5 European short winter breaks to blow the blues away

Stargaze from a converted snow groomer, listen to stories around a bonfire, or hike through Ibizan orange groves, says Sarah Marshall.

Long winter months are sometimes difficult to endure, but the promise of mini getaways can always relieve the pain. And if ski holidays or Christmas markets don’t appeal, there are still plenty of ways to plan short European stays.

Whether you fancy hiking in the Balearic islands, or hunting northern lights from a remote Norwegian cabin, the options are endless. These are some of the season’s best picks.

1. A sunny surprise – Ibiza

Popular summer season destinations in the Mediterranean are now opening their doors for winter, when mild temperatures increase the opportunities for hiking and active pursuits.

In Ibiza, thermometers hover around 15C at this time of year, crowds have disappeared, and the island ticks along at a very different pace.

Set within 10 acres of orange groves on a former family finca, Atzaro Agroturismo showcases the quieter side of this Balearic party giant. Launched for the cooler months, a new collection of cycling and walking packages encourage guests to explore the countryside.

Forage for medicinal wild herbs, discover indigenous plants and hear about the island’s history from local guides. The property has also recently introduced a Scandi-inspired garden sauna pod – so even if it does get chilly, there’s still some guaranteed heat.

 

2. Polar storytelling sessions – Alta, Norway

Traditionally, Norwegians living above the Arctic Circle would while away long, dark winter evenings by sharing entertaining tales and roasting meats on barbecues.

Get a snapshot of the Lappish cabin lifestyle by joining a storytelling excursion from Alta. Travel to a remote location, far away from light pollution, and sit around a blazing fire listening to myths and local legends. With any luck, the aurora borealis may turn up, giving a magical twist to any narrative.

 

3. Detoxing in a beer bath – Istria, Croatia

Only a hop over the Adriatic sea, Croatia commands a similar culinary prowess to Italy – yet its food scene is still under-appreciated by outsiders. Istria’s olive oil has received worldwide acclaim and it’s the only place in the world where both top quality white and black truffle varieties can be found together.

A healthy craft beer scene is also emerging, and one brewery has even gone so far as to launch the country’s first beer spa. Located in Buje, the San Servolo Resort & Beer Spa invites guests to relax in a beer-filled tub while helping themselves to pints from nearby taps.

Stay overnight in smart accommodation and dine at the resort’s restaurant, where menu highlights include truffles and beef from the region’s long-horned Boskarin cattle – along with dishes marinated in beer.

 

4. Chugging on a snow train – Finnish Lapland

You can hunt them by foot, car or cruise ship – but have you ever heard of searching for northern lights by train?

Pulled along by a snowmobile, the Snow Train trundles through wilderness areas surrounding Apukka Resort in northern Finland, keeping guests cosy while they look out for magical lights.

Stopping off at a traditional Finnish Kota for grilled sausages and hot drinks, the evening continues with a scientific explanation of the aurora and – if nature plays game – an education on how best to photograph displays.

Spend the first night in an ice cabin, wrapped in thermal sleeping bags, and then switch to a stay in an Aurora Wagon, dropped off by a driver in a remote location.

Further activities include a husky safari, reindeer ride and the opportunity to watch sunrise from a spot specially selected by a local expert.

 

5. Romance on a mountain summit – La Plagne, France

Imagine falling asleep on top of a snowy mountain, so high it feels almost possible to reach up and touch the moon.

Intrepid guests at French alpine resort La Plagne have the opportunity to give it a go by staying in a converted Snow Groomer, driven up to the 2,400 metre-high Arpette summit and parked for the night.

The functional vehicle has been transformed into a luxury pad designed for two, with a queen-sized bed, spa bath, large flat-screen TV, stereo, and coffee machine. Champagne and fresh macarons are also included – along with a complimentary ‘Lovebox’ featuring an erotic board game, feather and massage oil.

Panoramic windows perfectly frame the night sky, although with so many distractions inside, there may not be enough time to admire the views.

 

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