Winter is a perfect time to travel to Spain, Portugal and Morocco! There is still a lot of SUN and far fewer travelers. There is even SNOW in some places and BEACHES in others! Here are my top five recommendations for a fantastic winter getaway.
1. Christmas in Catalonia
The entire region around Catalonia is an enchanting Christmas destination. The air is crisp. There is the sweet smell of roasting chestnuts from the street vendors. And the holiday light displays in Barcelona are magical. But my favorite thing about Christmas in Catalonia is some very unique and quirky Christmas traditions. The pesebre or Nativity Scene is at the heart of most family’s holiday décor.
Most towns and villages have community pesebres and Christmas markets that include booths selling every imaginable character, miniature village detail, and accessories for the pesebre. Families spend years collecting additional pieces each holiday to add to their displays. But no matter how large or small, simple or intricate the pesebre, one quirky character is always present—the caganer (known in English as “the little pooper”). I told you it was quirky! Caganers are made representing traditional Catalan farmers in their little red barrentinas (hats) as well as historical figures, world leaders and celebrities all with their pants down doing their business.
Traditionally Spanish children receive their presents on Three Kings Day with Christmas being observed as a family and religious holiday. But Catalan children also receive presents on Christmas from Caga Tio or the pooping log! Caga Tio is a log with a face painted on one end, wearing the Catalan barrentina and with tiny legs made of sticks and a red plaid blanket over his other end. Children feed Caga Tio in the weeks and days leading up to the holiday with sweets and nuts, and then beat him with a stick to poop out their presents.
We plan holiday itineraries that include charming small hotels in Barcelona and cozy country inns with roaring fires with plenty of time to explore and share in the local holiday fun. You might even want to stick around for New Years and Three Kings for the complete Catalan holiday experience!
2. Skiing in Andorra
Do you know where the tiny country of Andorra is? It is sandwiched between France and Spain and smack in the middle of the Pyrenees Mountains where skiing, snowboarding and snow shoeing are all available from December through February. Andorra is known for its ski resorts and its tax-haven, duty free shopping. While Andorra has always been a ski destination, it has upped its game with the addition of more luxury accommodations and better trails over the past few years, but is still a bargain compared with most other European ski areas.
There are two main ski areas in Andorra—Grandvalira and Vallnord (particularly good for families). The village of Canillo features the Palau de Gel (Ice Castle) with an Olympic size pool and ice rink. The towns of Soldeu and El Tartar have higher-end accommodations at excellent prices. Whether as a destination or an add-on/mini-trip, we can help you plan the perfect Andorra winter adventure.
3. Surfing in Nazaré
January and February are prime surfing time in the coastal Portuguese village of Nazaré, specifically, Praia do Norte (North Beach) an hour south of Lisbon. Once a little-known surfing destination, this unique spot on the Atlantic coast is gaining international fame for the world’s largest waves, a condition created by a deep canyon in the Atlantic Ocean closely abutting a narrow shelf near the shore. Everything changed in 2010 when Garrett McNamara, a 55 year-old American, big-wave surfer came to check it out and bagged a Guinness World Record in 2012 for riding a 78-foot wave!
To top it all off, the town has a charming red lighthouse perched on a hill where one can get the real perspective of these monster waves from the roof. The news of the amazing surfing conditions has turned sleepy Nazaré into a year-round destination, but so far it is still devoid of chain stores or even surf shops. The invention of tow-in surfing has made these giant waves accessible to big-wave surfers. Whether you are a big-wave, fearless surfer or just want to witness daring surfers riding the biggest waves in the world, we can plan your trip.
4. Winter in Morocco
January and February are great times to visit Morocco. You can visit the imperial cities with fewer tourists. If you need some winter sports, you can head to the ski resorts in the high Atlas Mountains. Or you can spend a few days relaxing on the Atlantic beaches.
It is also an excellent time to explore the desert without the extreme heat of the summer where you can try trekking, a camel ride, or an ATV tour. There is an Almond Blossom Festival in February in Tafraoute staged in Roman ruins with famed Berber arts, live music, folk dance and many almond products for sale. Morocco in winter has a lot to offer.
5. Sun & Adventure in Tenerife
Locals say that the best time to see the real Tenerife is from mid-January thru February. Though the southern part of the island is known for beaches and package tours at larger hotels, the northern part of the island has fantastic scenery and attractions, and the weather in January and February provides the ideal temperature to explore them more fully with highs ranging from 68–72 degrees. And the famous Carnival de Santa Cruz de Tenerife happens January 20 through February 26 , 2023 with street parades starting February 17.
The Anaga mountain range in the northeast part of the island was formed from 7-9 million years ago and offers dramatic and uncrowded trails in the Anaga Rural Park. An alternative to swimming in the ocean are the piscinas naturales (natural pools formed in lava rocks close to the sea). Mount Teide is the highest mountain in Spain and can be summited by avid hikers. There is a vibrant local market–Mercado Municipal de La Laguna—where you can shop like a local. In Tenerife you can combine a beach break with some adventure and get the best of both!