Five fab winter warmers for an off-peak getaway – Independent.ie

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Now is the perfect time to visit a host of cities that are too hot, or too crowded, in summer
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Busy tapas bar in the historic centre of Seville offers ideal winter break.
A view of the flea market of Cours Saleya in Nice, France
Djemaa el-Fna, the huge square in the Medina (the old city) of Marrakech
St John's Cathedral in Valletta
Legendary football Diego Maradona is revered in Naples. Photo: Massimo Buonaiuto
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Roslyn Dee
November 20 2021 04:30 PM
If you’ve ever spent time in Seville during the sun-drenched days of summer you will understand why that city has long been known as “the frying pan of Andalucia”.
I can still vividly recall sitting at a pavement table outside one of Seville’s many fabulous tapas bars on an early August night a few years ago, with the heat and the humidity still oppressive enough to warrant me reaching for the fan in my handbag. It was difficult to comprehend that my watch was telling me it was almost midnight. 
During daylight hours, the city’s July/August temperatures can be completely overwhelming. With a high of 47.3C recorded in Seville this summer, that kind of heat simply proves paralysing for most visitors.
But guess what? Cities primarily known as summer destinations can be brilliant spots to visit in the winter. Less crowded and not as insufferably hot, it is also a time when the locals get to reclaim their home territory, giving it an authenticity which is often skewed at the height of the summer.
They are perfect places, therefore, to while away a few out-of-season days, and don’t discount the fact that you are even in with the chance of some pleasant weather.
So as winter beckons, and with all of them on direct flights from Ireland throughout the winter months, here are five of my favourite winter-warmer cities.
With its Moorish history, stunning architecture and flamenco tradition, Seville is one of the most captivating cities in Spain. Throw in its wonderful tapas culture, particularly in the atmospheric maze of streets that form the Santa Cruz district, and it’s easy to understand the all-year appeal.
Don’t Miss
The Gothic cathedral and its Moorish ‘Giralda’ bell-tower are spectacular. Visit the cathedral tomb said to contain the bones of Christopher Columbus and climb to the top of the 100-metre-high Giralda for great views. Yes, you pay in (10, €5 conc), and no, there’s no lift.
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Ethically contentious, but the tour of the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza is nonetheless excellent. Arguably the most magnificent bullring in Spain, it dates from the 18th century. One of its most prized exhibits is a matador’s cape painted by Picasso. No bullfighting in winter.
See Seville’s public art installation, the Metropol Parasol. A huge wooden structure (500ft long and over 200ft wide) in Plaza de la Encarnación, it offers shade in summer and a great feast for the eyes all year round. Completed in 2011, the locals call it “las setas” – the mushrooms.
Date for the Diary: December 17, 2021 to January 5, 2022. The Feria de Artesania (Craft Fair) in Plaza de Nueva.
Dining: El Rinconcillo – in the Santa Cruz district – dates from 1670. Tapas bar downstairs, restaurant upstairs. elrinconcillo.es
Staying: Hotel Inglaterra – great location on Plaza Nueva, close to the cathedral. Doubles from €80. hotelinglaterra.es  

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A view of the flea market of Cours Saleya in Nice, France
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A lovely city on the Côte d’Azur’s famous Bay of Angels, Nice is somewhat emptied of its hordes of promenading ‘beautiful people’ during winter. The city beach is much quieter, the shops more manageable and the art galleries a joy to visit.
Don’t Miss
The Cours Saleya in Vieille Ville (the Old Town). A rectangular ‘square’, it’s the site of the daily flower market. On Mondays it transforms into a fantastic antiques/bric-a-brac market with everything from cutlery to jewellery to porcelain to lace. Lined with cafes where you can take a break from browsing.
The art galleries, especially the Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery (my favourite modern gallery in Europe), and the Musée Marc Chagall in the residential Cimiez district.
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral. With its over-the-top onion-domed exterior, inside – while still lavish – it’s very peaceful and extraordinarily beautiful.
Date for the Diary: February 11-27, 2022: Nice Carnival. The biggest winter attraction on the Riviera, the floats are out of this world and the Battle of the Flowers parade a sight to behold.
Dining: Chez Acchiardo in the Old Town. Wooden tables, stone walls and no frills but great rustic, local cooking. 38 Rue Droite, Vieux Nice. 00 33 493 855 116
Staying: Hôtel Windsor – five minutes’ walk from the landmark Promenade des Anglais, this is a gem of a place. Family owned and with the rooms decorated by contemporary artists, those with frescoed walls are especially stunning. Go for ‘Chevaux’, the one with the winged horses. Doubles from €90. hotelwindsornice.com
 

