Editor’s Note: Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that spotlights some of the most fascinating topics in the travel world. In December, we’re getting into the holiday spirit and celebrating the festive season.
What’s more Christmassy than Christmas? How about spending the festive season in a snowy ski resort decked with holly, festooned with sparkling lights and abuzz with cheer.
Most mountain resorts already score highly in the winter wonderland stakes, but some have that extra magic to jingle your yuletide bells.
Ready to hit the slopes?
Here are 11 of the best ski resorts for tidings of comfort and joy during the holidays and the rest of the ski season.
It’s known for the most prized but petrifying downhill on the ski racing calendar, but outside of Hahnenkamm race week Kitzbühel is an elegant medieval town with a cobbled center perfect for savoring the charm and tradition of Christmas as it used to be.
Advent is a fun-filled time throughout the Tyrol province and the scent of gluhwein and cinnamon, the twinkle of fairy lights on trees and townhouses, and the lilt of carols and brass bands make Kitzbühel’s Christmas market a magnet for festive fans.
By day, you can enjoy 230 kilometers of runs draped over the Kitzbühel Alps, and drop into numerous mountain huts to fill up on hearty Tyrolean classics such as dumplings, cheese spätzle, Tiroler gröstl (potatoes with bacon and egg) and kaiserschmarrn (pancake dessert).
Fortified with Christmas spirit you can attempt to ski parts of the infamous Streif race piste, an icy ribbon which plunges from the top of the Hahnenkamm mountain down to the outskirts of town.
Holidays hotel: The Tennerhof is a luxurious old-style wooden chalet hotel with three gourmet restaurants and views across Kitzbühel to the Hahnenkamm mountain.
Griesenauweg 26, 6370 Kitzbühel, Austria; +43 535663181
Festive feast: Sonnbuhel claims to be one of the oldest mountain huts in the Alps, founded between 1924-26, but is now a smart, slopeside eatery easily reached from the top of the main Hahnenkammbahn gondola rising out of town.
Hahnenkamm 11, 6370 Kitzbühel, Austria; +43 5356 71900
Zell am See, Austria
This lakeside stunner in the heart of Salzburgerland offers all the festive ingredients.
Historic old streets and chalets festooned with lights, chestnuts on fires, stalls selling seasonal delicacies such as vanillekipferl and lebkuchen Christmas cookies, warming brews, regional arts and crafts, as well as kids’ entertainment.
For a watery twist, there are giant illuminated stars floating on the lake.
The tree-lined Schmittenhöhe ski area rises above the town with links over to Saalbach-Hinterglemm and Fieberbrunn, making for extensive skiing terrain.
Nearby, high above Kaprun, is the 3,203-meter Kitzsteinhorn glacier region making the area snowsure at Christmas.
Holidays hotel: The Hotel Tirolrehof has been in the Posch family for 40 years and is a comfortable, stylish spot with a central location good for ski lifts and lake.
Auerspergstrasse 5, 5700 Zell am See, Austria; +43 6542 7720
Festive feast: Mayer’s Restaurant is a classy fine-dining joint run by renowned Bavarian chef Andreas Mayer in Prielau Castle on the northern bank of the lake. The eight-course tasting menu takes in delights such as Breton lobster ravioli, filet of turbot with a forest mushroom jus, and plum cake with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon sponge.
Mayer’s Restaurant at Schloss Prielau, Hofmannsthalstrasse 10, 5700 Zell am See; +43 6542729110
If the end of the year is a time to eat, drink and be merry then Courmayeur at the head of the Aosta Valley is an ideal spot for indulging over the festive period.
The historic town at the foot of Mont Blanc is a foodie heaven with rustic huts and mountain restaurants strung like baubles on a Christmas tree across its 41 kilometers of ski runs.
The atmospheric center around the Viale Monte Bianco is a mix of cozy cafes, intimate bars and bistros and designer shops, and is a perfect place to promenade, sip an aperitivo and soak up the alpine ambiance.
Adventure-seekers and view-snappers can ride the Skyway Monte Bianco, the revolving glass gondola that rises to 3,466 meters on the flanks of western Europe’s highest peak. It offers a wealth of off-piste itineraries including the famous 22-kilometer Vallée Blanche down to Chamonix in France. A qualified mountain guide is a must.
Holidays hotel: For bags of Alpine charm, acres of rustic wood, welcoming fires and an outdoor hot tub, the Hotel Chalet Svizzero is a great option in a good location. Perfect for couples.
Strada Statale 26, 11, 11013 Courmayeur, Italy; +39 0165848170
Festive feast: Restaurant Pierre Alexis 1877 serves up “reinterpreted” Alpine cuisine such as seared arctic char fillet with its eggs, cream of nettles and yarrow or fillet of beef, with fine herbs, braised salsify and wild broccoli.
Via Marconi 50/a, 11013 Courmayeur, Italy; +39 0165846700
This traffic-free gem perched high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Bernese Oberland was one of the earliest bases for winter sports and is a treasure trove of wooden chalets and grand old hotels under the gaze of the mighty Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch mountains.
Wengen, reached by rack railway, shares a ski area with Grindelwald – not the dark wizard from Harry Potter but the scenic village at the foot of the Eiger’s infamous North Face.
Just across the valley is the old village of Mürren, home to Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn (2,971 meters), where the cable car station and revolving restaurant are familiar to James Bond fans as baddie Blofeld’s mountain-top hideaway in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
How about a Christmas Day trip to the Jungfraujoch, at 3,454 meters the highest railway station in Europe? Joining a cog railway at Kleine Scheidegg above Wengen, you travel up inside the Eiger, stopping to peer out of the gallery window at the infamous North Face, scene of many climbing epics. The mountainscape from the top, with the vast Aletschgletscher, the mighty Finsteraarhorn and the spire of the Matterhorn in the distance, is awe-inspiring.
Holidays hotel: The Maya Caprice is a refurbished and updated take on the traditional wooden chalet hotel with a cozy bar, Tuscan-inspired restaurant and big-screen views of the Jungfrau massif and the Lauterbrunnen valley.
Schonegg 1333D, 3823 Wengen; +41338560606
Festive feast: The atmospheric Restaurant 1903 in the venerable Hotel Schönegg is a classy option that serves mains such as venison ragout with red cabbage, glazed chestnuts and herb spätzle or roasted dry-aged beef fillet with truffle potatoes, egg yolk and pumpkin.
Auf der Burg, 3823 Wengen; +41 338553422
Val Gardena, Italy
This picturesque valley in the heart of the Dolomites is a Christmas present waiting to be unwrapped.
The three towns that make up Val Gardena – bustling Ortisei, peaceful Santa Cristina and the higher Selva – traditionally go big on the festive season, incorporating their Italian, Austrian and Ladin heritage.
There are usually lavish decorations, stalls selling arts and crafts, the waft of spicy gingerbread biscuits, South Tyrolean panforte and mulled wine, nativity scenes and Advent calendar windows.
The skiing, 175 kilometers of mostly intermediate cruising, takes place below the towering Sassolungo mountain but the area also links into the sprawling Dolomiti Superski region.
Val Gardena is also a gateway into the famous Sella Ronda circuit, a 40-kil