Europe's best winter getaways

Updated 27th October 2017
(Travel + Leisure) — Europeans have dreamt up many definitions of cozy.
Denmark has hygge, a concept that evokes "coziness when relaxing with good friends." Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have gemütlich, which translates to "comfortably homey." And Bulgaria has itsуют, which means "snug."
In other words, when the temperature drops, there's a special appeal to hightailing it to Europe, where the art form of coziness has been perfected over the course of a few thousand winters.
From the Ardennes to the Alps, woodsy retreats with crackling fireplaces, steamy thermal baths with pine-scented steam rooms and wood-paneled inns where bubbling pots of fondue and shots of schnapps have long warmed locals and propelled many travelers to cross an ocean for a taste.
Still, the concept of a European winter getaway is changing. Seaside towns and off-season resort areas are seeing an uptick of visitors who come for digital detoxes and crowd-free retreats that can cost a quarter as much as a ski weekend.
Sagres, in Portugal, for instance, is experiencing an increase in visitors, namely golfers seeking a bit of cool January sun and surfers coming for the winter swells. Croatia's Istrian coast, meanwhile, attracts flocks of Zagreb creative types thanks to the significant off-season savings at its seaside and design-forward hotels.
Find out why there's no winter like a European winter -- especially in these spots.
Tyrol, Austria
Not to be confused with South Tyrol in Italy, Austria's Tyrol abuts its German-speaking Italian sibling, but offers a distinct flavor of skiing, eating and thermal bathing that includes 40 lifts and 200 miles of trails.
Längenfeld's geothermal spring, established in the 16th century, features three levitating outdoor pools and moonlight bathing at the Aqua Dome on Fridays. The Tyrol region is infamous for après-ski parties, and the 78-room Hotel Zhero-Ischgl/Kappl obliges with penthouse suites with private butler service, velvet-and-leather-accented cigar rooms and an 8,073-square-foot spa with four saunas, an indoor pool, damfbad (steam room) and a state-of-the-art gym -- not to mention a free shuttle to the lifts. -- Adam H. Graham
Åre, Sweden
With its snow-covered peaks, café-lined town square and red-hot après-ski scene, this mountain resort in northern Sweden is the Aspen of Scandinavia. There are more than 100 powdery ski runs, or you can navigate the slopes by snowmobile or dogsled: Explore Åre and Camp Åre are two top outfitters that can arrange tours.
After dark, a lively crowd congregates over pints of Swedish Brekeriet beer at Hotel Fjällgården, where DJs keep the place thumping late into the night. For a quiet evening, curl up with a mug of glogg in one of the candlelit nooks at Thyras Salong, in the Tott Hotel. A five-minute walk away, chef Markus Aujalays runs Fjällpuben, a cozy restaurant with a farmhouse feel that serves dishes like tender elk carpaccio with currants and pickled beets.
You'll find several sophisticated hotels in town, but for a true northern adventure, consider spending a night at Igloo Åre, where the beds are made of packed snow covered in plush sleeping bags and reindeer skins, and private guides lead early morning snowshoe hikes.
If the thought of ice blocks leaves you cold, there's the new wood-and-glass Copperhill Mountain Lodge by American architect Peter Bohlin, a high-design ski-in, ski-out chalet with huge stone fireplaces, furnishings by the likes of Tom Dixon and Patricia Urquiola and spa "tee-pees" that pay homage to the region's indigenous Sami tribe. Book a Samezen massage, which uses warm stones and plant extracts, then take in the mountain views from a natural hot-spring-fed pool. -- Ingrid K. Williams
Vals, Switzerland
You don't come to this tiny village in the Swiss Alps to ski. Instead of perfectly groomed pistes, you'll find a wonderland for design buffs. Built from sparkling gray blocks of Vals quartzite, Pritzker Prize winner Peter Zumthor's austerely beautiful Therme Vals houses a warren of steamy hammams and flower-strewn pools.
Last fall, the on-site hotel was rebranded as the 7132 Hotel, with furniture by Fritz Hansen and Eero Saarinen, a restaurant that serves dishes like Öra salmon with beets and spinach and new rooftop suites designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
If your taste tends toward fewer hard surfaces and right angles, the four-room Brücke 49 embodies the distinctive Danish ethos of hygge, or coziness, but with some Midcentury-inspired flair: Finn Juhl chairs, 1960s Le Klint lamps, Vola showers and William Morris wallpaper.
