Christmas Skiing In France: Santa, Chocolate Logs, Ice Skating
French ski resorts build up the momentum during the week preceding Christmas, with special animations and decoration, but in France, Christmas Eve, le réveillon de Noël, offers the biggest celebrations.
Young and old alike will enjoy an unforgettable Christmas in any of France's premier ski destinations: Courchevel puts on an ice-skating gala with some of France's best ice skaters; Megève decorates its Place des Alpes Christmas tree with 3000 Swarovski crystal stars; and La Clusaz puts on Les Pestacles du Père Noël, a week of shows, games, and storytelling (with some in English) for the little ones.
Families wondering where to ski this Christmas can choose from France's many small and mid-size resorts: Les Sybelles dedicates the entire Christmas week to children, with a Santa village and snow castle, while Santa brings gifts to the children on holiday at Orcières. Resorts rival each other in original ways to bring Santa to the kids - he may arrive by helicopter, dog sled, horse-drawn sleigh, or snowboard.
Megeve, France by JP Noisillier
Any resort that calls itself une station familiale is probably a good bet for parents with children. These family-friendly resorts tend to have lots of qualities that make skiing with children easier: special kid's zones, reduced fees for children, and lots of childcare facilities. The Famille Plus label is awarded to resorts that make special efforts for families, so look for their star-shaped logo on a resort's Web site.
Christmas markets are another popular tradition that have spread throughout France and even into some ski resorts. This tradition originated in Alsace and this region still holds the most picturesque of France's marchés de Noël. Holidaymakers heading to places like Geradmer, les Ballons d'Alsace, and Le Hohwald will not want to miss out on the Christmas markets in surrounding villages.
Some resorts, like Les Saisies and La Plagne, have their own Christmas markets. Even if the resort itself doesn't organise a market, many cities near ski resorts do. Grenoble, Annecy, Tarbes, and Briançon all have Christmas markets during the holiday season.
Foodies will rejoice in the parade of delights at a French Christmas table. Some French resorts like Morzine feature restaurants that serve deliciously fancy Christmas dinners the night of the 24th or 25th. Typical French fare includes foie gras, smoked salmon, oysters, game bird with perhaps chestnuts or wild mushrooms and for dessert, the traditional bûche de Noël. Chefs often create these Yule log cakes in any number of flavours, ranging from classic chocolate and hazelnut to more exotic savours like coconut or banana.
Christmas Skiing In Austria: St. Nicholas, Carols, Markets
Christmas season in Tyrol is the time of Saint Nicholas: All across the regions the locals form processions in honour of St. Nicholas or run around dressed up as his scary companions, the furry, ugly-faced perchten who frighten the naughty children. The processions take place Dec. 4 in Zell am Ziller; Dec. 5 in St. Anton am Arlberg, Igls, and Tux-Finkenberg; Dec. 6th in Söll and in 60 more towns and villages. In the Tyrolean valley of Pitztal it is tradition for every family to carve their own wooden crèche. In the village of Wenns they exhibit their finest crafts from the last 150 years from Dec. 8 until Feb. 6. In Wildschönau's peasantry museum z‘Bach you can listen to local music groups and buy home-processed agricultural products.
The most extraordinary Christmas markets in the state of Salzburg are located on a farm, a castle and in a salt mine. Gut Aiderbichl, a famous animal shelter, hosts a market with a living nativity scene. The Hallein Christmas market is perhaps one of the most unique in the world: It is located in an old salt mine, so you can shop for Alpine Christmas decoration or handicrafts every advent weekend no matter if it is 20 degrees below zero or pouring with rain. Salzburg is also home to the world-famous Christmas tune "Silent Night". On the "Silent Night" trail though Arnsdorf, Hallein, Mariapfarr, Oberndorf, Salzburg and Warain you can discover the history of the almost 200-year old carol.
Traditional Austrian Christmas cookies
If you like holiday superlatives, Styria is the place for you to be: The Graz Christmas market, ending Dec. 24, features a nativity set made of 50 tons of ice that is carved anew every year. Until Dec. 19 you can see the world's biggest advent wreath with a diameter of 12 metres, a 1000-kilo gingerbread house and a nativity scene with living oxen and donkeys in the historical centre of Mariazell. Bad Gleichenberg, on the other hand, is completely dedicated to nostalgic tranquility: The spa-village celebrates Christmas time by not using electric light and not serving alcohol each Sunday evening during Advent.
In the state of Vorarlberg there are some Christmas markets that stick out as well. The one in Schwarzenberg in the Bregenzerwald region is located on the listed village square; there are cooking classes, christmas story readings, museum rooms and religious concerts. The Dornbirn market is a real highlight for kids: they can go ice-skating or pony riding, bake Christmas cookies and watch christmas movies, while mum and dad can buy handmade presents or decoration.
Velden in Carinthia is also called the "town of angels": In the angels' post office children can write their wishes to baby Jesus, in the angels‘ bakery they can decorate gingerbread, or they can ride the angels‘ train all across the christmas market - whereas the swimming christmas wreath on the Wörthersee is a sight to see for visitors of all ages - every Friday, Saturday and Sunday before Christmas.
Christmas Skiing In Italy: Village Bonfires, Church Choirs, Family Shows
One of the most striking things about Italian ski resorts during Christmas is the number of outdoor celebrations: from North to South, you can enjoy the magical atmosphere of the Belpaese. Slalom round the torchlights, nativity displays, and local food stalls in Italy this Christmas.
When deciding where to ski for Christmas in Italy, it's good to know that almost every ski region hosts music festivals, family shows, Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) grottoes, presepi (ornamental nativity scenes), bonfires, together with more winter sports related activities such as skiing in a torchlit parade, tobogganing, bobsledging, ice skating, and ice hockey.
Merano is one of the most famous towns in South Tyrol and boasts a popular Christmas market. Romantic, with that sugary sweet flavour in the air mixed with mulled wine, the market has a fairytale atmosphere. Stalls sell local jewellery, crafts, and many ideas to put under the tree or to wear in the new year. 15 minutes away, Merano 2000 is one of the best ski resorts in the area and is reached via the highest funicular in the Alto Adige area. This family friendly resort offers free amenities for children: accommodation, ski passes, and equipment hire.
Merano, Italy at Christmas
The small village of Plan, also in South Tirol, is set at the end of the Val Passiria. Every Christmas, the Murni Sepp valley programme includes children's activities such as building snowmen and igloos. The highlight of the festivity is the torchlit procession; the excursion starts from S. Leonardo, continuing to the suspension bridge at Argeno up to the Giovo Castle, where you'll find live music, typical local cakes, pastries, and vin brulé. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are enjoyed by all ages. Plan has a slow pace of life: a calm and natural environment in a village closed to traffic, with green transportation - electric trains and horse-drawn sleighs.
The Sicilian Mount Etna Nicolosi ski area offers skiing overlooking the seas, with the Eolie Islands in the distance. During the Christmas festivities, the old town of Nicolosi is transformed into a 19th-century Sicilian village with lively streets and alleys. The historic centre becomes an outdoor shopping centre specialising in natural products, fruit, ricotta cheese, pastries, and wine, accompanied by live music and folklore events.
Monte Amiata, in the Tuscan pre-Appennines, is located between Grosseto and Siena. On Christmas Eve, Abbadia San Salvatore (near Montalcino) hosts the Fiaccole di Natale (Christmas Torches), an ancient tradition where the whole village gathers around a large fire accompanied by carol singing and torchlit processions. Wine and food tastings take place in the cellars and the fire burns until dawn.
Families wondering where to ski in Italy should consider Monte Cimone. This is one of the biggest ski resorts in the region and regarded as the best in Italy for families. All the surrounding villages host a variety of events during the festive period. Fanano has the traditional Santa Claus meeting for children, and also lots of shows with ‘Artisti di strada' artists playing and acting outdoors. The Concerto di Natale, with a local choir, will sing a Christmas concert to get you in the mood and there are plenty of arts and crafts on sale by local artists.
