeveloped countryside, its beautiful sand dunes in the north of the island, and its windswept landscape that makes it a hot spot for windsurfers from around the world. Unfortunately, this can also make it a bit colder than the norm during the winter months, and those seeking calmer weather might want to head to another island instead. (photo by perlaroques)
Lanzarote and Tenerife are gifted with inactive volcanoes and an abundance of flora and fauna that makes these islands a good spot for nature lovers. One of the quieter islands, Lanzarote is known for its black sandy beaches and its vast volcanic landscapes where you can find a wine route that showcases several vineyards producing a variety of wines from little-known grapes. If you get a chance to sample some of the unusual sparkling wine by Los Bermejos made from the malvasia grape using champagne methods, it is well worth your time. Some of the other islands, such as Tenerife and Gran Canaria, also produce notable whites, reds, and rosés that you can taste along your travels. Although not wine producing regions, La Palma and El Hierro, are two of the smallest and least geographically diverse islands, will draw in those seeking a quieter escape. Both are covered in lush pine forests that offer a flat landscape perfect for walkers.
Those looking for the party will find it on the largest island of Gran Canaria, known for its lively bars and restaurants and one of the the most festive carnivals in the world. Not to be overlooked, however, the wilderness quite impressive on this island. With several microclimates and a wide variety of flora and fauna, Gran Canaria offers much to see and do. A hiking and biking hotspot, the island is also laced with trails that run through the villages to the forests, lakes and mountains in between. Surfers can take advantage of the big Atlantic waves.
No matter which island you visit, you should try the signature dish of the island cuisine called papas arrugadas, or wrinkled potatoes. Made by boiling potatoes in heavily salted water–or traditionally water from the sea–the dish gets its name from the wrinkles that form on the skin of the potatoes due to this particular preparation. This typical potato dish is served with a creamy and slightly spicy pepper sauce called mojo made from red or green bell peppers.
The Sierra Nevada
Granada is a popular winter destination for those looking to stay warm in the colder months. At the foot of the Pyrenees, Granada is an excellent place to escape for those wanting to enjoy both the mountains and the beach. The Costa Tropical is only an hour from the Sierra Nevada mountain range with Granada situated almost directly between the two, which means that an hour or so in either direction will bring visitors to the ski slopes or the coast.
Only 30 minutes from the center of Grenada, the ski slopes are an easy trip from the city. With 80% sunshine and one of the longest ski seasons in all of Europe, skiing in Sierra Nevada means crisp blue sky, sun glittering off the bright white snow, and temperatures that remain quite temperate, hovering around 0 degrees celsius in winter. By spring, many even shed their traditional gear to ski in a tee shirt and jeans on the warmest days. (photo by ferlomu)
The ski resort is divided into two areas, Pradollano and Borreguiles. Pradollano may boast most of the restaurants and accommodation, but Borreguiles is where most of the skiing is located. In this area, visitors will find Europe’s largest freestyle snowboard park, Sulayr, as well as cross-country ski trails, areas for snowshoeing, and even night skiing.
With 107 skiable kilometers and 115 runs, it is difficult to imagine growing tired of the slopes here, yet there is much to explore beyond the park itself. Those who want to experience the mountains but aren’t interested in skiing may want to make a trip to Spain’s highest point atop the mountain Mulhacen. You can hike to the summit, year round, weather permitting. Despite the fairly mild climate in the region, the Sierra Nevada is the second highest mountain range in Europe after the Alps. At 3482 meters high, it is important to come dressed for the occasion.
The Sierra Nevada may be known as Europe’s sunniest slopes, but for real sun worshippers, the beach is an easy temptation. Given that it is only an hour and a half from the slopes, it is possible to ski in the morning and make it to the beach in time to catch the afternoon sun. Along the Costa Tropical, visitors will find the typical whitewashed villages of the south. Towns like Almuñécar and its smaller neighbor, La Herradura, are known for their wide swaths of coastline, soft sand beaches and laid back atmosphere. Normally dotted with chiringuitos, beachside stands serving fresh seafood and cold beer, the beaches tend to be devoid of those charming signs of summer. Nevertheless, you won’t have to walk far to find a good restaurant serving fresh tapas and the popular puntillitas, the fried baby squid typical to Andalucia. If you are looking to balance out your meal with something sweet, don’t miss the lovely little honey-coated fritters known as pestiños de miel which are so loved by the region’s residents. (photo by Ulf Bodin)
With two different destinations easily within reach, it might seem easy to discount Grenada itself as a wintertime escape, yet winter is an excellent time to go because hotel rates are cheaper and the throngs of tourists have departed for the season. You can avoid long lines at the Alhambra and have the fascinating Moorish palace all to yourself. Moreover, temperatures remain quite mild despite the shorter days and the layer of frost that often covers the ground in the mornings, so it is still possible to grab a table at a cafe in one of the many beautiful plazas and enjoy the street life while having a glass of tinto and a tapa. So sit back, take in the view, and know that even though it might be winter, in Spain your personal paradise is never far away.