Nov 10, 2011 2:25:26 AM
The world’s hottest cool places
The rewards for braving the cold are many. The northern hemisphere offers wonderful winter travel, with fewer crowds than in the summer months. A dusting of snow makes anywhere look charming, and it’s one time of year when you can get away with wearing seriously nasty jumpers. Here are a few suggestions for a cold-weather getaway.
No-one does winter like eastern Europe. Here you’ll find fairy-tale cityscapes, sub-zero temperatures and people well-versed in getting through the colder months. Budapest does it best – once you’ve braved the bracing banks of the Danube and had your fill of coffee and cake in the city’s legendary cafes there are hot baths all over the city to warm up in.
The capital of Francophone Canada offers an annual Winter Carnival with snow sculptures, an Ice Palace and tower and a legendary canoe race along the St Lawrence River. Close to Québec City is Canada’s only ice abode, the Hotel de Glace, built each year on the shores of Lac St-Joseph.
Russian winters are among the harshest you’ll find anywhere, but a few days on the Trans-Siberian railway will give you all the snowy scenery – from a snugly heated carriage. If an epic, cross-country odyssey isn’t for you, try a week visiting St Petersburg and Moscow, with the cosy Red Arrow overnight service, one of Russia’s essential journeys, between them.
Lapland does its clichés well. The region, which straddles northern Norway, Sweden and Finland, is home to endless snowy vistas, Father Christmas and all the reindeer you can handle. The original ice hotel is here (in Jukkusjarvi, Sweden) but as well as husky rides and cross-country skiing the real thrill of being here is meeting the local Sami indigenous people and marvelling at just how well they cope with months of frosty darkness.
Vancouver is fine at any time of the year, but it feels built for winter. Stanley Park is perfect for bracing walks and the West End hides happening coffee shops and brew pubs to while away inclement afternoons. And you’re just 20 minutes away from skiing action.
Monkey hot springs, Japan
Humans aren’t the only ones to get a kick out of Japan’s nationally-revered hot springs. At Jigokudani Yaen Koen (Jigokudani Monkey Park) near Yamaonouchi Townin Nagano, Japanese Macaque monkeys come down to the hot water for a soak, especially during the winter months. They turn a delightful shade of pink in the process. Baths used by humans are located a little further down the valley so you can get in on the action too. Note: the road to the monkey park is subject to closure during heavy snowfalls.
Lebanon is not the most obvious choice for a skiing destination, but the Mediterranean country is a magnet for winter sports enthusiasts. The ski centres of Faraya Mzaar and Cedars are the best known of six Alpine-style resorts, which offer around three months of reliable snow each winter. As an added bonus, on fine days you can ski in the morning, bathe in the Mediterranean in the afternoon and party through the night in Beirut.
Iceland, recently voted the top destination for 2012 by Lonely Planet readers, is a superb place to visit in winter. Reykjavik’s thermal pools are essential destinations, and best of all is the chance, once out of the city, of getting a gala performance of the Aurora Borealis (check out our Northern Lights how to article). You need to be lucky with cloud cover, but with good fortune your winter trip here will feature one of nature’s greatest free shows.
Never mind that there are no hills and it never snows – come to Dubai for a white winter! The city state which plonked an enormous – and hugely enjoyable – water park in one of the driest places on earth also saw fit to build an indoor ski slope. With temperatures in the low thirties outside you can don your thermals and take on five different runs of up to 400 metres, all on real snow.
For all your travel inspiration and tips for the coming year from Lonely Planet’s experts, get Best in Travel 2012 now!
Best in Travel 2012 also available on the iBookstore.