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Djemaa el-Fna, the huge square in the Medina (the old city) of Marrakech
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An assault on the senses, Marrakech in Morocco is a place once visited, never forgotten. Even in December, temperatures can hover around 20C or above, though can plummet at night, so you need to pack accordingly.
Don’t Miss
Djemaa el-Fna, the huge square in the Medina (the old city), backing on to the souqs, and a spectacle in its own right. Full of locals and visitors, hustlers and hawkers, snake-charmers, acrobats and magicians, you need to keep your wits about you.
You can buy anything here – from live animals to jewellery to second-hand false teeth (yes, really). When darkness falls it turns into a wonderful open-air dining area with food stalls and trestle tables, all surprisingly ordered, and with wonderful aromas floating on the night air.
The souqs. Not for the faint-hearted but such a great experience because as well as haggling for goods you can see the various artisans plying their craft. For a small fee a guide will take you through on your first visit to help you get your bearings.
The Koutoubia mosque. Unlike mosques in Istanbul or a handful in the United Arab Emirates, non-Muslims are not permitted inside Moroccan mosques. Still well worth going to see, the Koutoubia’s minaret is the tallest structure in Marrakech and its palm-treed gardens are a delight.
For real gardening enthusiasts, the Majorelle Garden, restored by designer Yves St Laurent and with its striking cobalt blue backdrop structures, is another must-see.
Date for the Diary: December 2021: Best month for desert star-gazing. A number of specific tours on offer from Marrakech.
Dining: After dark, pick from the variety of food stalls on Djemaa el-Fna. Everything from kebabs to fish to barbecued chicken to snail soup. No alcohol.
Staying: Riad Jardin Secret – 15-minute walk to Djemaa el-Fna. Traditional Moroccan riad with seven rooms available. Very restful, with rooftop terrace. Doubles available from €135. riadjardinsecret.com
 

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St John's Cathedral in Valletta
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The capital of Malta, historic Valletta is a hilly, atmospheric and charming city, its slightly faded Mediterranean feel juxtaposed with majestic sights.
Due to the small size of Malta and the island’s excellent (and cheap) bus service, Valletta is also a good base from which to explore other parts of the island on a day-trip. Try to get to the hilltop city of Mdina.
Don’t Miss
St John’s Cathedral on the main street just through the city walls. Ordinary on the outside, inside it’s magnificent in a mesmerising, OTT way. One of two Caravaggio paintings here is the famous ‘Beheading of John the Baptist’ – the largest he ever painted.
Lascaris War Rooms – underground tunnels and rooms that served as British HQ for the defence of Malta during World War II. Also see the Malta at War Museum, just across the bay in Vittoriosa/Birgu.
The Grand Harbour – very important historically in connection with the ‘Great Siege’ here in the 16th century, when the ruling Knights of St John saw off the Turks. Also significant during World War II. You can take a boat tour of the harbour.
Date for the Diary: January 14-29, 2022: Valletta Baroque Festival will feature more than 30 baroque music concerts in Valletta and across the island.
Dining: Rubino – close to St John’s Cathedral, this is Maltese cooking with an Italian twist. Famous for its lamb, you’ll also get lovely fish dishes here. rubinomalta.com
Staying: Domus Zamittello – a restored palace just within the city walls, this is a boutique hotel with around 20 rooms. Great location and with lovely views from its roof terrace. Doubles from €150. domuszamittello.com
 

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Legendary football Diego Maradona is revered in Naples. Photo: Massimo Buonaiuto
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Surely the most vibrant, life-affirming city in Italy, Naples stretches out along the beautiful bay that bears its name. Washing hangs across inner-city streets, car horns hoot constantly and motorcyclists screech past. With real scenes that could be straight out of a Federico Fellini movie, it’s the raw reality of Naples that sucks you in.
Don’t Miss
The Hop On/Hop Off bus tour. Great way to get a real feel for this large, sprawling city. Two routes, 24-hr ticket, 20 stops. Costs €20.70. hop-on-hop-off-bus.com
The National Archaeological Museum is a treasure trove of ancient Roman artefacts, including some bounty from Pompeii. Best to avoid the room with the pornographic statuary if you have young children in tow.
Head to the San Paolo soccer stadium (now the Diego Maradona Stadium) to watch Napoli play. Much like the city itself it’s an exhilarating experience. There’s a shrine to poster boy Maradona in Bar Nilo in Spaccanapoli – including a clipping of his hair encased behind glass.
Date for the Diary: November 27 to December 30: Naples Christmas Market
Dining: Gino Sorbillo – with Naples the home of pizza, don’t miss this place, located amid the back streets in the oldest part of the city. From classic pizza to creative concoctions, they’re all here. sorbillo.it
Staying: Palazzo Decumani in the historic Spaccanapoli district and close to the cathedral. Modern interior design and spacious rooms. Doubles from €108. palazzodecumani.com
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