There’s no need to wait till spring or summer to experience some fantastic outdoor action. Here are some of Europe’s most enjoyable winter activities, courtesy Italy, Switzerland and France
Europe’s oldest Christmas market, Strasbourg
Strasbourg hosts the oldest Christmas Market in Europe with flavours and traditions from both Germany and France. The market features around 300 wooden chalets spread through the heart of the city.
Tasty regional specialities such as bredele (Christmas biscuits) and the famous three-meat baeckeoffe stew, as well as local crafts and a variation of Alsatian Christmas Decorations are all on show. Adorned in twinkling lights and Christmas decorations, along with a 30-meter-high Christmas tree, Strasbourg’s reputation as the Christmas Capital of France is assured.
More info at noel.strasbourg.eu
Heli-skiing in the Alps, Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise
Forget regular skiing, skating and snowboarding. In Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise the coolest way to descend the slopes is with the aid of a helicopter. Heli-skiing offers an adrenaline-fueled ski experience that avoids long-queues at snow lifts and busy marked runs.
You can hit your target elevation quickly, the ski down freshly laid snow tracks with incredible mountain vistas all around.
More info at saintefoy-tarentaise.com
Ice diving, ski jumping, bungee jumping, ziplining, Tignes
If traditional snow activities seem too sedate, you can try Tignes, a group of villages high in the Alps that together form an adventure ski resort to remember. You can don a dive suit and plunge into the icy, deep blue waters of Tignes Le Lac to discover a world of silence and scattered sunbeams.
Or there’s the Bun J Ride, a triple-whammy of thrills, combining ski jumping down a 30-meter runway, bungee jumping off the end and ziplining into a 40-meter void.
Snow Polo World Cup, St. Moritz
Firmly established as one of the world’s most prestigious and popular polo events, the Snow Polo World Cup takes place in late January every year. The birthplace of snow polo, St. Moritz hosted the first tournament in 1985 and the stunning Wilder Kaiser Mountain Range has been the backdrop for this winter polo extravaganza ever since.
World class players from across the world will be galloping over the luxurious St Moritz resort’s frozen lake for the coveted Cartier Trophy. Though considered a high-society event, spectators are encouraged to enjoy the games and the complimentary food too.
More info at snowpolo-stmoritz.com
Snow bike racing, Gstaad
Whether you’re a pro-biker or an aspiring amateur looking for a challenge, the four-day Snow Bike Festival offers one of the most unique bike tracks in the world, attracting hundreds of bikers yearly.
Choose from mountain bikes, fatbike or plusbikes or swap bikes throughout the event to get a full experience while racing through the Alpine landscape.
There’s an accompanying Snow Bike Expo too.
More info at snowbikefestival.com
Western Switzerland’s longest toboggan run, Savoleyres
Stretching to about 10 kilometers, the toboggan run at La Tzoumaz ski resort is the longest in Western Switzerland. A cable car goes from La Tzoumaz up to Savoleyres and the start of the sledding track.
The fast, family-friendly event is a great way to admire the snowy forests and meadows while whizzing down the mountain.
More info at latzoumaz.ch
Soul-warming food, Italy
There’s nothing like a traditional Italian soup to warm your belly on a cold winter’s day. Walking food tours of Italy are not only a great way to see how locals experience and enjoy the foods that make Italy such a leader in the culinary arts, but they also help work up an appetite!
In both Milan and Rome comfort foods like ribollita (a tuscan soup made with cannellini beans, vegetables and leftover bread), Melanzane alla parmigiana (a gooey, baked dish with grilled eggplant slices, tomato sauce and lots of cheese), hams, meatballs and all manner of baked goods are best discovered with a guided tour.
More info at milanfoodtours.com
Venice Carnival, Venice
Venice marks, or perhaps tries to deflect, the wintry gloom with a unique carnival from 27 January to 13 Feburary, where people don colourful masks and glamorous costumes and attend glitzy parties. It’s not your typical winter celebration, and that’s why it’s worth adding to your to-do list. The city is transformed into a surreal yet magical portrayal of 18th-century Venetian life, when old Venice was still essentially one big party place.
While you may need an invitation to take part in the opulent masquerade balls, the small island-city is full of free costume competitions, candle-lit boat parades and street performances.
More info at carnevale.venezia.it
Frasassi Caves, Genga
The Frasassi caves (Grotte di Frasassi) in Genga form an elaborate underground karst cave system with some of the most spectacular stalagmites and stalactites in the country. Best of all they’re open to tourists and they remain at a very reasonable 14 degrees year round.
The caves are divided into separate chambers, each with its own unique feature – the Sala delle Candeline has stalagmites that resemble candles while the Grotta delle Nottole contains a large colony of bats.
More info at frasassi.com