I know that we are all sick of winter. It feels like it’s dragging on here in London – what with actual snow that fell in March, it does not feel at all like spring has sprung. But I have had some great winter breaks this year, revelling in the snow, getting to dress up in snuggly scarves and boots and even throw the odd snow ball or two.
First up was Riga.
Riga is the capital of Latvia and such a lovely wee city. In the summer it can be a bit over run by stag and hen’s parties, so actually a winter break here is much nicer! There is still a recent history of being liberated from communism, which leads to interesting architecture and lots of great statues. I was lucky enough to be there for the opening of the Christmas markets, another huge bonus to winter in Europe. I met my friend Sarah, who lives in Prague here for a cheeky weekend getaway.
We stayed at the Boutique Hotel Monte Kristo – which I would recommend, it was close to everything in the city centre, as well as being cosy and welcoming. Christmas markets are incredible here, walking around with mugs of gluwein – tasty mulled wine with additives such as warming brandy. I did a lot of my Christmas shopping at these markets, with amazing wintery socks, great warm mittens and gloves. There are even children’s Christmas markets, which feature a miniature version of the market with live rabbits running around in it.
This trip was not just about the Christmas markets, it was also about exploring a beautiful medieval city and a bit of relaxation as well. On the first day there, I headed to Masazas Salon Nova for a brilliant facial and massage. We were greeted with a cup of warming tea, and put on some super fluffy robes. I suffer in the winter with sinus and the lovely dry skin around my nose that comes with blowing it on tissues all the time.
The facial really brightened my dull winter skin and got rid of all of that dry skin. I felt a million dollars coming out of the facial. I had another cup of warming tea, whilst chatting with Sarah about her massage, she loved it, we were both very impressed with our treatments so far. The massage included a scrub, sort of like a hammam experience – again, my winter skin was treated so a delightful treatment that had me feeling like a snake shedding its skin. We were both very relaxed after these treats, and a bit hungry as it had been a while since breakfast.
We decided to continue the indulgence and headed to Black Magic Apothecary Bar, a chocolate café/coffee shop that had been recommended to us. The service here is brilliant, as well as the whole set up. It like stepping back in time, and the food and cocktails are amazing as well. Definitely a must do.
And then there was Chamonix.
Riga was not the only place I visited this winter. I was lucky enough to spend Christmas in Chamonix in the French Alps. Chamonix is a ski resort, that can be accessed by flights into Geneva and then taking a shuttle into Chamonix. The resort is very walkable, with most places accessed within 20 minutes. Of course, I was there with my travelling companion, Liam, who was super excited about the skiing. We arrived just as the clocks hit midnight, so it was Christmas. We stayed at the Le Refuge des Aiglons – which was brilliant. The décor was a mix of hipster and rustic, with deer heads on the wall, but with bright orange antlers. We headed into the town, walking through the snowy streets and headed to an expat pub for a few drinks to celebrate it being Christmas. The town is a mix of people who live there year round and those who work there for a season, so there were lots of people about, even though it was late. With so many amazing ski resorts around, no wonder Alpine properties are proving to be extremely popular in the area. For real estate in Chamonix, see here – https://www.alpinepropintel.com/destination/chamonix/. I, for one, would love to own somewhere in the area so I could ski all year round! Maybe one day…
The next day was stunning, bright and clear, and perfect weather for skiing. However, I was feeling a bit under the weather, so whilst Liam headed out for a day on the slopes, I decided to take a train to the glacier. Liam was able to arrange his ski hire through the hotel, which meant that he could hop straight on the bus from directly outside the hotel, and be on the slopes in good time. Breakfast at this hotel is immense, well worth the €20. There was even freshly made crepes to order as well as plenty of fresh fruit and both hot and cold options. We filled up on this and then headed out for our days.
I walked to the Montenvers Railway Station, about a 20 minute walk from our hotel. This railway runs about every half hour and the views on the way are incredible. It gets to an altitude of 1913 metres, and from that height the Chamonix valley looks like it belongs on the front of a chocolate box. Once at the top, I am excited to be heading to see Mer de Glace. I have never seen a glacier before, this is a huge moment for me. I will later bore poor Liam who has seen them before, with more glacier facts than he probably ever wanted to know, and ask him a million questions about how they work.
I begin the long walk down to the ice cave, it makes me a bit sad that as I descend, on the rocks are markers as to where the glacier used to rise to on years gone by, it has shrunk so much in the past twenty years. At the bottom I explore the ice cave and learn more about glaciers through the visitor centre. I decide to have a snack at the top – a meringue larger than my face, and head back down as the twilight begins to close in. Liam is still skiing, he will be back just after dark, so I decide to use the sauna and hot tub in the hotel. This feels like such an indulgent treat and a great way to spend Christmas day.
The next day, the weather has closed in and it’s snowing. Liam is not deterred, and heads back up the mountain, and I head into the town for a wander around a bit of shopping. We are heading back to London later on and it’s nice to enjoy a small town, holding a hot chocolate and wandering whilst it’s snowing feels very Christmassy.
But let’s not forget Estonia and Norway.
Liam and I were also lucky enough to visit Tallinn and Oslo in January and February. Both of these visits were very low key, and time for us to relax, as we both have full on jobs.
Tallinn is a beautiful city, we stayed within the walls of the old town, and spent our two days wandering around the city, looking at churches, eating amazing chocolate and indulging in hearty meals. We also visited a multi language movie theatre as well as a great outdoor market. I bought more warm socks, mittens and gloves. Liam bought some dog fur socks, which we did double check, that the dog was still alive and well. I would like to return here and visit more of the country side in Estonia, as there are lots of amazing drives and a fair amount of wild life to spot.
Oslo was also very low key for us. We have both visited here before, so staying outside of the city in a beautiful Airbnb was a bit of a treat for us. The view over Oslo was stunning and we spent a lot of time looking out of the picture window, as we ate our body weights in food from the local market. I would recommend if you have not visited the city before that you check out the Viking Ship Museum, as well as checking out the skiing as Liam did. I was also lucky enough to take a fjord trip from central Oslo to the Viking Ship Museum, it was incredible as the ship was breaking up the ice as it went, but it did make for a very cold trip.
It’s fair to say, that I am still fascinated by snow, and love it when it’s snowing. I am from a very temperate part of the world, in the North Island of New Zealand, so did not see snow until I was 21 and did not see snow falling until I arrived in London at the age of 27. These winter breaks give me a chance to indulge my love of snow and all things related to it – snuggly clothing, cosy pubs, walking the streets holding warm mug of hot chocolate or even better mulled wine. I would strongly suggest that you look at booking some of these breaks for the season at the end of 2018 – Christmas markets are a must in Europe!
Photos by Nicola Whyte
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