If winter is leaving you feeling blue, there’s no better remedy than travel! Here are our recommendations for great activity breaks to brighten your winter, from skiing in Germany to bathing in Budapest.
Walking and hiking in South Africa
Not a fan of the cold? In the southern hemisphere, our winter is their summer, making South Africa an ideal destination to escape the grim January weather. It’s a great location for walking and hiking, particularly the beautiful Garden Route, which stretches from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape. Trek through deep, winding gorges, soaring coastal vistas and ancient forests: it’s a must for anyone craving a taste of diverse African scenery. With all this on offer, the temperature is just an added bonus. Unfortunately, the southern summer stretching from November to Mach means South Africa can get very busy at this time of year.
Top Tips: Whether conquering the iconic Table Mountain, or hiking to the meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, one thing is guaranteed: you’ll never get bored in South Africa. Consider heading for a safari in Addo Elephant Park or wine tasting in the Cape vineyards. For more travel tips, download our Mini Travel Guide to South Africa’s Western Cape.
Hitting the slopes in Bavaria
Bavaria, in Germany, is occasionally overlooked as a skiing destination, particularly with the more famous Tyrolean Alps turning heads across the border in Austria. But resorts like Garmisch Partenkirchen can compete with the best of them. Set amid green hills in the summer, in the winter this part of the country transforms into the gateway to some of the best slopes in the country. Aside from the typically beautiful Alpine scenery, which you can get a closer look at via cable car, there are a number of first-class ski slopes, including the famous Zugspitze, and a large Olympic Ski Jump. If you’re not much of a skier, you can visit some of the lookout platforms for some pretty spectacular views, and, in the summer, hike through the striking countryside. But in winter it’s skiing season, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to hit the slopes than in Bavaria.
Alternative: Bavaria isn’t the only place for excellent slopes in Central Europe. Head over to Switzerland for familiar Alpine scenery and fine skiing across the country.
Bath time in Budapest
You won’t find much skiing, ice fishing or dog sledding in the middle of Budapest. What you might run into instead is the perfect antidote to the chill of winter, in the best thermal baths in Europe. The most famous are the cathedral-like Rudas Baths and the art-nouveau Gellért Baths, but there are a host of other less-visited options to heat you up on a winter’s day. The lavish and palatial Szechenyi Baths are some of the best – with water temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius. The Veli Bej Baths – renovated as recently as 2011 – are old and Turkish, with five thermal pools heated by ancient clay pipes. Watch the steam pour into the cold air, put on your bathing suit and prepare to relax. If some are to be believed Budapest’s thermal baths have curative properties, so you might find your winter sniffles gone after a dip.
Top Tips: Budapest is increasingly popular as a tourist destination, so you might find yourself crowded out of some of the busier baths. Winter, however, is the perfect time to go to avoid the rush, so don’t be afraid to go for what’s popular – some of the lesser known baths can be a bit shabby and run-down.
Bird watching in Portugal
The southern Algarve region of Portugal is a true ornithological cornucopia. There are a number of vast wetland areas, natural parks and protected areas such as the Costa Vincentina, Ria de Alvor, Ria Formosa and Castro Marim. Here, many wild bird species make their home well into the winter months. At this time of year, thousands of wading birds like black-tailed godwits visit from Northern Europe, often in the large coastal saltpans around Quinta do Ludo. Flamingos and spoonbills also congregate here all year round. If you’re feeling chilly after all this birdwatching, you can warm yourself up with the regional speciality, Peri Peri Chicken. Winter is the tourist low season; visiting during this time of year means you can take advantage of relatively low prices.
Alternative: Another great spot for bird watching is the north of Greece. Kerkini Lake, about an hour and a half’s drive from Thessaloniki, is home to thousands of birds, even in winter, including flamingos, pelicans, and eagles.
Stargazing in Scotland
In the Galloway Forest Park in Scotland, something rather unique has been created. With its astonishingly clear skies, the 373 square mile (96,600 hectare) park has been designated as Britain’s first ever Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Assocation. As it’s relatively sparsely populated, the are offers excellent conditions for stargazing, guaranteeing stellar views of the night sky – weather permitting, of course! The Galloway Astronomy Centre offers year-round astronomy courses as well as basic accommodation, but you could also choose to make base camp at Dumfries, roughly 40 miles (64km) away, or the quaint town of Castle Douglas, 27 miles (43km) away. Winter is as ideal a time as any to visit, and there are few better ways to experience the stark beauty of the landscape and the twinkling stars than wrapped up in a blanket in the chilly Scottish winter.
Alternative: Another place for clear skies in winter is Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. The mountains here are accessible, with several moderate walks and plenty of winter mountaineering courses aimed at all skill levels available.
Over the edge @ Table mountain, South Africa – Image by Martijn Barendse via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Langlauf 1 – Image by Felix Meyer via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Széchenyi Bath, Budapest – Image by David Almeida via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Flamingo-greater ( phoenicopterus ruber) 1Lagoa da Salgodes Algarve 031011 – Image by Michael Sveikutis via Flickr (CC-BY-ND 2.0)
‘Snow-Capped Tryfan by Starlight’ – Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia – Image by Kris Williams (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)