Winter Escapes with a Twist

December 22, 2009 by

Europe, Family & Kids

What point is there trying to run away from winter’s cold embrace? At some point you must hunker down, snuggle up, and give in to the hibernating spirit of snow and ice! In the spirit of winter, here are some of my favorite off-beat ideas for making your own alternative winter fun.

It’s all downhill from here

Downhill fast. Photo by Milka Meskanen

Downhill fast. Photo by Mika Meskanen

While those who can, ski. The rest of us are left to make it downhill on whatever equipment we can find. So collect your largest cardboard boxes (or any sled-like contraptions you can find in the garage or cellar)!

Whatever sledding implement you choose, climb to the top of the nearest hill and barrel back down at top speed. It’s a guaranteed way to lift your spirits and get the adrenalin flowing.

Alternatively hit the hills of Morzine-Avoriaz (in France) at night, for Luge Nocturne (Night Sledding). There’s only a torch to light your way, so this promises an even more invigorating thrill. Of course, I heartily recommend you follow the activity with a steamy sauna or glühwein, to truly invoke the winter spirit.

Steam into spring

The secret of Finland’s military success? It’s a well-known fact that Finland’s soldiers gained an edge by constructing mobile saunas in the middle of the battlefield, staying warm and relaxed in them overnight, before burning them to the ground and moving on the next morning.

Inside a TempSauna

Inside a Temp° Sauna

You don’t need to fight hostile forces, just the ennui of long nights and dark days. Many places offer a traditional Finnish sauna, so even if you can’t make it all the way to Finland, search your local business directory and health-spa listings for a steam bath closer to home.

For that authentically Finnish experience, bring your own birch branches to stimulate the release of toxins. Or you can call on the travelling sauna and have a mobile Temp° Sauna built for you, using traditional Finnish methods and materials. Developed in the backyards of old Berlin, and since travelling to Spain, Australia and Helsinki, the Temp° Sauna can be heated with recycled wood and strives to respect the environment and find new avenues of sustainability. (Click here for more sauna tips on the Viator blog.)

Visit Santa

Those who can make it to Finland will be in for a treat when you head north to Arctic Finland and the tiny town of Rovaniemi. This is the official home of Santa, and the place where all the letters addressed to him end up. And in case you’re looking for last-minute inspiration, the official Christmas menu includes spiced fish, Glazier’s herring, apple salad, turnip casserole, salmon stuffed with pike and morel, home-brewed beer, gingerbread and cloudberries.

Even those too old or cynical to believe in the man in red and his bevy of elvish helpers, well it’s still an amazing place to visit, and if you’re lucky you may get to see the Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis – or take a ride on a reindeer sleigh. The stars of the polar sky are stunning, with the North Star at the centre, giving the reindeer their special navigation system. The clear and cloudless night skies are said to bring more berries and mushrooms the following summer. And when the silvery crescent moon appears on Christmas Day, they say that next year will be particularly happy.

Remember to pack your wish-list for presents, just in case! Anyone who believes in Moomins (the whimsical creation of children’s book author Tove Janssen) can visit their homeland further south, where the Fillyjonk who believed in disaster will be battening down the hatches against the winter storms. Moominland Midwinter offers a special program of events, so drink your pine-needle cordial and hibernate for the rest of the cold season, who knows what adventures spring may hold?

Snug as a bear in the ICEHOTEL

Every year in the north of Sweden a team of intrepid designers re-construct the ICEHOTELâ„¢, so that even more intrepid travellers can bunk for the night on a bearskin rug in a bed of ice. The guest rooms are made entirely of ice (the rest of the hotel is made of more traditional materials). Short of camping in an igloo, it’s the closest thing to becoming a polar bear (albeit in a very fancy setting).

Building the ICEHOTEL. Photo by Ben Nilsson/Big Ben Productions

Building the ICEHOTEL. Photo by Ben Nilsson/Big Ben Productions

Choose from the art suite, ice or snow rooms – breakfast buffet and morning sauna included! You can also take a sled ride across the frozen Torne River, where the ice is harvested each year to create the newest design of the hotel. Artists can apply to design their own suite at the hotel, and work with mentors who are experienced in building with ice to find expression for an amazing variety of ideas in frozen form.

Detour: Norway

While you’re up here in the Arctic north, hop across to Norway and cruise along the fjords, where some of the most insanely decadent landscapes in existence will give you a sense of the majesty and power of this incredible planet.

Travel along the coast road to the westernmost point in mainland Europe, visit fishing communities, glaciers with ocean views and spot sea eagles hovering above the cliffs. Drive along the Atlantic Highway, “Norway’s construction of the century,” between Averøy and Eide. The Route along Highway 64 takes you via a ferry to Bremsnes, skipping nimbly across islands and over eight bridges from Kristiansund to Averøy looking out towards and the incredible coastline of Hustadvika.

Christmas markets

Originating in Germany and Austria, now all over Europe, the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) is an excellent tradition of open air markets in December, where you can nibble on stollen (egg bread with candied fruit) and drink glühwein (hot mulled wine) to stay warm as you browse the handcrafts and trinkets.

Alt-Winter Olympics

Feeling energetic? Take a turn at the Alternative Winter Olympics, where you can show off your finely honed skills at any frozen location in any or all of the following:

  • Synchronized snowmobiling
  • Freestyle snowball-fight
  • Frostbite marathon
  • Snowbank pole vault
  • Alpine pole lick
  • Avalanche downhill, 50 m
  • Avalanche downhill, 100 m
  • Dynamite ice-fishing
  • Shoveling

Whatever you choose to celebrate or observe at this time of year – whether it’s a pagan tradition, religious festival or pure humbug – take a night to believe in the magic of the season, and show that good will between people really is possible.

-Jodi Rose

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One Response to “Winter Escapes with a Twist”

  1. cosmina Says:

    You are right, it is quite impossible to escape from winter this year, at least in Europe where snow is the absolute master for a couple of weeks:) I went to a Viennese Christams market and I loved the glass Christmas tree ornaments! It’s like a fairy tale!