Laura French looks at the best winter breaks around the world – from the wonders of one of natures most inspiring light shows, through to sporting ways to warm up.
The Northern Lights
Brightening the dark winter days is one of the earth’s most spectacular natural phenomenons – the northern lights. Multi-coloured swathes of vivid green, purple and red form a blanket across the sky as the sun’s atomic particles shoot down onto the earth’s surface and gather around the poles.
Canada, Alaska, Iceland and northern Scandinavia are all great places to head to to see them, especially in October, November, February and March. The aurora is best seen from remote places so hiring a car is advisable. Other options include getting a sleeper train from Stockholm to Abisko Turiststation or taking a chairlift up to the 3,000 foot high Aurora Sky Station (both in northern Sweden).
For those in search of a full tour, Norway offers daily boat trips on its fleet of Huritgruten ships, lasting as long 45 days.
Alongside the aurora, Lapland is well worth a visit in itself, with activities like husky sledding, reindeer racing and snowmobiling all available. Northern Scandinavia, characterised by the Sami people, is also home to a fascinating culture (alongside Santa and his elves, of course).
Head to the Ice Hotel in the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, 17km from Kiruna, to experience life in an igloo – guests can try their hand at ice sculpting and sample food from the ‘ice menu’.
For those on the hunt for an active getaway that fuses natural beauty with adrenalin-pumping activity, tobogganing can be one of the most exciting winter activities out there. And the Swiss Alps, surrounded by stunning snowscapes and towering alpine trees, offer some of the most spectacular runs in the world.
Among those is ‘Big Pintenfritz’, the longest run in Europe with a 15km route winding its way down from Faulhorn to Grindelwald. The run is surrounded by the iconic summits of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – but reaching the 2,680m Faulhorn summit involves a 2.5 hour trek, pulling toboggans.
For a less strenuous route the 6km run through the Albula Pass, located between Preda and Bergün, is a great alternative and offers tobogganers a train service (the Glacier Express) to get to the top.
There’s nothing like sipping a vin chaud or a glühwein from the comfort of your warm ski chalet after a long day on the slopes. Meribel, in the heart of the French Alps, is a good option for those seeking a big resort with lots of variety.
For a smaller, more peaceful resort try Kuhtai in the Austrian Tyrol – ideal for intermediate to advanced skiers, the high-altitude village offers luxury accommodation and great ski tours, just 40 minutes away from Innsbruck airport.
Outside of Europe, New Zealand is home to world-renowned skiing and snowboarding. Cardrona, located in the stunning south island near Queenstown, is an ideal choice for families and beginners, while Treble Cone just next to it appeals to the more hardcore.
North America, Japan, Chile and Argentina are also worthy options with a range of resorts accommodating all levels.
Winter city breaks
Winter can bring out the best in cities.
Canada offers some particularly scenic and snowy cities – highlights include Vancouver, Quebec and Montreal’s charming Old Town. Santa Fe in the US looks especially magical in the winter months and gets around 200 inches of snow per year.
Old Cesky Krumlov, a 13th-century UNESCO World Heritage site in the Czech Republic, is also well worth a visit during winter with its snow-capped castle and quaint houses, while those looking for Christmas markets should head to any one of Germany’s major cities.
Other European cities such as Vienna, Copenhagen, Brussels and Krakow are also strong contenders on the Christmas scene.