Ice and Snow on the Mediterranean Coast

I knew precious little about mainland Europe when I lived in England. I travelled abroad regularly until 2010, nearly always on holiday and always during the summer months. I thought that hopping across the English Channel was like opening a doorway into a world of perpetual sun, sparkling sea and hot sand.

I visited Le Mans frequently in the eighties for their famous twenty-four-hour race. The weather was scorching during the day and pleasantly warm at night. I have fond memories of sprawling on a dusty grass bank at midnight to eat barbeque chicken and drink cheap red wine. We slept on the grass all night and woke to bright sun and more irresponsible revelry. The climate was so different from cold and damp Engish summers.

I didn’t think about winter weather in these holiday hotspots. I thought that they would be slightly cooler. Maybe enough to stop the sand from burning my feet or melting my ice cream. I didn’t think they would actually be cold.

When we started travelling extensively in Europe I realised how misguided I had been.

Our plan towards the end of last year was to return to living afloat full time. Worries about our new boat’s heating system and poor insulation deterred us from moving on board in December. We had already booked and paid for a winter mooring in Maastricht in the Netherland’s far south. Everyone we spoke to adored Maastricht. It’s beautiful, vibrant and peaceful. The marina we picked is a short bike ride away from the city centre. There’s a wide variety of organic stores and plenty to do during an enforced four-month winter stay. We gladly paid €300 (£264) for such a wonderful location. In hindsight, I suspect that the people who spoke so fondly of Maastricht had only been there in the summer months.

When we finally decided to spend this winter in our Hymer rather than on our new boat, we asked the marina to refund our winter mooring fees. They refused, but then offered us a 50% discount for the following year. We fully expected to be able to take advantage of the marina’s generous discount once we overcame our boat’s heating problems. Then we researched Maastricht’s winter weather. It isn’t pleasant. Both Cynthia and I feel the silver lining of our boat heating dark cloud has been a narrow escape from an uncomfortable winter.

If you’re considering escaping a cold and miserable winter in England for somewhere exotic further south, here’s a snapshot of the conditions in four different European locations at this time of year.

Maastricht is almost as far south in the Netherlands as you can go and close to both the Belgian and the German borders. Our intended winter mooring was at Maastricht Marina until we discovered that (A) our new boat doesn’t produce enough heat or retain it well enough to stay warm, and (B) the marina is exposed to high winds and low temperatures.

Current temperature: 19°F (-7.2°C)
Today’s forecast high: 28°F (-2.2°C)
Today’s forecast low: 20°F (-6.7°C)
Highest forecast temperature over the next ten days: 49°F (9.4°C)
Lowest forecast temperature over the next ten days: 20°F (-6.7°C)

Napton-on-the-Hill is in rural Warwickshire, England. I moored my narrowboat and worked there for many years. I miss the characters there very much. I don’t miss the weather at all.

Current temperature: 23°F (-5°C)
Today’s forecast high: 31°F (-0.6°C)
Today’s forecast low: 20°F (-6.7°C)
Highest forecast temperature over the next ten days: 43°F (6.1°C)
Lowest forecast temperature over the next ten days: 20°F (-6.7°C)

Malaga, seventy miles from Spain’s southernmost point and the ferry crossing to North Africa: We spent an exhausting week there in November 2016. We left when one of our expensive Dutch bikes was stolen.

Current temperature: 62°F (16.7°C)
Today’s forecast high: 64°F (17.8°C)
Today’s forecast low: 55°F (12.8°C)
Highest forecast temperature over the next ten days: 67°F (19.4°C)
Lowest forecast temperature over the next ten days: 52°F (11.1°C)

Leucate, on the French Mediterranean coast thirty miles north of the Spanish border: We’re there now, parked on a rocky beach next to a lagoon hidden by low cloud.

Current temperature: 32°F (0°C)
Today’s forecast high: 49°F (9.4°C)
Today’s forecast low: 48°F (8.9°C)
Highest forecast temperature over the next ten days: 59°F (15°C)
Lowest forecast temperature over the next ten days: 47°F (8.3°C)

Unless you drive 1,300 miles from the south coast of England to Malaga (twenty-two hours in a car according to Google Maps), you’re going to be shivering in your summertime shorts at this time of the year. Leucate is only 740 miles and twelve hours away. We’ve had some cold nights recently, but the blossom covered roadside trees and bushes indicate that spring is just around the corner. The thermometer will nudge 60°F (15.5°C) this weekend. We’ll be here for just four more weeks before voluntarily returning to Antwerp and our very cold boat.