Do as the locals do and earn your fondue with a 45-minute hike from the hotel along farm roads to Restaurant Ganni, an 18th-century timber mountain lodge. After a pot of silky cheese spiked with ginger, porcini or traditional kirsch, throw back avieille prune (cask-aged plum brandy) digestif to fortify you for the walk back down. -- Adam H. Graham
Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
Jutting west into the North Atlantic Ocean, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is Iceland at its most stunning: moss-blanketed lava fields, misty fjords surrounded by craggy cliffs and a towering volcano crowned with a glacier that dates back to the Ice Age.
Do it as a road trip, starting with a night at the fire-engine-red Hotel Egilsen, in the tiny fishing town of Stykkisholmur. The inn's 10 cozy rooms have a New England vibe, decorated as they are in light blues and greens, and original sketches of local landmarks by Icelandic artist Tolli line the walls. Across the street, Narfeyrarstofa, with its doilies and lace curtains, may look like someone's grandmother's house, but the restaurant serves the best lamb stew in town.
It's about an 80-mile drive around the tip of the peninsula -- past waterfalls and golden beaches -- to Hotel Búðir, the region's game-changing property. The 17th-century trading post turned 28-room lodge is a destination in itself, with views of the Snæfell glacier or bay from every window, sitting areas with deep leather sofas and scores of old National Geographics to flip through, and a lobby bar with one of the country's largest whiskey collections. If you're looking to knock the northern lights off your bucket list, you're in luck: an overnight concierge will wake you up for the show. -- Brooke Porter Katz
The Cotswolds, Cheltenham
Once a popular spa getaway for well-heeled Londoners, Cheltenham fell out of favor with the rise of its trendier neighbors Daylesford and Chipping Norton. But with the opening of No. 38 The Park, the historic town in the northern Cotswolds is back in the spotlight. The brainchild of Sam and Georgie Pearman, the Regency building has 13 bedrooms, elegantly done with reclaimed-wood tables, freestanding Victorian bathtubs and David Hockney prints.
For dinner, make your way to sister property No. 131, where locals gather in a buzzy, low-lit dining room for regionally sourced dishes.
Beyond the hotel, there's plenty to explore, including the housewares and antiques shops in the neighborhoods of Montpelier and Suffolk. Don't miss Guild at 51, full of handmade textiles and silverwork. Or tour the recently renovated Wilson, an art space showcasing both British Arts and Crafts and emerging artists. For lunch, Purslane serves a standout Cornish pollack with wood-roasted celeriac and chanterelles; come nighttime, it's all about Daffodil, an Art Deco--style restaurant and bar known for its martinis and live jazz. -- Sarah Miller
Courchevel, France
Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, is not known for taking foolish risks. So when he decided to give the hotel business a try with the ultra-luxe Cheval Blanc Courchevel, he set his sights on Courchevel's most glamorous zip code, Le Jardin Alpin. Its north-facing slopes are among the best, its network of ski lifts the most efficient and its habitués the most monied in all of Europe.
With Arnault's imprimatur and designer Sybille de Margerie's bright, futuristic interiors, the property was a big enough deal to lure chef Yannick Alléno from Paris's Michelin three-starred Le Meurice to open Le 1947, where traditional French dishes get a modern spin.
Just up the mountain, L'Apogée Courchevel bears the dual stamp of Parisian designers India Mahdavi and Joseph Dirand. The 55 timbered rooms and suites are surprisingly casual, decorated in a burgundy, green and gingham palette, while the two chalets have log fires, perfect for curling up beside after a long day on the mountain. Courchevel's equally polished town center is lined with high-end boutiques, including Isabel Marant and Ski Dior, and the bakery Maison Braissand is an essential stop for its buttery pain au chocolat. -- Alexandra Marshall
Alpe di Siusi, Dolomites
Most visitors who come to the jagged, skyscraping peaks of northeastern Italy stay at a traditional hotel in the Badia Valley. But Adler Mountain Lodge is luring more design-inclined skiers to the lesser-known Alpe di Siusi region to the west. The main building has 18 rooms, with spare pinewood interiors, floor-to-ceiling windows and décor inspired by the owners' trips to Africa -- a totem pole here, a carved wooden eagle there.
