While Andalucía is well known as a sun-seekers paradise, I have a little secret to share… summer is not the nicest time of year to visit. Sure, if you only have that short time for a break, you like it hot, and you want some guaranteed rays then it’s a good choice. However, there are many reasons why it is advantageous to visit Andalucía in winter.
1. It’s as festive as anywhere for the holidays
Those of us from northern climates sometimes have difficulty feeling festive for the holidays without a bit of snowfall. If it’s a snowy winter wonderland you seek, there are still options in Andalucía as you’ll learn below. However, in this mainly Christian country, Andalucíans still go all out for Christmas (Navidad) in the absence of snow, and these party loving people also have a knack for New Year’s Eve (Noche Vieja), all with their own particular culinary traditions. The smallest villages will still have lights lining their narrow streets with sprawling greetings of “Feliz Navidad” and other glittering adornments. The larger cities, including Malaga and Seville are worth a visit simply to witness the grandeur of their light displays, life-like nativity scenes, holiday markets and window dressings. It easily gets you into the spirit, even if the only snowflakes you see are massive decorations.
2. Intimate access to popular sites
Andalucía boasts some of the most popular UNESCO Heritage sites anywhere with the ancient Alhambra palace in Granada and the Mezquita mosque-cathedral in Cordoba. In summer visitors must purchase entry tickets to the Alhambra palace months in advance, and the vast number of people on the surrounding grounds make it difficult to really access that “back in time” sensation the historic site can offer. Equally, the Mezquita is widely considered one of the most beautiful mosques in the world, and perhaps the most curious of all with the construction of a cathedral right in the centre after the Christian reconquest. Though you may spend much of your time there with your neck crooked back staring upward at the amazing structures, the experience is clearly more impactful and contemplative in silence. Not only that, Cordoba can be excruciatingly hot in summer. Apart from these popular sites, a winter visit to the cities and villages of Andalucía in winter offers a greater sense of authenticity, whereby visitors can get a better feel for what it is to actually live like a local and less as a tourist.
3. The beaches
With average winter temperatures upwards of 20ºC (70ºF) on the Andalucían coast and more than 300 days of sunshine a year, the area claims the best climate in Europe. It is very much still possible and still enjoyable to sport that bikini in winter. The warm Mediterranean maintains a balmier coastal temperature than inland, and it’s not uncommon to see people still swimming in the open sea in December. From Nerja eastward to Almuñecar lie some of the most beautiful beaches in Andalucía (http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2014/02/28/5-of-the-best-beaches-in-andalucia/), while the vast dessert landscapes surrounding the wide beaches of Cabo de Gata near Almeria make for a sublime visit at any time of year. If you prefer your beaches private, then winter may be the best time for you. Likewise, the beaches near Cadiz and Tarifa, famous for wind and kite surfing, are all the more enjoyable when you don’t have to compete for wind and waves.
4. Hiking and natural parks
Apart from the well known beaches and bustling cities, Andalucía encompasses immense areas of sparsely populated hinterland with a diverse terrain of mountainous bands, sweeping olive groves, marshlands and an enormous acreage of protected natural reserves. It is a paradise for hikers, mountaineers and adventure sport enthusiasts. The only issue is that in summer it is usually too dangerous to explore many of these areas due to the punishing heat and great distances. Take for example, La Maroma, the mountain peak straddling the Malaga/Granada provincial line at over 2000m. In summer the locals do still hike to the summit, but only at night under the full moon! Similarly, explorations of the picturesque landscapes of the Sierra de las Nieves near Ronda, La Grazelema in Cadiz province, and the surreal rock formations of El Torcal are largely limited in the hotter months. At times in winter the upper altitudes may be difficult to access, but it’s easy access to some stunning snow filled surroundings for that taste of the season. Plus, the bulk of the recently connected “Grand Senda de Malaga” with more than 600km of hiking including the Caminito del Rey, once hailed as the “most dangerous hike in the world,” is generally more accessible in winter than in summer.
It’s not all about sun and surf in Andalucía. The Sierra Nevada mountain range above Granada is the second highest in mainland Europe after the Alps and hosts an impressively long ski season with the greatest number of average days of sun on the slopes. The season opens on 28 November this year. From the main resort at Sol y Nieve or the highest station at 3300m, you may be snow blind to the fact that you are in Spain at all; yet, the resort sits within 30 minutes of the coast and it’s a common experience to hit the slopes in the morning and the beach in the afternoon. The resort invested greatly in expanding the facilities and services over the past decade and now regularly hosts world class events such as the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Cup Superfinals and the World Championships. See also, “5 reasons to ski the Sierra Nevada this Winter”.
By all means, Andalucía does hold an enormous appeal for summer sun seekers and cultural enthusiasts. But a bit of luck with the seasonal clouds and there’s little to sacrifice with a winter visit; in fact, there’s much to be gained. So pack your skis and your bathing suit alike and get yourself to Andalucía for the holidays!
Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto.