Winter Travel: Three Ways to Embrace Europe’s Winter
As winter approaches, whispers of dread can be heard flitting from place to place throughout Northern Europe. Locals pull out their scarves, down jackets, and feather collars, while travellers, who tour in droves around the continent during the summer months, pack up their sandals and head for the tropics, chasing the carefree ease of warmer temperatures. While winter does bring snow, freezing temperatures, and reduced daylight to the majority of Europe, it also brings an entirely different experience of the continent: things slow down, become quieter. The evenings lengthen, the wind whistles through, and people move indoors, looking for ways to brace themselves against the dark and the cold. But what also emerges during the winter is a warmth, a resilience, and a sense of community that can be hard to perceive in the business of the summer months. The north has always had winter and the people that live there have developed ways of dealing with it – celebrating it, even. From festivals to Christmas markets and winter sports, Europe comes alive with tradition during the winter months, bringing life and light to a dark season through the resilience of its communities.
One of the most exciting aspects of Europe’s winter is its festivals, which abound during the winter months. Venice’s Carnival is the most popular and lavish affair: for a week in February, the city’s misty alleys fill with revellers dressed in elaborate costumes and masks making their way to fancy parties, so that the entire city transforms into a remnant of deeply mysterious, ancient traditions. France’s equivalent is the Nice Carnival, although the Fête du Citron in nearby Menton provides a quirky alternative. Salzburg, on the other hand, celebrates Mozart’s birthday each year with a week-long festival around the end of January, featuring an array of concerts and events with world-class musicians.
2.) Christmas Markets
During Advent, Europe’s streets and squares come alive with the sounds and smells of local Christmas markets, where you can find anything from traditional decorations to handmade sweaters, soap, and local goods. Especially popular in Germany, where most small towns and villages have their own market and Berlin alone has over 60 different markets, these seasonal celebrations transform the street into a party, with ferris wheels, skating rinks, traditional local delicacies, live bands playing Christmas music, and the best part of all: the glühwein. Come to do your Christmas shopping, stay for some glühwein and the warmth of the community you find gathered around the huts and bonfires scattered throughout.
3.) Mountain Sports
Head out of the cities and into the mountains for the greatest treat of the winter months: playing in the snow. When snow begins to fall, people everywhere look up to the mountains, awaiting the slow creak of machinery as lifts begin to operate and lodges open their doors, and planning the moment when they will be able to head up to this alpine wonderland to carve down the smooth slopes between snow-laden trees. Characterised by a long series of local traditions, Europe’s alpine world comes with a culture that is different than everywhere else in the world. The lodges and hotels are beautiful, the après ski is a lavish social affair, and the culture is warm and inviting. For those adventurous folk who like a quieter, more solitary, experience, backcountry options abound, taking you to places where you will find untouched slopes and a mountain world that is entirely your own (at least for a day).
Jayme Collins, originally from Canada, now lives in Berlin and works for GoEuro, a new multi-mode travel search engine. She spent Advent touring Berlin’s many Christmas markets while drinking plenty of Glühwein to stave off the winter chills.