You'll also find 12 stunning terraced villas resembling ancient Tyrolean huts. Surrounding the property are more than 220 miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails dotted with traditional baitas (stone-and-wood houses) selling steaming cups of hot cocoa. Ask the concierge to arrange a one-hour trek that ends with lunch at Gostner Schwaige, where Franz Mulser serves his signature hay soup, a hearty mix of vegetable stock, cream, butter and boiled hay in a bread bowl.
There's little reason to leave the area, but it's worth taking the short cable car ride to Santa Cristina village to see the town square glow with holiday lights. -- Valerie Waterhouse
Bouillon, Belgium
Deep in the Ardennes on a woodsy bend of the Semois River, this medieval town has become increasingly popular with naturalists who come for fishing and foodies who come for the bone-warming Belgian food.
Set out for an invigorating walk up a hill to 13th-century Bouillon Castle, armed with treats from the abundant local bakeries and chocolate shops. And book your stay at Hotel La Ferronnière, an ivy-covered 19th-century Tudor mansion surrounded by gardens and known for its earthy cuisine: wood mushroom cassoulet, Ardenne ham with cream and lobster with vanilla and tobacco.
The husband-and-wife owners added a wellness center with saunas, a hammam and a Jacuzzi in 2010 -- followed by spacious spa suites with terraces that overlook native beech wood and hazelnut forests. -- Adam H. Graham
Sagres, Portugal
Surfers and golfers descend on this sun-kissed town teetering off the southwestern tip of the Algarve. (Its many golf courses include the 18-hole Boavista, designed by Howard Swan, and Espiche, located in an ecological preserve.)
But the architectural highlight is Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel's timber-wrapped cubist blocks overlooking the Atlantic, whose massive winter swells are wildly popular with surfers and storm watchers. Interiors feature Vitra chairs and Noguchi bamboo lamps, while also paying tribute to the region with local materials like cork and woven Algarve reeds. The result is an upmarket-bohemian beach vibe. -- Adam H. Graham
Rovinj, Croatia
This former Venetian vassal state on the azure Adriatic has traditionally slipped into hibernation mode come winter. Yet in recent years, it's attracted some attention as an off-season long weekend getaway. So you'll find architects and designers from places like Vienna and Zagreb wandering the cobblestoned streets and ancient churches -- relishing the sunshine, lack of crowds and deep discounts.
The sleek Hotel Lone, a member of Design Hotels, halves its rates in winter, with packages that include mini-massages for couples, in-room dining and complimentary bottles of sparkling wine. Lone's restaurant larders benefit from Istria's truffle season -- which sometimes lasts until February. -- Adam H. Graham
La Massana, Andorra
Two hours from Barcelona in Andorra's northwest corner, this Catalonian ski resort has no shortage of pistes and cozy bordas, traditional stone restaurants where tender lamb and beef are cooked on an open grill.
Winter activities here in the Pyrenees, as in many European resort destinations, center on skiing and snowboarding. The main resort, Vallnord, has 55 miles of runs ranging in altitude from 5,085 to 8,500 feet, while a relaxing soak in Caldea Thermal Bath and spa is a worthy nine-mile detour away.
The stylish Palomé Hotel has a crackling fireplace in the lobby, ski lockers and spartan rooms with leather loveseats, soft beds and mountain views. -- Adam H. Graham
Aschau im Chiemgau, Germany
The remote and gorgeous town of Aschau im Chiemgau -- an hour from Munich in Bavaria's extreme southern corner on the border of Austria -- is fast becoming a retreat for Central European urbanites in search of a digital detox.
There's no Wi-Fi, phone or TV at the minimalist Berge, which reflects the tastes of owner and contemporary furniture designer Nils Holger Moormann. Instead, the sauna, views of medieval Hohenaschau Castle and access to a rarefied wilderness will set you at ease and remind you of what's special about a visit to the mountains. -- Adam H. Graham
Pamporovo, Bulgaria
While the karst formations, reservoirs, caves and gorges of Bulgaria's Rhodope Mountains are spectacular, they attract only a handful of summertime adventurers. The area livens up come winter, when the Pamporovo ski resort buzzes with skiers here for 35 miles of pistes, 18 lifts and 23 miles of cross-country skiing trails set around scenic pine forests.
Villa Gella is a tasteful, modern villa with its own indoor pool, a gym, a steam room, a yoga corner and a resident chef. It's 25 minutes from Pamporovo, Bulgaria's largest ski area, and in day-trip proximity to four of Bulgaria's nine UNESCO World Heritage sites. -- Adam H. Graham
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