We must be mad.

Four inches of snow fell on our Antwerp mooring. It was enough to encourage is to drive south for the winter.

Four inches of snow fell on our Antwerp mooring. It was enough to encourage us to drive south for the winter.

Ice and Snow on the Mediterranean Coast - It's all relative. The ice on the puddle in front of the Hymer was just quarter of an inch thick. The day's only snow flurry lasted five minutes.

Ice and Snow on the Mediterranean Coast – It’s all relative. The ice on the puddle in front of the Hymer was just a quarter of an inch thick. The day’s only snow flurry lasted five minutes.

Paul Smith

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 20 comments
barrie whitehead - March 1, 2018

paul,interesting read about the weather,I now live in Thailand temp sometimes 100 +.last year went to harbin China,temp 51 deg below,also lived in Papua new Guinea many times above 100 deg.However you do get used to it. Barrie Whitehead

    Paul Smith - March 1, 2018

    The temperature is pretty benign here Barrie. I’m not really complaining about it. When we’re a little fed up with the weather we just have to remember that, if we really want to, we can drive somewhere warmer.

Steve Hodgkinson - March 1, 2018

I do sympathise we are moored on Aylesbury arm but decided to pop down to Cornwall for four nights I think Rock and Padstow are just about the only places in the country free of snow, but they do say it may yet come this afternoon. Heading for Spain next week where they also had snow this week for our stone walled casita that will be like a freezer for at least a week. oh the joys of adventurous life style.All the best make the most of it and revel in the fact that everyone will tell you how lucky you are.

    Paul Smith - March 1, 2018

    We know how lucky we are Steve. I keep having to pinch Cynthia to make sure I’m not dreaming. She doesn’t like it.

    Good luck warming your stone house. At least the Hymer’s double-skinned plastic walls are quick to heat.

Jeannie - March 1, 2018

That sounds a bit more cheerful. Enjoy.

    Paul Smith - March 1, 2018

    I try not to be miserable ALL the time Jeannie.

Joy - March 1, 2018

Hello from a freezing cold absolutely Arctic Wirral Peninsular with the high winds blowing a hooley and chilling to the marrow… I’d trade places for the adventure! Keep snug both

    Paul Smith - March 1, 2018

    I know the Wirral Peninsula very well. I was born in Leasowe, moved to Moreton and then Upton, and spent much of my youth fishing for eels in the marina at West Kirby. Ha, those were the days.

    I have to admit to being much happier here in the south of France than I was on Merseyside.

Mike Atherton - March 1, 2018

The “further South you go, the warmer it gets” myth is just that, a myth. If you find Rodexz on a map of France, it’s a long way South-West from the chill U.K. and you’d think it would be nice and warm. But, there’s the Continental Climate which, unlike the Mediterranean Climate, means that it’s lovely and hot in the summer but bloody freezing in the winter. What’s more, Rodez is in the Massif Central and (at a guess) a good 2,000 feet above sea level. I lived and worked there for a year in the 1970s and loved the place – but I do remember walking up the street one sunny and (very) crisp January morning, passing one of those public thermometers which some cafés over there have on their wall, and noting that it was registering -9 centigrade. That translates into English as “bone-crackingly cold”.

    Peter Bailey - March 1, 2018

    “The “further South you go, the warmer it gets” myth is just that, a myth.”
    Well, yes and no. I live in Malaga and the weather is as close to perfect as you’ll find in Europe at this time of year. But we’re only an hour and a bit from Granada and the Sierra Nevada. You can go skiing there at this time of year. In fact my son and daughter in law came to visit us at Xmas a couple of years ago. We spent Xmas day on the beach at a nice chiringuito and it was hot (for an Englishman). The next day my son and his wife went to the Sierra Nevada for a week’s skiing.
    I think the only place on the northern shores of the Med where it is warm at this time of year is the Costa del Sol. Southern France can be quite miserable in winter.

