Wanderlust can strike anytime, so why wait for warmer weather to book your next flight? It might be too chilly to go to the beach, but there’s plenty to do, see and eat from the months of January to March. Here are seven off-peak destinations to add to your trip planning.
Bask in the crisp winter sun by strolling the winding streets that snake through the Ribeira’s colourful, compact houses and stop by the Rio Douro to marvel at fishing boats. After working up an appetite, try francesinha, a sandwich consisting of various meats topped with melted cheese and fries that is Porto’s culinary claim to fame. The historic Café Santiago makes a killer one, and if you’re still hungry, A Perola do Bolhao grocery store has been selling lip-smacking cured meats since 1917. Wash this down with a glass of port or better yet, visit a wine cellar such as Ferreira Cellars.
This cluster of five historic villages on Italy’s rugged north-west coast, popular amongst summer revellers, is worth a visit during off-peak season. Sign up for a food or wine tasting tour – Riomaggiore Wine Tasting and Winery Tours takes people to local sellers in Riomaggiore, Cinque-Terre’s largest village, and Nessun Dorma Cinque Terre offers pesto making classes. Another way to take in the coastal views is hiking Sentiero Azzurro, or the Blue Path, that links the five villages, or pay a pilgrimage to one of the many churches, such as Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, a 14th-century church built in a rock.
Visit Europe’s clubbing capital during off-season and discover a charming island. It might be too cold to swim but hike an hour from Es Vedra to the “Lost City of Atlantis”, a series of rock formations leading to a hidden cove. Then soak up counter-culture vibes at Bar Anita, a café that sells delicious Spanish omelette and is known to be Ibiza’s original hippie bar that artists and musicians frequented in the ’70s. The beginning of the year is also the perfect time to visit Santa Ines when the entire valley is covered in cotton-candy-white from blooming almond trees.
Cooler temperature is a great excuse for wandering the art galleries in Italy’s Renaissance capital, and Uffizi Gallery, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Annunciation”, is a must-see. To mix things up, head to Clet Abraham’s studio which sells kooky vinyl stickers with the street artist’s designs. Food-wise, Ino is a wonderful deli that does not hold back on cheese fillings, and Ristorante del Fagioli is a family-run trattoria that makes hearty Florentine dishes such as meatballs. For a unique gift, Scuola del Cuoio sells leather handbags in a 13th-century church converted into a leathermaking school after World War II.
5. New Orleans
Mardi Gras celebrations kick off on January 6 but hold on to your beads because it’s slow moving in the Big Easy until the major celebration on March 5. To get grooving, fill up on fried chicken at Fiorella’s Café, the Original, or indulge in gourmet-quality gumbo at Café Amelie. Live music and dancing is in order at the no-frills Maple Leaf Bar. To truly see the city, New Orleans Vampire Tour and New Orleans Ghost Hunters 101 takes people to historic landmarks and real crime scenes in the French Quarter and beyond.
6. New York City
The fun never stops in the city that never sleeps, even in the dead of winter. There’s always the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, to visit, and sleepovers at the Museum of Natural History. Look out for Broadway Week in January, where tickets to musicals are 2 for 1. January 21-February 8 is also restaurant week, which means discounted dining at nearly 400 restaurants across the city. The gourmet curious will love the Market Line, a 700-foot long market space opening in the Lower East Side in early 2019 that will host vendors selling everything from pickles to sake.
It’s ski season and Mt. Etna’s slopes, ash-laden during summer, beckon skiers with fluffy white snow until March. For a different kind of workout, climb the Valley of Temples to see the remains of eight temples from the 5th century BC. Housed in the magnificent 15th-century Palazzo Abatellis, the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia has an impressive collection of artworks dating back to the Middle Ages. For a sweet ending, follow the scent of fried Sicilian pastry, filled with plump, creamy ricotta, to one of the best cannoli shops, Laboratorio Pasticceria Roberto in Taormina.