1. Zermatt, Switzerland
Best for: mesmerising views and long lie-ins
Why here? Officially, the mountain town of Zermatt is a ski resort – and with 360km of pistes on offer, it certainly looks the part. But can we let you into a little secret? You don’t need to be strapped to a pair of planks to get the best of it.
Take the Matterhorn for example. A twisted, 4,478m spire of rock, it dominates the town and is mesmerising from dawn till dusk, whether it’s bathed in pinkish morning light, or wearing a giant plume of cloud. You’ll never tire of looking at it.
Yes, you can see it from nearly every piste. But it’s just as magnificent glimpsed from Zermatt’s pretty, car-free streets, or admired from the sundeck of a mountain restaurant. Even better is to book a bedroom with a Matterhorn view.
Snowsure season Zermatt’s lift system can whisk you up to an eye-watering 3,820m, where there’s snow in July, as well as January. But late-December to mid-March is best for a visit, when the whole of the valley is decked out in its winter finery.
Essential Info Fly into Geneva, Zurich or Sion, jump on a train, and check into a south-facing rooms at the Zurbriggen Suitenhotel – one of several hotels at the far end of the valley which look straight up at the Matterhorn.
2. Ilulissat, Greenland
Best for: wildlife watching and edge-of-the-world seclusion
Why here? Off-the-radar Greenland is the ultimate destination for couples who really want to get off-piste. Polar bear safaris, whale-watching and spectacular night skies are all part of the allure.
Base yourself in tiny Ilulissat. Squeezed between Greenland’s rugged glaciers and the ragged, fjord-cut west coast, its hobbit-sized huts and tiny wooden churches sit above a bay bobbing with icebergs 70 metres high. The Northern Lights are so bright here – in the unpolluted dark – that you can see by them, and they flutter across the sky regularly in the winter months. The moonlight is spectral, reflecting off the snow and ice, while the butter-coloured winter sun burnishes the landscape with soft gold in November and February.
Snowsure season This is life beyond the Arctic circle. You’ll be clinging together for bodily warmth. There’s even snow in summer, when temperatures soar to a sweltering 8C. But the climate is at its driest and most beautiful in midwinter – between January and March – when the mercury can fall as low as -20C.
3. Sierra Nevada, Spain
Best for: sunny sightseeing and wintry slopes
Why here? Ski in the morning, swim in the afternoon, and dance smouldering flamenco after dark. Yes, it’s possible in southern Spain, where the Sierra Nevada mountains tower over the beaches and sugar-cube villages of Andalucia. What’s more, the region is home to the Alhambra, one of Europe’s most beautiful palaces – a romantic, Arabian Nights confection of serrated walls and intricate Moorish courtyards.
Snowsure season? These may be the sunniest mountains in Europe, but skiing and snowboarding are possible here from early December until April, even if snowfall is light – thanks to the state-of-the-art snow-making system in the Sierra Nevada ski resort. It’s only a 75-minute drive from the piste to the beach, so you can slip off your salopettes at the end of the day, and enjoy the sands at Almuñécar or Torrenueva in time for sunset.
Essential info Flights (into Malaga) are cheap, and lift pass and accommodation costs lower than in the Alps. Book a cosy room with a balcony view at the Maribel. It’s ski-in, ski-out: which means less time hoofing about in your ski boots, and more time relaxing. A hire car is essential if you want to shuttle between the snow and the beach.
4. Ruka, Finland
Best for: Aurora nights and sleepy kids
Why here? Log fires, Northern Lights and loads of wintry activities to wear out the kids: Finnish Lapland has all you need to inject some of romance into a family trip. Whizzing down the pistes is just the start. Dogsledding adventures, starlit sleigh rides, cross-country skiing and snowmobile safaris are all on the menu, along with the chance to meet Father Christmas (whose official home is the Santa Claus village in Rovaniemi). The kids will be so exhausted, they’ll collapse into bed early, leaving Mum and Dad to curl up together by the fire, or sit under a starry sky, gasping at the Aurora Borealis.
Snowsure season Lapland has snow for more than half the year. The first falls are usually in early November, with the ice melting for the spectacular flower-filled spring in May.
Essential info Fly into Rovaniemi or Kuusamo, and for full Arctic immersion cosy up under thick blankets for a night in the Arctic Snow Hotel – built out of blocks of ice. There are family rooms, some with romantic glass-roofed igloos and even an ice-sauna.
5. Tallinn, Estonia
Best for: fairy lights and mulled wine
Why here? What could be more romantic than a Christmas market? You can picture it – steeply-gabled wooden churches, streets draped with twinkling Christmas lights, stalls of steaming chestnuts and enough baubles to decorate a forest.
“Aaah.” I hear you say, “but isn’t it crowded and expensive?” Not in the historic core of Estonia’s capital – which is as traditional as it is charming. Europe’s first decorated Christmas tree was erected in its central market square in 1441. Fir trees have towered over the festivities ever since.
Snowsure season The city’s Baltic location means that the first flakes usually fall in November. This year, the market starts on November 17th and closes on January 6th.
Essential Info Christmas-market shopping in Tallin is more bargain-bucket than break-the-bank – with budget flight prices and plenty of good-value hotels. The towering Swissotel comes with a heated pool, and giant, seductive beds, draped with high thread-count sheets.
6. Val d’Isère, France
Best for: fast days and wild nights
Why here? Ski holidays have a bigger buzz in Val d’Isère. The high-altitude French resort serves up some of the best steep pistes in the Alps, as well as plenty of full-throttle night life. So you can follow adrenaline-soaked days, chasing each other down the mountains, with long nights dancing at Dick’s Tea Bar.
Of course, you don’t have to be experts to ski here. Higher up, the piste map is characterised by some surprisingly gentle slopes. But for the full effect, you want to be ready to tackle The Face, Val’s signature black-rated piste, which plunges straight down from the Rocher de Bellevarde into the heart of the resort. If you can ski it together, at more or less the same speed, you’ll feel like you can conquer the world.
Snowsure season Val d’Isère has a snowy microclimate that brings blizzards from both north and south – which is rare in the Alps. It has altitude on its side too: in two places, its lift system tops 3,000m. Even so, it leaves nothing to chance, and has recently installed an underground snow factory capable of producing 1,000 cubic metres of snow an hour. The season lasts from late November to early May as a result.
7. Brasov, Romanian Transylvania
Best for: Gothic romance and snowplough turns
Why here? Romania’s Carpathians have a vampire’s dark allure. Think Dracula castles steeped in snow, plunging valleys cloaked in trees, and wolves howling at the moon. And all this with a spot of skiing thrown in for those who want it.
With just 14km of runs, and few challenging slopes, Poiana Brasov doesn’t draw the hardcore wintersports community, but it’s a great place for beginners to master their snowplough turns, thanks to its gentle nursery slopes and cheap, well-run ski schools. Then, after a morning on the pistes you can go in search of Dracula in the dramatic Bran or Poenari castles (which both have connections with Vlad the Impaler), or simply curl up together with a glass of warming vin fiert wine.
Snowsure season The Poiana Brasov season usually begins in early December and continues into spring: but for the best snow, plan a mid-winter trip in January or February.
Essential Info Fly into Bucharest and rent a car for the 175km drive into the mountains (and for day-trips to the vampire castles). With rooms decked out in light wood (and dominated by huge beds), a sauna and indoor pool, the Teleferic is one of the best hotel options.