      Paul Smith - March 1, 2018

      The weather here in southern France might not be quite as warm as it is in Malaga Peter but, from what little I can remember of the city, the scenery is far better here. The weather isn’t too bad really. I might be able to take my coat off indoors soon.

    Paul Smith - March 1, 2018

    After a little Googling, I’ve discovered that the coldest place in Spain is Torre de Cabdella. It enjoyed a record low of -21°C (-26°F) in 1956. It hasn’t been much warmer since then. It’s in northern Spain a handful of miles from the French border. Generally speaking, the further you go south, the warmer the weather, but I know there are plenty of exceptions.

howard - March 1, 2018

Hi paul, Ive followed your adventures for years now and love hearing your updates , boat or van related.. I will continue to do so.. I lived on a campsite in fuengirola for 6 years 2004-2010 and had some of the best times I’ve ever had (and im 53)the community spirit and mild winters were perfect.. Two years ago, in february, I cycled solo (with a tent and a map wildcamping) from manchester to Greece though france , which took all of february , italy, croatia , montenegro, albania and then greece , I half froze to death most of the way, was constantly chased by boar , wild dogs and encountered bear and wolves, so I truly agree about your point about southern france being cold and wild.. However , I never regretted it…

I still dream of a time not too far in the future when I’ll be again on the road (in a hymer this time) following your route rather than reading about it .. Keep up the writing paul you inspire us all, and please stop asking me to unsubscribe


    Paul Smith - March 1, 2018

    MY adventures Howard? I can’t ever remember being chased by a wild boar, or seeing bears and wolves. I would love to be chased by a bristly pig. I wouldn’t like to be caught by one though. Our exploits sound rather tame compared with your own.

Ian of Alchemy - March 1, 2018

30 C here in Bali. My brother and family just arriving from coventry as I write. We,ll meet up for cold beers on the kuta beach tomorrow lunchtime and see if they,ve thawed out. If we can get through the tons of plastic waste on the beach that is ! Its all relative isnt it ?

    Paul Smith - March 1, 2018

    I remember the same plastic problem on a month-long trip to the Philippines. The locals actually used discarded plastic as kindling for their fires. They were too busy trying to find enough food to eat to worry about plastic collection. We have an easy life in Europe.

jean - March 2, 2018

Hi paul,
Last year I followed your travels with interest and a little bit of envy, seeing photos of your van parked in lovely locations.
So, i decided to take 5 weeks away from work after christmas and head for france and spain, hoping to reach warmer climes.
on the first day into france the heavens opened. It rained, and rained some more. I
decided to head fast into spain. It was raining heavier there and was cold with it.
I started to head to the south west with only short stays inbetween. once there I was rewarded with a little sun and warmth. Headed down to the costa del sol and lingered before heading north.
i didnt sleep in a van but i can tell you that spanish houses arent built to keep the cold out. Drafty windows and cold tiles.
It was an interesting experience and i’m glad i did it. I’m planning another trip next year.

    Paul Smith - March 2, 2018

    Good on you Jean. As Cynthia keeps telling me, life is all about making choices. I’ve woken up this morning to the sight of waves breaking on the stony beach twenty feet from our front bumper. Our life is a challenge sometimes, but the pros far outweigh the cons. I don’t want to live a conventional life in a bricks and mortar home. I’ve been far happier since I left all that behind in 2010.

Malcolm - March 5, 2018

You’re not mad… all the 9-to-5’ers living in overpriced boxes in fixed locations, only dreaming of travel and adventure are the mad ones. Those that do usually look back and wonder why but never regret. First hand experience enriches the mind, body and soul… even in the cold. BTW.. it’s 31 degrees here in Malaysia, 21 at night, sticky humid and poring with rain so heavy it would douse a bonfire in seconds. I have yet to find the perfect place on earth to live year round, but expect your readers would volunteer their candidates.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

    Paul Smith - March 5, 2018

    I love your quote, Malcolm. As much as travelling in the motorhome often frustrates me, it allows us to live a fantastic life. We wake up to so many stunning landscapes on the other side of our bedroom window that it’s easy to take them for granted. I try not to. We are very lucky.


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