• Spain: with the exception of Madrid(cold) and the North(wet), Spain is often warm and pleasant in January.
The best bet for a dry cultural experience is in the south, visiting the magical Moorish cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada, where the days are warm and the nights coolish, as well as Malaga and Cadiz cities that don’t depend on beaches for tourism.
Barcelona too is a lively, fascinating city – spiced up by weird Gaudi architecture, though it may well be chilly and/or wet in January.
• Italy: The southern part of Italy has generally mild winters with blue skies, so Rome, Pompeii, Herculaneum and Sicily are excellent cultural targets and the weather is likely to be fine, while Amalfi takes good care of those who need a scenic uplift.
Venice is chilly, damp and foggy, but has an interesting, spooky quality, enhanced by the lack of tourists (and relatively welcoming locals).
• The French Riviera tends to be bright and sunny T-shirt weather in January, with chilly nights. We love Nice, Antibes and Monaco but find Cannes and St Tropez pretentious.
Skiing: All over, but especially French, Switzerland and Italian Alps, Pyrenees, Austria.
Skating: Netherlands, on canals if it’s cold enough (once every few years)
Shopping: London & Paris (Big Sales: stores like Harrods start their sales around Jan 5th, but some begin just after Christmas)