Christmas Skiing in Switzerland: Brass Bands, Storytelling Santas, Candlelit Walks
We've compiled a list of the most interesting Christmas events in Switzerland: gala dinners, excellent live music to finish off a whirlwind day of outdoor activity, and anything else that will help make your Christmas skiing holiday special.
There's plenty going on to keep skiers entertained on and around the slopes of sunny Adelboden. Powder hounds who are unattached get the chance to mix and mingle at a singles dinner and party at Hotel Des Alpes on Christmas Eve. Who knows - you might hit it off with someone and find yourselves tackling the slopes together the next day. Christmas Day promises to be festive for everyone with a nighttime concert at Kulturhaus Alte Taverne featuring Swiss singer/songwriter Nils Burri along with Bruno Dietrich and Christof Jaussi. Tickets are 27 CHF (€21/£17). On Boxing Day, the village of Frutigen's brass band is to play a concert in the local church; admission is on a donation basis.
Samnaun's Santa sledging competitions "Clau Wau"
Gstaad, meanwhile, caters mainly to lovers of classical music, with a zither concert in the Gsteig church on the morning of Christmas Day (admission on a donation basis; pieces by Bach, Haydn and more) and the Orchestra degli Amici playing an early-evening concert in the Mauritius Church in Saanen on Boxing Day. Tickets for the latter range from CHF20-70 CHF (€15-55/£13-45). Skiers looking for something a bit less formal and with more of a regional flavour can enjoy an afternoon of Swiss music and yodeling at the Hotel-Restaurant Geltenhorn in Lauenen.
St. Moritz offers a range of activities to keep skiers in the holiday spirit from Christmas Eve up until Boxing Day. On Christmas Eve, Hotel Europa organises its traditional evening walk in the woods - be sure to bring a candle. Everyone (not just guests of the hotel) is free to join and feel the magic of the Swiss winter with stars above their heads and snow creaking under their feet. The walk starts at 6 p.m. in front of the hotel and lasts for an hour and a half. Afterwards, you can warm up by the fire with your loved ones and maybe enjoy a glass of mulled wine. Christmas has officially begun!
The next day, you can celebrate in style at Hotel Schweizerhof, where drinks and a gala dinner will be followed by a concert by blues and jazz singer Othella Dallas and orchestra. An all-enclusive ticket for concert and dinner both costs CHF170 (€130/£110); attending only the concert will set you back CHF70 (€54/£45). A more intimate alternative is an evening of song by the fire with Barbara Baier Folwill in Hotel Europa, which can be attended free of charge.
Boxing Day will be rather action packed: apart from the 'regular' entertainment to be found on the slopes, you can be witness to two exciting snowsports events. The Coppa Triacca curling championship will take place at the Curling Center Kulm Park - did you know that St. Moritz was the first place on the Continent where this sport was practiced? Meanwhile, the elite St. Moritz Tobogganing Club will have its annual Ninio Bibbia Race on the historic Cresta Run. The head-first racing style first adopted by these gentlemen in the late 19th century is something to be witnessed for sure.
Davos, too, features a curling competition on Boxing Day, but the UBS Stäfeli Cup is open to any teams interested in participating. Dec. 26 also sees the opening of the Spengler Cup hockey tournament at Davos, with two exciting matches to attend. Cheering on the sidelines aside, Christmas at Davos promises to provide some cosy family time, for example during the nighttime gathering in the woods on Christmas Eve, with Santa himself present and storytelling in both English and German.
Christmas skiing in the Pyrenees: Santa, Nativity Plays or Hair-Raising Adventures
A giant nativity show, night diving in frozen lakes, and lessons in how to drive a Mercedes on ice (as well as the usual Christmas markets) - resorts across Spain and Andorra have seriously stepped up their game this year with a thrilling selection of festive activities.
