I really want to get away for some skiing this winter, but can’t commit to a whole week. What are the best options for weekend ski and city breaks?
If you don’t want to commit the time and expense to a full week of skiing, then a city break with an option for a day on the slopes is a great idea. And there are plenty of European destinations that offer this.
It’s also the perfect compromise if you’re part of a couple that includes one ardent skier and one culture vulture.
This Austrian city is famed for its pretty Baroque architecture and musical history. The Old Town is UNESCO-listed and offers a labyrinth of cobbled streets with castles, cafes and shops to explore.
You’ll miss the Mozart festival, which comes later in the year, but the composer’s birthplace isn’t lacking in performances – just make sure you book ahead. Plus, there are a couple of museums dedicated to the composer, including one located at his birthplace, which displays some of the instruments he played as a child.
As for other classic Salzburg experiences, make sure you take time out for coffee and cake in one of the traditional Austrian cafes. You can work it off with a tramp around the impressive Salzburger Dom Cathedral, then onto the city’s most famous landmark, Salzburg Castle, or Festung Hohensalzburg.
There are ski resorts within six miles of Salzburg, but the best skiing is a little further away in Zell am See. It’s 60 miles away, which means it’s perfectly doable for a day trip, and there are regular trains from Salzburg to the resort if you’d rather not drive.
When you get there you can choose to ski in Zell am See or the neighbouring resort, Kaprun, collectively known as the Europa Sport Region. Zell am See, or Zell as it’s known to the locals, is the larger of the two and sits on the beautiful Ziller lake, which is often frozen in winter and used for ice skating.
As for the skiing, Zell has a mix of runs from easy to difficult, while Kaprun’s Kitzsteinhorn Glacier (3,200m), offers off-piste skiing for the adventurous.
If you’re skiing in the morning in Zell, start on the Sonnenalm side, which is better earlier on, and the snow condition tends to deteriorate throughout the day.
As for where to stay in Salzburg, there are plenty of options, but if you want to sample old fashioned Austrian hospitality, go for one of the big historic hotels, like the Hotel Sacher Salzburg, which has great views of the Hohensalzburg fortress and has hosted various luminaries and aristocrats since it opened in 1866. There’s a sauna and steam room – perfect after a day on the piste, plus a smart restaurant and cafe. Rooms start from around €330 a night.
One of the best served ski airports in Europe is Geneva, so there’s plenty of choice of flights, plus it’s a fun city in its own right. It’s a wonderful walking city, and if the weather allows, you should take a stroll along the lakeside and the Rhône River.
The free weekly Genève Agenda will tell you what’s going on during your stay, from temporary exhibitions to live performances. That said, you could easily pass a day wandering around the old town, with its museums and the Cathédrale St-Pierre, an impressive Gothic structure with an intricate interior. Be sure to call in at the free Maison Tavel Museum, a fascinating jumble of art, furniture, and a large model of Geneva.
One of the loveliest traditional hotels in Geneva is the Hotel Bristol, which costs from around £200 a night. It has an atmospheric piano bar and restaurant, plus a gym, steam room and sauna.
If you’re in the city on a Saturday and love markets, head to Plaine de Plainpalais where there’s a flea market each week. You’ll be able to pick up CDs, vinyl, books, clothes and jewellery.
If you can tear yourself away for a day, there’s some great skiing in Avoriaz and Morzine, just over an hour away by car. Morzine, the lower of the two, is a bustling town with good shopping and a sport centre with tennis and swimming – perfect if you’re with a non-skier.
There’s plenty of skiing for all abilities, including some easy tree runs and more challenging runs such as the Swiss Wall, a steep 1km drop that was used for the World Cup in the 1980s. There are also a few fun parks to keep freestylers occupied with half-pipes and rails. For apres-ski call in at Bar Robinson, a legendary Morzine hotspot where the local Mützig lager flows liberally.
As for where to stay in Geneva, check out the Hotel Eastwest Geneva. It’s a smart, compact and modern hotel and a very reasonable £112 a night, with easy access to the train station.
Finally, for something completely different, how about Sarajevo? The capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina makes a fascinating city break, and just 30 minutes away are two separate ski areas that hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984.
Bjelašnica ski area has 803m of runs and three lifts – so plenty for one day of skiing. The slopes are fairly steep, so it’s better for intermediate and advanced skiers, who can try their luck on the piste that was used for the men’s downhill championship in 1984. It offers some of the cheapest skiing in Europe, with a day pass priced at €13.
Jahorina is the larger of the two offering terrain which resembles a natural fun park with a mix of tree runs, open faces, and groomed piste. There are numerous slope-side cafes and rustic bars which give Jahorina a lively and friendly feel.
The city still bears scars of the horrific Bosnian War in the 1990s, but much has changed since the war ended in 1995, with new and vibrant nightlife, a delicious dining scene and contemporary hotels opening up.
If you’d like to learn about the siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege of a capital city in recent history, a curious place to visit is the Tunnel Museum near the airport. The tunnel was dug in 1993 by the Bosnian government to smuggle in supplies and ensure the survival of the city’s residents. The museum is no more than a converted suburban home, but makes a quirky pit stop and if you’ve brave enough, you can go down the short section of the tunnel that remains.
Going further back in history, you can learn more about the city’s Muslim heritage in the Ottoman quarters of the old town, called Bascarsija. You’ll find minarets, domes, narrow alleys and the Gazi Huzrev-Beg’s mosque, and The Museum of Sarajevo.
It’s an impressive building that covers history up to the First World War, including the incident that sparked the outbreak of the war – the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in 1914.
Be sure to try a kebab in Zeljo 1 if you’re a meat eater. It’s one of the city’s most famous kebab houses and serves tasty spicy sausages with cream cheese, chopped onions and flatbread.
One of the newer hotels in Sarajevo is the Hotel Central, which offers rooms from €100 per night. It has a good day spa and a fun, modern interior. Hotel Hecco offers excellent value accommodation from €30 pppn.
Answer by Ginny Light – TimesOnline travel editor
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Sarajevo picture © SnowSphere.com