Short-haul winter sunshine with fabulous hideaways for all budgets
1 Gozo, Malta
December temperatures: 18-21°C
Why go: Malta boasts some of the balmiest winter sunshine in Europe, and the crowd-free island of Gozo is its shimmering jewel. Easy to reach by ferry (25mins), Gozo is a treasure trove of red sandy beaches, sapphire blue waters, mysterious temples, and pretty seafront restaurants (try the Gozitan pizza!). Head for Ta’Cenc clifftops for a heart-melting sunset.
Stay here: Beautiful Thirtyseven Gozo is a chic 10-bed hideaway set in a sleepy village with nearby restaurants and close to glorious sea cliffs. Massages and tasty homemade meals are available on request. Super-friendly owners Patti and Giuseppe can arrange boat trips. Prices from £125/night.
2 Limassol, Cyprus
December temperatures: 18-20°C
Why go: Last year, Cyprus was named the best affordable winter sun holiday for Brits. The southern coastal city of Limassol (or Lemesos, either is fine) has a buzzy cafe-culture and boutique shopping scene. The city is steeped in history and romance. Richard the Lionheart was married at the medieval castle near the old harbour, while lovebirds young and old still flock to legendary Aphrodite’s Rock down the coast.
Stay here: A seriously hip waterfront hotel on the edge of Limassol, Londa Beach is where the beautiful people come to play. The seductive pool, swish Elemis spa, and stylistic bedrooms are perfect for couples seeking winter sunshine with a side-order of urban chic. Prices from £210/night.
3 Garachico, Tenerife
December temperatures: 19-22°C
Why go: The largest of the seven Canary islands, Tenerife might raise an eyebrow if all you know is the boozy reputation. There is, however, another Tenerife. A world away from the high-rise resorts, Garachico is a pretty fishing village on the north coast surrounded by nature reserves, volcanic rock pools and close to the stunning Punta de Teno beach, with its coastal cliffs stretching out ahead of you.
Stay here: Movie-star good looks make Hotel San Roque a must-visit hideaway for winter sun. This 18th-century mansion conversion combines exquisite traditional architecture with modern décor. It has a cloistered courtyard with a sleek swimming pool (lamp-lit at night). The food is outstanding. Prices from £198/night.
4 Ponta do Pargo, Madeira
December temperatures: 19-21°C
Why go: Madeira may look like a lonely outcrop in the Atlantic Ocean, but this beautiful Portuguese archipelago is just a 4hr-hop from London. Unshackled from its ‘blue rinse brigade’ past, the island now draws adventurous travellers who come to see its incredible wildflowers and dramatic cliffs, which are straight out of Jurassic Park. Ponta do Pargo, on the westernmost tip, is famed for its lighthouse and superb seafood. It also gets the most winter sunshine.
Stay here: We absolutely loved Casas da Levada, a gorgeous collection of six rustic houses (for 2-10) tucked away in the emerald foothills of Ponta do Pargo. Incredibly good value, you’ll share wild gardens and a sensational infinity pool which faces the ocean. Fully self-catering. Prices from £67/night.
5 La Palma, Canary Islands
December temperatures: 18-22°C
Why go: Often called the ‘forgotten’ Canary island, La Palma is a Garden of Eden for nature lovers. The island is dotted with black sand beaches, epic craters, otherworldly forests and truly astonishing night skies (stargazers head up to Roque de Los Muchachos to view the world’s largest telescope). It’s also affordable and largely crowd-free. Note to self: Don’t confuse your flight booking with La Palma on Mallorca!
Stay here: Blissfully quiet Olio la Palma is a great-value B&B in the island’s centre with a heated saltwater pool, a tropical garden, and hiking trails on your doorstep. Super-comfy beds guarantee a great night’s sleep, and owners Iona and Oliver have bags of local knowledge. Prices from £80/night.
6Cabo de Gata, Spain
December temperatures: 19-21°C
Why go: Europe’s only desert, Cabo de Gata is a magnet for creative souls. It’s where David Lean shot Lawrence of Arabia, and John Lennon wrote Strawberry Fields Forever. The heady atmosphere of beautiful isolation, beguiling beaches and wild, rugged terrain should spark your imagination, making it the perfect place to write that novel you always promised.
Stay here: La Joya de Cabo de Gata is a dreamy self-catering eco retreat amid desert gardens. Affectionately run by the wonderful Charo, it houses just 3 simple cottages (sleeping 2-4) and is close to some of the most beautiful beaches in Spain. Almería airport is just a 45-min drive away. Prices from £118/night.
7Lanzarote, Canary Islands
December temperatures: 21-23°C
Why go: With chic new guesthouses and a flourishing wine scene, Lanzarote is quickly shedding its ‘Lanzagrotty’ reputation. The island sits on the same latitude as the Bahamas, which means you can spend Christmas Day on the beach. There are plenty more crowd-free Blue Flag beaches and world-class surfing spots to explore. Be sure to stay for 28 Dec – it’s Lanzarote’s equivalent of April Fools’ Day.
Stay here: Bijou and stunningly beautiful, The Ocean Hideaway is a dreamy hideout in northern Lanzarote, near surfer’s paradise. Sleeping 2-4, this romantic villa comes with an outdoor bathtub and stylish interiors. Wonderful owner, Luc, also provides a bespoke service. Prices from £223/night for entire villa.
8 Antalya Coast, Turkey
December temperatures: 19-22°C
Why go: Turkey might not be Europe, but the staggeringly beautiful Mediterranean Coast is a permanent fixture on people’s ‘best beaches in Europe’ bucket lists. Our favourite spot is the bay of Cirali, with the ruined Lycian town of Olympos at one end, the mysterious flames of the Chimaera at the other, and two glorious miles of sandy-pebbly beach in between. In winter, you’ll have it almost to yourself.
Stay here: Quite simply, Azuris the best budget beach escape on our radar. In 18 years of reviewing hotels, this is one of the happiest places we’ve stayed: spotless wooden cabins and stone bungalows (for 2-4) set in idyllic gardens, with a pool, fabulous restaurant, canopied tea houses, and just 2 minutes to the beach. It’s also fantastic value for money. Prices from £70/night.
9 Taghazout, Morocco
December temperatures: 21-24°C
Why go: OK, so Morocco definitely isn’t Europe. But consider this: it’s quicker to fly to Agadir (3h 45m) than to Mykonos; plus Morocco once finished second from bottom in Eurovision, which is higher than the UK’s effort this year. It’s also a haven for European hipsters. Just an hour from Agadir, the small fishing town of Taghazout is populated with surfer-dudes, yoga-goddesses and photo-savvy nomads seeking good vibes and winter sunshine.
Stay here: A surfing-yoga-spa retreat set on a glorious golden beach, Paradis Plage Resort is a magnet for chilled-out couples and families. The resort offers a free kids club, a full gym, 4 restaurants, great eco credentials and epic ocean views from every room. Prices from £93/night.