By Rebecca Miles –9th October 2020
Winter holidays are magical. We love them for their crisp, bright days spent playing in the snow, wrapping up warm to venture out, and getting cosy and snug with a hot chocolate.
And while skiing and snowboarding is a huge part of the fun of getting away in the winter, don’t assume if you want a winter holiday it has to be to ski.
Here at Girl About we are open to all sorts of adventures, and as we look ahead to the wintery half of the year, we’re thinking of bucket list trips to Canada and Lapland, alternative and very family-friendly ski resorts in France, Italy and eastern Europe, and a city break to Krakow that combines the best of the outdoors with the buzz of a vibrant metropolis.
Before we continue, the large quarantine-shaped elephant in the room is putting the dampeners on lots of immediate travel plans. But restrictions will not be in place forever and many of these destinations and holidays we’re going to be talking about over the coming month are still valid in February, March and April next year – when who knows what the situation will be – or require significant forward planning, so need to be planned now for this time next year.
Kicking off our wintery month in Krakow, Poland, we’re taking a look at this city as both a great alternative city break destination, and a brilliant place from where to explore more of Poland.
If you like the sort of holiday that Scandinavia offers – lots of outdoor activities, from dog sledding to snow shoe walking, then Poland is a great value alternative. Plus there’s even some skiing available at the resort of Zakopane, a three-hour train ride from Krakow.
Krakow itself is one of the oldest cities in Poland and has a very picturesque medieval old town. It’s wonderful for wandering around, especially when the Christmas markets are on and the outdoor ice rinks are open (from approximately December to February).
Visiting Wawel Royal Castle, in the centre of Krakow, is a must – the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, it spans the centuries and covers all the major European architecture styles (medieval, renaissance and baroque).
In the Girl About Travel Club this month we’re talking with a well-travelled mum of two about her trip to Krakow and Zakopane, and about what worked and what didn’t. So if you’re keen to know more, come and join us in the club.
Say ‘winter’ to me and the first thing that comes to my mind is skiing. A trip to the Alps is a highlight of the winter – I love the fresh crisp air, the beauty of the mountains, the fun of speeding around the slopes, and the camaraderie of delicious meals in cosy mountain huts, as well as the boisterous après ski.
Recently we’ve been lucky to introduce our young daughter to skiing too, and family ski holidays have become less about skiing every piste and more about simply playing in the snow together.
While immediate options for this winter – right now – are looking a little uncertain, unless you’re able to quarantine on return from France, Austria and Switzerland, there’s hope that towards the end of the season the situation will have changed (either with airport testing in place, or reduced quarantine time) and we’ll be able to visit our favourite Alpine ski resorts.
As it stands currently, the quarantine-free European ski destinations are Scotland, Germany (arrivals from Wales and Northern Ireland must take a Covid test on arrival), Sweden and Italy.
Of these countries, Italy is the most attractive, whether you’re a family of first-timers or seasoned regulars.
Italian resorts have long had a reputation for offering better value than their French and Swiss neighbours, so this winter is a great opportunity to visit if you haven’t before.
Italy’s ski resorts are divided between two main locations, the Aosta Valley in the north-west of the country, and the Dolomite Mountains in the north east. Headline resorts in the Aosta Valley include Cervinia, one of the highest resorts in Europe in the shadow of the Matterhorn and a huge intermediate playground, Courmayeur, at the base of Mont Blanc with a fantastic range of mountain restaurants and incredible off-piste terrain, and Pila, a compact ski-in/ski-out resort fantastic for young families and beginners.
Over in the stunning Dolomites, the ski resorts are spread around the Sella Ronda massif, and are not like the purpose-built high-Alpine ski resorts you find in the Alps. Instead, they’re a mix of small old farming villages and more glamourous resorts. Here, while the skiing is important, it’s not the be all and end all of a winter holiday – in resorts like Cortina, there are as many non-skiers as skiers, and many Italians visit simply to enjoy the scenery, sunshine and socialising. For families with young children learning to ski, Alpe di Suisi and Alta Badia are good areas to head to, while more adventurous and experienced kids will like the more testing slopes of Val Gardena and Madonna di Campiglio.
Looking further ahead to the latter half of the ski season and next year’s, in the Girl About Travel Club we’re going to be talking to Jane Bolton, the MD of self-drive ski specialist Erna Low. We’re going to be discussing what’s possible for this winter, and also talking about the best resorts to visit depending on your needs and experience.
For anyone wary of flying right now, or reluctant to for climate reasons, driving to the Alps is a reliable alternative. Erna Low has been operating for over 80 years, and Jane has extensive experience of skiing with her family in the Alps so knows all the tricks and will be talking us through her favourite resorts.
We’ll also be talking with Elise Gentit from the French resort of La Rosière. I visited with my family last January and it was a brilliant place for my daughter to have her first ski lessons. The resort holds the Family Plus label, awarded by the French Tourism Ministry, and recgonises resorts that go above and beyond in what they offer families. We’ll be talking about what makes La Rosière so special.
A trip to Lapland to meet Father Christmas is on many a family’s bucket list. Run as a well-organised short break of three or four nights, a trip to Lapland not only offers the chance to meet Father Christmas, it also offers families lots of winter wonderland activities, such as dog sledding, reindeer rides and igloo building.
While Finland, home to the Lapland region, has currently closed its borders to non-resident foreign nationals, the country is planning to open them on 23rd November with some restrictions in place, depending on infection rates in the country of departure. So if you have a Lapland trip booked for this winter it’s looking likely it’ll be able to go ahead.
As with bucket list trips like this, it pays to be thinking ahead as school holiday dates and weekends are already well booked up for this year. Bookings are now open for winter 2021/22, so listen in to our talk in the Travel Club to learn more about what to expect from a trip to Lapland in the future.
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