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Sun, surf and slopes: Winter in Andalusia

Long famed for its sweeping beaches and seemingly endless summer sun, Andalusia is without a doubt a Mediterranean sun-seeker’s paradise. But what many people may not understand is that the intense summer rays are usually not the most comfortable of the year. Here in Spain’s southernmost region, the reputation for reliable sunshine is very well founded, and with more than 300 sunny days a year and the best climate in Europe you’re guaranteed a healthy dose even in winter. In many cases, winter is a better season for excursions and beaches (minus the tourist crowds) and outdoor activities (without the extreme heat). Plus, well, you can ski the Sierra Nevada all the while. To truly tap the essence and advantages of a winter stay in Andalusia you’ll need a few weeks or more to settle in on life as a local, savour the local and seasonal delicacies, note the changing pattern and shadows of the sun and moon, and discover the lesser tread paths from your home away from home. A frequent morning coffee in the local village, accompanied by a smile and a willingness to stretch the limits of your Spanish language skills, will yield a wealth of inside knowledge that friendly locals are only too willing to impart. Winter time in Andalusia is never less enjoyable or attractive than any other time of year. Here’s why… Simply sun Did I mention that Andalusia has more than 300 days of sunshine a year and the best climate in Europe? Well, it bears repeating. The northern sun-worshipers, especially those with children dependent on the summer school holidays, love to flock to Andalusia in July and August for guaranteed scorching sun a week or two at a time and are never disappointed. But winter sun is ever more precious and there’s no short supply in Andalusia. While the waters of the Mediterranean will naturally be cooler in the winter, the beaches themselves are often more enjoyable because of the more temperate conditions, the dearth of tourists and feeling of having the beach to yourself. Similarly, the conditions for hiking will be much more suitable for all levels of hikers and climbers in the mountains and rugged landscapes. Finally, what’s nicer than getting a tan whilst skiing anyway? And in the winter sun of Andalusia you can even combine these events and ski in the morning then schedule your après-ski on the beach! The winter beach experience With average winter temperatures upwards of 20ºC (70ºF) on the Andalucían coast, 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 sea in December. From Nerja eastward to Almuñecar lie some of the most beautiful beaches in Andalucía, 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. 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 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 to find 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. Skiing It’s not all about sun and surf in Andalusia. The Sierra Nevada above Granada are the second highest mountain range in mainland Europe after the Alps and host an impressively long ski season with the greatest number of average days of sun on the slopes at 80%; it is, after all, also the southernmost ski resort in Europe. The season opens the last weekend of November this year and should last at least through April. From the main resort at Sol y Nieve or the highest station at 3300m, you may forget 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. The snowboard park features the longest run in Europe for consecutive jumps, rails, half-pipes and other obstacles for the experts, while the “Kidspark” and practice areas ensure a safe and enjoyable time for boarders of all ages and skill levels. By all means, Andalusia 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 Andalusia for the holidays. Alan Hazel is Owner and Director of Cortijo El Carligto. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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  1. I will have to direct my father to this blog post as he’s a huge Mediterranean fan, as well as loving bathing in the sun. I’m more of a winter lover myself! It is nice to have a getaway like this every once in a while though, Andalusia certainly seems like a great place. I love the sound of all the hikes and parks… Perhaps not the dangerous hike though!

  2. Looks like a brilliant place to escape the cold Winter and get some sun. All the photos are very beautiful. The hikes and parks all sounds like a lot of fun too and a great way to get some exercise. Making me really want to visit Andalusia!

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