When it comes to travelling, Torontonians are more adventurous than most (blame the nearly 10,000 kilometres between our two shores). For us urbanites, the most sought-after vacations are enlightening, inspiring and, most importantly, not that common. One way to make your experience as memorable and unique as possible is to consider off-season travel. In the months between March and October, most parts of Europe are hectic, overcrowded and almost unbearably hot. It’s all well and good if you’re looking for lively sunset parties in Greece or a day of boating in Capri, but there’s a strong case to be made for hanging tight until the chaos is over. Here, a few reasons why savvy travellers can’t get enough of the off-season.
There are fewer crowds. Have you ever tried to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa in August without crowds of tourists waving iPhones in front of you? Or tried to snap the perfect mud-mask selfie in the Blue Lagoon in June without anyone else in background? Undoubtedly one of the biggest perks of off-season travelling is escaping tourist season. It’s hard for travellers to feel relaxed when they’re navigating a sea of fanny packs. But casually wandering through historic attractions when there’s no one around, or securing a last-minute reservation at a local hot spot? That’s a far more romantic feeling.
But way more special events. Surprisingly, Europe saves most of its must-attend festivals and shows for the cooler months. The holidays are inordinately festive in places like Germany and the U.K., and Prague plays host to one of the world’s best Christmas markets every year. And it’s not all holiday-related: the Venice Carnival in February is an explosion of colourful street performances, and Amsterdam runs a 53-day light festival that lets local and international artists showcase glowing works alongside the picturesque canals. There’s also a playful mountain party called Snowbombing in Austria, and a Viking-inspired fire festival called Up Helly Aa in Scotland. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s also cheaper. If you’re travelling on a budget, off-season is the way to go. Not only are flights cheaper, but hotels have far better deals, and there are often lower fees on tourist attractions. This leaves you with extra cash for the things that really matter when you’re travelling: food, wine, local souvenirs and private excursions to the remote islands or quaint villages.
And cooler. Judging by how most of Toronto reacts to our own midsummer temperatures, we don’t thrive in extreme heat. We are way more familiar with months on end of sub-zero temperatures—which makes Europe’s comparatively temperate weather much more bearable. Depending on where you travel, you can still get glorious sunny days in the mid-20s most of the off-season. And if not, Torontonians at least know to be prepared with a tuque and parka so they can stroll around outdoors in the utmost comfort.
There’s exceptional seasonal cuisine. Some of the most delectable culinary treats are best enjoyed—or only on offer—during Europe’s cooler months. For instance, truffles probably seem like a must-try whenever you’re in Italy. But winter white truffles are only in season from October to early January, and summer white truffles are in season from January to early April. So if you want to enjoy the freshest truffle gnocchi in Rome or a truffle-topped mushroom pizza in Naples, we’d recommend waiting until the winter. As far as other seasonal fare goes, mulled wine is seriously delicious during après ski in the Alps, and Scandinavian seafood is at its very best in colder winter months.
It provides a more authentic experience. For many well-travelled Torontonians, the best part of experiencing a new culture is being able to pretend you’re a native resident, just going about your day-to-day life. With so many tourists in the high season, it can be hard to get a true glimpse of what local life looks like. When the crowds die down, it’s easier to observe what actually happens—whether it’s shopping at the markets or prayer rituals in the evenings.
You’re guaranteed new perspectives. Anyone who usually travels during high season has the opportunity to see their favourite spots in a totally different light. The continent takes on a different vibe in the off-season, which makes it kind of like travelling to an entirely different part of the world. If you fancy yourself an Italian connoisseur, for instance, you might be surprised to find out how much there is left to learn about the country in the colder months.
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to off-season European travel, we recommend EF Go Ahead Tours, which caters to curious, intrepid travellers over 40. Learn more at goaheadtours.ca.