Winter doesn't mean the end of wandering through Europe
Does the thought of strapping on skis or snowboards to your feet and careening downhill leave you cold? That need not stop you from enjoying the pristine, snow-draped landscapes of the season. Numerous mountainous areas dependent on the winter tourist trade cater to outdoor lovers undeterred by chilly weather with miles of maintained trails that make hiking through snowy vistas a safe and comfortable experience. With the moratorium on overnight hotel stays looking set to continue throughout much of Europe for a while yet, it may be premature to go out and book a holiday; meanwhile, we can dream of the day when embarking upon one of these stunning strolls becomes a reality.
AustriaThe five villages making up the Olympiaregion of Seefeld in the Austrian state of Tyrol offer more than 100 miles of marked and maintained winter hiking trails. In addition to taking on these trails as single-day hikes, guests to the region can opt for a three-night, four-day distance hiking experience inclusive of hotel stays and arrangements for transporting your baggage from one place to the next. The experience takes one through the ten-mile Leutasch Valley, known for its reliable snow cover and plenty of winter sun. At a height of 3,600 feet above sea level, hikers get themselves from one accommodation to the next, where tasty regional fare warms body and soul. A highlight of the trip comes on night three, spent at the Wettersteinhuette mountain lodge. You’ll have to make do without your luggage on this particular night, and the bunk or cabin accommodation might prove rather rustic, but the blue gentian schnapps, a homemade treat from your hosts Hans and Beate, will make your stay memorable for all the right reasons. When and if Coronavirus regulations allow for overnight stays, the self-guided package starts on Mondays only and is available through March 8. Its 340 euro per-person cost includes overnight stays, half board and visitor tax; the single room surcharge is 72 euros. Online: tinyurl.com/y7gctayp
GermanyIn the shadow of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak, walking trails tempt adventurous souls of all levels of ability. The “Graswangrunde” is billed as a family-friendly winter hiking trail starting off from the village of Ettal, winding through the Graswang Valley and Weidmoos Nature Reserve along groomed paths to a height of around 3,280 feet, where views of the Kienjoch, Kreuzspitze and Klammspitze rock massifs make the journey worth the effort put in. The Ettaler Muehle makes a welcome stop for refreshment and rejuvenation. If the snow cover is thick enough, little ones will enjoy being pulled along on a sled. Be prepared to step out of the way for the odd horse-drawn sleigh or cross-country skiers with whom you’ll be sharing the trail. Online: tinyurl.com/ycctaofu
Although the sun sets early this time of year, nightfall doesn’t have to spell the end to outdoor fun. The tourist offices of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Zugspitz region offer a variety of guided hikes by torchlight through March. Participants may be required to have spikes, poles and suitable footwear. Possible itineraries include a hike to the ice-covered Kuhflucht Waterfall, which is accessed via the ski lift on the Ried in Farchant, or through the Partnach Gorge. From the Kurhaus in Grainau, one can take a 45-minute hike through a snow-encrusted landscape to the Neuner Alm, where musicians in Bavarian attire provide the entertainment. Online: tinyurl.com/y7fa2jey
ItalyThe Alpe di Siusi, also known by its German name Seiser Alm, in Val Gardena of the Dolomites range, is the biggest high-altitude plateau in Europe. In the winter, it’s a mecca for snowshoers and hikers, who share some 40 miles of groomed trails. Proposed hikes range from easy, 45-minute walks to strenuous six-hour tours for which snowshoes are a must. Many of the trails are loops; those that aren’t often end at a bus stop from which you can ride back. Several trails pass by mountain huts that operate through the winter, where delicious regional cuisine awaits. Plenty of the region’s cable cars will give hikers a lift, and numerous tobogganing slopes make for a fun way to return. Online: tinyurl.com/ybeaos67
SloveniaThe 9,395-foot high Triglav is the tallest mountain in Slovenia and the highest peak of the Julian Alps. A two-day tour led by an experienced mountain guide is a true adventure for those with a head for heights and excellent physical condition.
The tour operator Explore Share’s two-day package offers an ascent starting from the Krma Valley. Using the crampons and ice axe provided, hikers make their way up the steep slope. Depending on conditions, reaching the summit may entail traversing a via ferrata. Overnight accommodation is at the Triglavski Dom, which serves food but is unheated. The day entails some eight hours of walking on the first day and a bit less than that upon the descent the following day. Guide services based on two participants cost in the region of 350 euros per person, and food, drinks and room in the mountain hut costs an additional 50 euros per guest. The tour is not suitable for children. Online: tinyurl.com/y7tmt8ra