Yes, it is possible to bask in warm winter sunshine within a 4 or 5 hour flight from northern Europe. Here are seven fabulous hideaways for all budgets.
1 Gozo, Malta
December sun: 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 Xaghra Farmhouse is a warm, rustic townhouse in the charismatic small Gozitan town of Xaghra. With 3 bedrooms and a small private pool in its walled courtyard, it’s ideal for families or friends, and can sleep up to 8 using the sofabed. Prices from £243/night.
2 Southern Cyprus
December sun: 18-20°C
Why go: Last year, Cyprus was named the best affordable winter sun holiday for Brits. It also offers a fantastic mix of buzzy urban culture and sleepy village life. The city of Limassol (or Lemesos, either is fine) has a lively cafe-culture and boutique shopping scene. And it’s 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 short hop away, in the tiny hamlet of Psematismenos, we’ve unearthed a gorgeous and ultra-affordable sextet of rustic-chic suites and cottages for 2-4. Clustered around a central pool and courtyard garden, with loungers and sociable terraces, Modus Vivendi is the perfect spot for a lazy holiday of reading, sunbathing, fish tavernas and gentle sightseeing. Prices from £67/night.
3 Garachico, Tenerife
December sun: 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), and the food is outstanding. Prices from £198/night.
4 Ponta do Pargo, Madeira
December sun: 19-21°C
Why go: Madeira may look like a lonely outcrop in the Atlantic Ocean, but this beautiful Portuguese archipelago is just a 4-hour 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, and it 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.
5Cabo de Gata, Spain
December sun: 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: Little Agaveis a super-welcoming, affordable, off-grid 4-bedroom guesthouse, set amid the dramatic desert- and seascapes of the Cabo de Gata. Almería airport is just a 35-min drive away. Prices from £63/night.
6Lanzarote, Canary Islands
December sun: 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.
7 Taghazout, Morocco
December sun: 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.