High design and haute cuisine meet crackling fires and snow-covered vistas in these European winter destinations
Europeans have dreamt up many definitions of cozy. Denmark has hygge, a concept that evokes “coziness when relaxing with good friends.” Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have gemütlich, which translates to “comfortably homey.” And Bulgaria has its уют, which means “snug.”
In other words, when the temperature drops, there’s a special appeal to hightailing it to Europe, where the art form of coziness has been perfected over the course of a few thousand winters. From the Ardennes to the Alps, woodsy retreats with crackling fireplaces, steamy thermal baths with pine-scented steam rooms, and wood-paneled inns where bubbling pots of fondue and shots of schnapps have long warmed locals and propelled many travelers to cross an ocean for a taste.
Still, the concept of a European winter getaway is changing. Seaside towns and off-season resort areas are seeing an uptick of visitors who come for digital detoxes and crowd-free retreats that can cost a quarter as much as a ski weekend. Sagres, in Portugal, for instance, is experiencing an increase in visitors, namely golfers seeking a bit of cool January sun and surfers coming for the winter swells. Croatia’s Istrian coast, meanwhile, attracts flocks of Zagreb creative types thanks to the significant off-season savings at its seaside and design-forward hotels.
Find out why there’s no winter like a European winter—especially in these towns.
With its snow-covered peaks, café-lined town square, and red-hot après-ski scene, this mountain resort in northern Sweden is the Aspen of Scandinavia. There are more than 100 powdery ski runs, or you can navigate the slopes by snowmobile or dogsled: Explore Åre and Camp Åre are two top outfitters that can arrange tours. After dark, a lively crowd congregates over pints of Swedish Brekeriet beer at Hotel Fjällgården, where DJs keep the place thumping late into the night. For a quiet evening, curl up with a mug of glogg in one of the candlelit nooks at Thyras Salong, in the Tott Hotel. A five-minute walk away, chef Markus Aujalays runs Fjällpuben, a cozy restaurant with a farmhouse feel that serves dishes like tender elk carpaccio with currants and pickled beets. You’ll find several sophisticated hotels in town, but for a true northern adventure, consider spending a night at Igloo Åre, where the beds are made of packed snow covered in plush sleeping bags and reindeer skins, and private guides lead early morning snowshoe hikes. If the thought of ice blocks leaves you cold, there’s the new wood- and-glass Copperhill Mountain Lodge by American architect Peter Bohlin, a high-design ski-in, ski-out chalet with huge stone fireplaces, furnishings by the likes of Tom Dixon and Patricia Urquiola, and spa “tee-pees” that pay homage to the region’s indigenous Sami tribe. Book a Samezen massage, which uses warm stones and plant extracts, then take in the mountain views from a hot-spring-fed pool. —Ingrid K. Williams
You don’t come to this tiny village in the Swiss Alps to ski. Instead of perfectly groomed pistes, you’ll find a wonderland for design buffs. Built from sparkling gray blocks of Vals quartzite, Pritzker Prize winner Peter Zumthor’s austerely beautiful Therme Vals houses a warren of steamy hammams and flower-strewn pools. Last fall, the on-site hotel was rebranded as the 7132 Hotel, with furniture by Fritz Hansen and Eero Saarinen, a restaurant that serves dishes like Öra salmon with beets and spinach, and new rooftop suites designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. If your taste tends toward fewer hard surfaces and right angles, the four-room Brücke 49 embodies the distinctive Danish ethos of hygge, or coziness, but with some Midcentury-inspired flair: Finn Juhl chairs, 1960s Le Klint lamps, Vola showers, and William Morris wallpaper. Do as the locals do and earn your fondue with a 45-minute hike from the hotel along farm roads to Restaurant Ganni, an 18th-century timber mountain lodge. After a pot of silky cheese spiked with ginger, porcini, or traditional kirsch, throw back avieille prune (cask-aged plum brandy) digestif to fortify you for the walk back down. —Adam H. Graham
Jutting west into the North Atlantic Ocean, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is Iceland at its most stunning: moss-blanketed lava fields, misty fjords surrounded by craggy cliffs, and a towering volcano crowned with a glacier that dates back to the Ice Age. Do it as a road trip, starting with a night at the fire-engine-red Hotel Egilsen, in the tiny fishing town of Stykkisholmur. The inn’s 10 cozy rooms have a New England vibe, decorated as they are in light blues and greens, and original sketches of local landmarks by Icelandic artist Tolli line the walls. Across the street, Narfeyrarstofa, with its doilies and lace curtains, may look like someone’s grandmother’s house, but the restaurant serves the best lamb stew in town. It’s about an 80-mile drive around the tip of the peninsula—past waterfalls and golden beaches—to Hotel Búðir, the region’s game-changing property. The 17th-century trading post turned 28-room lodge is a destination in itself, with views of the Snæfell glacier or bay from every window, sitting areas with deep leather sofas and scores of old National Geographics to flip through, and a lobby bar with one of the country’s largest whiskey collections. If you’re looking to knock the northern lights off your bucket list, you’re in luck: an overnight concierge will wake you up for the show. —Brooke Porter Katz
Once a popular spa getaway for well-heeled Londoners, Cheltenham fell out of favor with the rise of its trendier neighbors Daylesford and Chipping Norton. But with the opening of No. 38 The Park, the historic town in the northern Cotswolds is back in the spotlight. The brainchild of Sam and Georgie Pearman, the Regency building has 13 bedrooms, elegantly done with reclaimed-wood tables, freestanding Victorian bathtubs, and David Hockney prints. For dinner, make your way to sister property No. 131, where locals gather in a buzzy, low-lit dining room for regionally sourced dishes. Beyond the hotel, there’s plenty to explore, including the housewares and antiques shops in the neighborhoods of Montpelier and Suffolk. Don’t miss Guild at 51, full of handmade textiles and silverwork. Or tour the recently renovated Wilson, an art space showcasing both British Arts and Crafts and emerging artists. For lunch, Purslane serves a standout Cornish pollack with wood-roasted celeriac and chanterelles; come nighttime, it’s all about Daffodil, an Art Deco–style restaurant and bar known for its martinis and live jazz. —Sarah Miller
Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, is not known for taking foolish risks. So when he decided to give the hotel business a try with the ultra-luxe Cheval Blanc Courchevel, he set his sights on Courchevel’s most glamorous zip code, Le Jardin Alpin. Its north-facing slopes are among the best, its network of ski lifts the most efficient, and its habitués the most monied in all of Europe. With Arnault’s imprimatur and designer Sybille de Margerie’s bright, futuristic interiors, the property was a big- enough deal to lure chef Yannick Alléno from Paris’s Michelin three- starred Le Meurice to open Le 1947, where traditional French dishes get a modern spin. Just up the mountain,L’Apogée Courchevel bears the dual stamp of Parisian designers India Mahdavi and Joseph Dirand. The 55 timbered rooms and suites are surprisingly casual, decorated in a burgundy, green, and gingham palette, while the two chalets have log fires, perfect for curling up beside after a long day on the mountain. Courchevel’s equally polished town center is lined with high-end boutiques, including Isabel Marant and Ski Dior, and the bakery Maison Braissand is an essential stop for its buttery pain au chocolat. —Alexandra Marshall
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