While most resorts now offer a similar sort of winter programme including popular events like flaming torch parades - always a winner, and ice skating rinks, some are unremittingly energetic and boast decidedly more bold activities like snow zorbing, speed-riding or altitude diving.
One resort keen to tick all the boxes is Baqueira Beret. Set in La Val d'Aran, in the province of Lleida, Baqueira Beret has a smorgasbord of activities to choose from including dog sledding, horse sledging, horseback riding, heli-skiing and picnics on the slopes. And after all of that you can relax in the thermal springs of Baronía de Les.
Dog sledding in Baqueira Beret
Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Santa and in family friendly Vallnord he arrives in a magic sleigh pulled by reindeer to deliver presents. Naturally, with the ability to alter the space/time continuum, he appears on many mountain slopes in different modes of transport. In Panticosa he arrives on skis while in Cerler, nestled in the Benasque valley, he starts his circuit at El Molino handing out sugary treats, making his final stop at the Snow garden in Ampriu.
Adventurers will be glad to learn that Diving Vallnord has started 12 metre-deep diving excursions in the frozen lake of La Canaleta during the day and at night. Even more extreme is diving in the Tristaina Lakes where it is possible to combine off-slope skiing with altitude diving, as the lakes are 2300 metres above sea level (one day pass and beginners' ice dive in La Canaleta, Ordino-Arcalis costs €115).
For grown-ups, the 4MATIC is a circuit set up by Mercedes-Benz in the L'Hortell car park in Arcalis. Instructors teach you how to drive in extreme conditions and learners get to test all the vehicles of the Mercedes brand with 4matic traction for free. Advance booking is required.
Traditional Christmas markets are as popular in parts of Spain and Andorra as they are in other European countries and the Christmas Market in La Massana means business. Emphasis is placed on the assortment and quality of its products and in the shopping experience itself - exhibitions and performances have been prearranged for an altogether more theatrical day out.
For your fix of life-size biblical figures, the parish town of Canillo, part of the Grandvalira ski area, has created 39 human figures and 194 animals using resin to form a "magical and surprising circuit" that will run from both the cable car road and the Andorra Ice Palace and end in front of the Town Hall with a representation of the Nativity. Lighting effects and wooden and resin decorations guide the way to the moment of the Adoration, when the Kings from the Orient will appear as guest artists for small children. The event will run from Dec. 3 to Jan. 9. 2011.
The resort of Cerler will also be putting on a live nativity show at the Estadio Miralbueno el Olivar Centre from 10 a.m. Dec. 11.
Everybody loves a good sing-song. At the right time and in the right setting Christmas songs can make anyone feel warm, happy and thankful. And doing it abroad adds a cultural edge to an otherwise predictable activity. Canillo has organised two separate Christmas carol concerts: Dec. 4 at Sant Serni 6 p.m. and in front of the town hall at 7 p.m.; Dec. 19 at Sant Serni 11:30 a.m. and in front of the town hall at 1 p.m.
It's World Snowboard Day Dec. 19 and in honour of this Cerler is offering complimentary freestyle lessons, DJ sets and heaps more that they're not sharing yet. The resort also has a live music program which takes place on the terrace in front of the Cafeteria Remascaro twice a month on a Saturday.
The resort of Buoi Taulle is having a party moment Dec. 18 and 19 with their second "Snow Party Wala", and will be celebrating the opening of its new freestyle snow park Dec. 12. The Sierra Nevada resort will also be unveiling its brand spanking new superpark. The Sulayr Superpark is located in Loma de Dilar and is split into three areas with natural and artificial snow and space for music and Wi-Fi.
For more of the freestyle vibe, look to Formigal. This season the resort is launching "Formigal Freestyle Festival" - a new competition for freeskiers and snowboarders where competitors couple up to combine tricks to provide an even more impressive display of talent than usual. The chilled atmosphere of Freestyle festivals attracts a young crowd but everyone is welcome and they make a nice breather from all the Christmassy stuff.