You ready for my 9 Reasons why you should roadtrip Southern Europe in Winter? I am usually a passionate sun chaser, I would always chose a warm destination over a cold one. Thats why during German winters, I hop onto a plane to New Zealand, Aussie or Thailand. This winter, I still wanted my end-of.-year adventure but without leaving Europe. Mainly with the thought in the back of my head that I want to keep my flight travel to a minimum. And I definitely wanted to get out of my comfort zone by choosing a camper van as a means of travel.
You might or might not know that some months back, I quit my corporate job and currently I am enjoying my 6 month sabbatical to the fullest. So understandably, I wanted to squeeze as much travel adventure (and as many countries as possible!) into these months. With a much higher temperatures and lots of sunfilled days, I decided roll into Southern Europe: France, Spain, Portugal and possibly Marokko. I am now two months into the trip and the idea to choose quiet and mild winter over hot and crowded summer was simply brilliant. But there are so many more good reasons than the weather to choose winter over summer.
If you travel on a budget this aspect might be especially interesting to you! Most campgrounds and AirBnb’s offer special rates during winter off season, oftentimes up to 30 -50% lower compared to peak season. Also ferry tickets ca be remarkably cheaper, for our ferry ride to Marokko we paid half price compared to summer!
Also in general, road tripping with a camper van is a fairly cheap way to get around. On average we spent 600€ per person/per month on the road including gas/petrol, organic groceries, entrance fees. That’s cause we own the van but even if you rent, it will be much cheaper than any flight or train travel plus accommodation costs.
France, Spain and Portugal are insanely popular in summer, spring and even fall. Spain was ranked the second most visited country in 2018, France and Portugal also among the top 10. Now you can possibly imagine the crowds at cities, sights, camp grounds, parking spots, hostels, museums, restaurants, you name it. Well, that’s not going to happen in winter. You have the most desired and otherwise outerwordly crowded sights, beaches and secret turquoise coves to your sweet self. No haggling for perfect photo spots or waiting lines.
This is the part which I actually enjoyed most because you can see otherwise so busy places from whole different perspective. We parked and camped at insanely beautiful coves which in high season, you would never be able to have for yourself. We were also all alone at the exquisite beaches around the Costa Brava, at the DALI museum, at the famous Pont du Gard in France, and we hiked the Caminito Del Rey with only a handful of people, just to name a few.
Travel much faster
With less crowd we were able to travel so much faster especially with the camper. Roads are less crowded with literally no traffic jams. We have not experienced any jammed city centers and no waiting times at parking slots. There are also no waiting times at big sights and toll stations which allows you to move much more efficient. One example at the DALI museum you usually have to book way in advance for tickets but we just showed up and there were hardly any people!
Usually in peak season you have to book everything in advance: camp grounds, entry tickets, AirBnB’s, rentals. In winter, your are free as a bird, booking ahead is not necessary. Sights, rentals, famous hiking routes and accommodation are rarely fully booked which gives you a lot of flexibility for your travels. We loved that we didn’t have to plan our whole trip in detail. We could go with the flow and arrive at the big sights, busy camp spots and hostels which ever day we wanted without letting these factors determine the sequence of our travels.
Take a different perspective
A lot of people travel to France in summer, visit lavender fields and the castles. But have you ever visited any of the castles during Christmas? Many place have such a very different feel and charm to them when visited for example in autumn or winter. It is so cozy to visit a lot of the mountain regions in winter. Plus a lot of extremely crowded beaches are almost deserted in winter, an experience which is impossible in summer. This is actually how Spain and the other busy countries must have looked like decades ago.
Whatever the weather
No, I am not kidding you! Southern Europe gets extremely hot in summer. Trust me, it’s not pleasant. Campers ramble for shaded camp spots and you are most likely woken up by the soaring sun at 6am. The weather in winter is surprising warm and pleasant. Temperatures usually move between 15 to 20 degrees celsius. If you are lucky they even reach 25.
Just to put the temperatures into perspective for you, we swam in the ocean on Christmas Day. The water was cold but it was perfectly warm outside! It is also good to know that the Costa Tropical offers hot dry climate with 300 days of annual sunshine! What I am trying to say is that the weather is perfectly fine for shorts and for quick cooling ocean dips. Hikes and city strolls are also so much more fun when the climate is pleasant. Nights will of course be cooler depending on where you are. In Spain we didn’t experience colder nights than 10 degrees celsius (except in the Sierra Nevada).
Don’t get bitten
During summer especially along the coast and near rivers, insects are going to eat you alive after dawn. In winter obviously there are no such troubles at all as its too cold for most insects now. You will enjoy your evening beer at the ocean without any little monsters leeching for your blood. Also you don’t deal with nasty flies or any other bugs at all! We loved that we could keep the windows open of our camper the entire night!
The issue with the police and wild camping
Facts first. Wild camping is prohibited in Spain and France. In Portugal it is sort of a grey zone. But there are parking spots that officially allow overnight camping. Check the app Park4night for options to legally camp in those countries.
In peak season, due to the amount of free campers (and some people trashing camp spots), police can be a bit irritable at times. We have read reviews about high fines (up to 200€) when parking in slightly wrong spots or being sent away. In low season, authorities simply don’t care so much since there are much less tourists and less of an annoyance.
Less camper van, less break ins. Breaking into camper vans and RV’s seems to be the new sport of some dodgy people especially at the tourist spots. They are mostly after fancy RV equipment and not after the rusty vans like ours. But it was evident that hardy any campers got robbed in winter, actually we didn’t read or hear about anybody. Whereas in high season, it seems much more worth for criminals to seek for highly equipped vans or valuables. Same as for police, not a lot of camper vans means not a lot of attention from police or robbers.
I hope you found our experiences a bit helpful and maybe you will be switching the next Bali holiday for a true one of a kind southern Europe road trip experience!
Did you enjoy my 9 Reasons why you should roadtrip Southern Europe in Winter? For more travel tipps and van life stories, check out my Guide on how to transform your camper on a budget, Guide on Montenegro/ Kotor Bay, Vegan Food guide to Auckland (New Zealand), Vegan Festival Guide, Travel and Food Guide to Patagonia. Also if you like some more detailed insights on the vanlife in general, check out my friends Rosa’s Vanlife Diaries!