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Simon Calder: A country at its best out of summer

At first sight, the notion of having to persuade the British to winter in Spain looks absurd. We already do, in the shape of several million package holidays to the Canaries (try finding a space over Christmas or New Year in Tenerife or Lanzarote), and long-stay trips to resorts such as Benidorm. But Hispanophiles know that the Iberian peninsula is best visited in the off season, when the air is as clear as the beaches, and the cities are unencumbered by backpack-wielding inter-railers.

The stellar cities – Barcelona, Seville and Granada – reveal their glories most intimately to the visitor in November and January. The seascapes of the Balearics are virtually unblemished between late October and a week before Easter; the 19th-century European aristocracy understood the appeal of Majorca in winter, as did luminaries such as Chopin and George Sand.

The drama of Spain's jagged north coast is heightened by a good Atlantic storm yet, when the Bay of Biscay is calm and skies are clear, resorts such as San Sebastian still shine; I have swum in La Concha, as the shell-shaped bay is known, in late November. And in terms of winter sports, Spain is the unsung star of European skiing and snowboarding, both among the highest peaks of the Pyrenees and the sun-rich slopes of the Sierra Nevada – with easy access to the Med at Malaga. Ski in the morning, swim in the afternoon, and feast on tapas all evening: now that's what I call a winter holiday.