Enjoying Europe's Summer Hotspots Off Season

Ibiza in the summer is party central. European hipsters groove to house music in clubs like Space and Amnesia, rock stars and models sail to nearby Formentera for sangría-fueled lunches, and wealthy families rent Mediterranean villas for sun-soaked weeks of snorkeling and lounging. But just because the days are getting shorter and chillier doesn't mean the Balearic island is shutting down. With more than 300 days of sunshine a year and temperatures rarely dipping below 10 degrees Celsius, Ibiza's tourism industry is marketing the Spanish island as a year-round vacation destination. "Lots of people come back throughout the year to see different sides of the island," says Annabel Adams, who works for the Ibiza-based concierge service Deliciously Sorted. "They go mad [partying] in August, and in December they come back to get away from it all."

For many holidaymakers, summer's hot spots are far more pleasant in the off-season. Popular European destinations like Ibiza, St-Tropez and Dubrovnik suffer from traffic jams, crowded beaches and overbooked restaurants during the hot-weather months. And prices in July and August can be double or triple what they are off-season; the Four Seasons Resort Provence at Terre Blanche, for instance, books superior rooms for €825 in July but €345 from December through March. Such deals—especially in these hard economic times—are making Christmas in Cannes or New Year's in Naples an ever more alluring prospect. "Increasingly, destinations that are seasonal are attempting to stretch their season and get people to come all year," says John Lennon, a professor of tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University. "It's all about selling the benefits like it being less crowded, easier to move around and actually getting to see the architecture."

Tourism boards are busy rebranding their product for the off-season. Ibiza is promoting itself as an adventure holiday destination in the autumn and winter months, offering more than 20 biking trails across the island and trekking options along the stunning cliffs. Companies like D-Lite offer yoga packages, while five-star hotels like the Gran Hotel and Aguas de Ibiza play up their spa facilities. Gourmands won't have to fight for a table at topnotch restaurants like Blue Marlin and La Paloma, and the popular club Pacha is open every weekend throughout the year—as well as the entire week between Christmas and New Year's. Rather than tout its beaches, nearby Mallorca boasts that Palma, the largest city on the island, has more art galleries per capita than any other Mediterranean city. At Christmastime the island is putting together "foodie" guided tours, where visitors can sample traditional holiday recipes.

Croatia, which has become a trendy summertime playground for Europe's rich and royal, offers outdoor activities in the cooler months. Split, home to Diocletian's Palace, is the launch pad for tours of islands like Hvar and Brac, with ferries running every day in the off-season—including Christmas Day. Tourists can embark on whitewater rafting excursions down the Cetina River, or hike in the nearby Biokovo mountains. Farther south, in Dubrovnik, visitors can take in the spectacular views of the Adriatic while walking along the city walls. Hotels in the city—like the exquisite Pucic Palace and the Grand Villa Argentina—give guests a "Winter Card," offering discounts in restaurants and shops as well as free activities like cooking demos with local chefs and dancing lessons.

Winter travelers are often pampered in ways that would make the summertime throngs jealous. St-Tropez's tourism Web site features a specific winter section that details which hotels, restaurants, bars and shops are open. The Chateau de Verne vineyard, along with the Chateau des Selves and Chateau Sainte Roseline, lure visitors with extensive wine and olive-oil tastings. Restaurants like Chez Bruno in Lorgues and La Bastide St-Antoine in Grasse offer special dishes, including truffle-infused menus. Hotels like the Four Seasons will organize tours for guests to visit galleries and meet local artists. "The south of France during the winter months has another face," says the Four Seasons' Caroline Mennetrier. "You can experience the local culture, the local people and actually talk to the cheese man, who has time to explain how he makes his product." It's a far cry from fighting the August crowds for a wedge of Brie at the local market.