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Escape to the Mediterranean for warm (and cheap) winter vacations

When the weather turns colder, airfare to Europe becomes much more affordable. But most people don’t want to visit Europe when it’s cold and gray. One secret to taking advantage of low-season prices is to book travel to Mediterranean destinations. Many southern European cities have relatively mild winter climates, but still see fewer crowds and cheaper airfare and accommodations prices from about November through March. If you want to see Europe on a budget and escape frigid temperatures at home, here are a few destinations you might like.

Italy’s Amalfi Coast

For an Italian vacation, Italy’s Amalfi Coast is one of the warmer regions of the country during the winter months. Low season runs from October through early April, with exceptions during Christmas and Easter, and temperatures at this time average in the 40s and 50s. Tourists should be prepared for occasional rainy days, and note that some hotels and restaurants shut down for the winter season.

Should you choose to visit the Amalfi Coast in winter, there are still plenty of activities to keep you entertained. You can climb to the top of the cathedral in Amalfi, shop for ceramics in Vietri sul Mare, or explore villas in Ravello. Excursions to Sorrento, Naples, Mt. Vesuvius, Capri, or Pompeii also make for popular day trips. Plus, you can always hit the shops for one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Stores in the Amalfi region often have post-holiday sales from mid-January through mid-February.

You can quickly see how much you’ll save on a winter vacation by comparing seasonal prices. For example, Go-Today.com offers a three-day Amalfi Coast package, including accommodations in Positano and car rental, that starts at $659 for travel from November 1 through February 26. The same package costs $819 for travel between April 28 and October 31.

Hotel accommodations are also discounted. The Villa Felice in Amalfi offers rooms starting at $45 per person between January 11 and March 18, as well as October 4 through December 22. Summer rates for the same rooms go as high as $78 per person. The Hotel Olimpico, located near Salerno, charges $40 per person in the winter. Prices more than double to $90 per person in the summer months.

Monaco

Monaco is a tiny principality located on the Mediterranean just where France meets Italy. The country boasts more than 300 days of sunshine per year, and winter temperatures stay mainly in the 50s, occasionally reaching as high as the low 60s.

Although Monaco’s biggest tourist draw may be the Formula One Grand Prix in the spring, the principality offers many attractions for low-season visitors. The Oceanographic Museum, which is open year-round, is located in a beautiful building towering above the ocean and features exhibits on the marine sciences. The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra is in session during the winter season, and performs several classical concerts each month. Low-season travelers can also attend the Monaco Dance Forum in December and the International Circus Festival in January.

Because October through March (with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s) is Monaco’s low season, prices are at their lowest at this time. The following chart shows how rates for three-night packages, which include double-room accommodations, champagne and fruit, a newspaper, and daily breakfast, drop in the winter months.

Hotel January 3 to April 7; October 3 to December 29 April 8 to July 21; August 21 to October 2 July 22 to August 20
Hotel de Paris $1,887 $2,141 $2,613
Hotel Hermitage $1,597 $1,779 $2,396
Hotel Mirabeau $1,016 $1,107 $1,416

Or, if you’d rather name your own price, you can find deals by bidding on vacation packages at MonacoAuction.com.

Cyprus

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and is dotted with mountains, beaches, and citrus and olive groves. It’s another sunny spot, with winter temperatures averaging in the 60s for December and January and reaching as high as the 70s in November, February, and March.

Unlike some smaller destinations, Cyprus does not shut down for the winter. Low-season activities can include visiting archaeological sites, hiking, cycling, bird watching, attending cooking lessons, relaxing at spas, rock climbing, and wine tasting. Many towns also hold cultural festivals during the winter months.

You can often find discounts of up to 50 percent on hotel stays from November through March, as well as airfare reductions of up to 30 percent. When we did a search on Travelocity, the lowest price for a midweek round-trip flight in early February was $838 on British Airways. In late July, the lowest price on British Airways for a midweek trip was $1,233.

Other suggestions

These three regions are not the only destinations that generate some heat in the winter. Spain, Greece, and the island of Sicily in Italy often have mild temperatures during their off-seasons.

If you do decide to take advantage of low-season discounts, be sure to check in advance about winter closures of any attractions, restaurants, or shops you have your heart set on visiting. Even attractions that don’t close completely often have distinct winter and summer hours. You also may want to consider buying travel insurance, especially if you’re departing from a colder city where a snow storm or frigid temperatures could cause flight delays or cancellations.

No matter when you visit, museums are just as fascinating on a rainy day and regional cuisine tastes every bit as good when it’s cool outside. Most travelers opt for the warmest temperatures on their European vacations, but if you prefer low prices and fewer crowds, it makes sense to consider a winter vacation. Just stick to the warmer spots along the Mediterranean, and you’ll hardly notice that it’s winter at all.

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