Five European winter boltholes
The British one: The Grove, Wales
You don’t have to travel to the lands of glühwein and melted cheese to find that feeling of warmth and comfort in the dead of winter. On a chilly day, the same can be had at the end of a hedgerow-bounded country lane in Wales.
The Grove stands amid the low hills and scattered woods of southern Pembrokeshire. This part of the country does not get blanketed each winter in the way Snowdonia and the highland parts of Wales do, but when there is snow lying all around, the white walls of this hotel look particularly impressive, and that tea by a log fire in the wood-pannelled lounge becomes all the more necessary. Bedrooms, with big squashy beds piled high with pillows and throws, become hard to leave.
The menu in the restaurant gives ample space to Welsh ingredients, with dishes such as Brecon red deer loin with faggots, turnips and glazed shallots, and celeriac cooked in ash with russet apple and hazelnuts. If you feel the need to earn your dinner, there are winter walks all around the region, starting on the doorstep of the hotel, with the ancient forest of Canaston Woods close by. The hotel is also on the edge of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, so you can make an excursion that’s impossible in the Alps, to see a majestic coastline on the fringes of the Atlantic.
The Grove is located two miles southwest of Narberth, which is just off the A40 between Carmarthen and Haverfordwest. Driving times are two hours from Cardiff, 4½ hours from London and five hours from Manchester. Narberth also has train services from Swansea. It’s a request stop so you’ll need to forewarn the train driver. Staff from The Grove can pick you up from the station – a five-minute drive away.
The sociable one: Chesa Wazzau, Switzerland
The clusters of houses strung out along the Engadine Valley stand out among Switzerland’s many beautifully preserved mountain villages. Instead of fretwork wooden chalets, it’s the thick-walled stone farmhouse that distinguishes this long valley in the southeast of the country. Windows are kept small to let as little heat escape as possible, but they give out into funnel-shaped recesses in the walls to bring light to the interior. Many Engadine houses are decorated with sgraffito – intricate designs scratched into the plaster on the exterior.
In the village of Bever, you and several like-minded companions can have an Engadine house to yourselves for a whole week. Chesa Wazzau is a 17th-century farmhouse with six bedrooms and plenty of communal areas to sit down with a coffee or glass of Swiss wine. Sharing a candlelit supper around the communal dining table is a fine way to end a winter’s day.
Bever itself is not a ski resort, but it’s a short drive or a 15-minute bus ride up the road to Celerina, where you can jump onto a ski lift that’s linked in to the St Moritz ski area. The broad Engadine Valley is also ideal for cross-country skiing, and for horse-drawn sleigh rides into forested side valleys, with the promise of a restorative cheese-rich dinner before the journey home.
Chesa Wazzau can be rented by groups of up to twelve. The nearest large airport is Zürich, 3¼ hours away by car, although it’s only around 30 minutes extra to drive from Milan’s airports. Bever is 3½ hours by train from Zürich Airport with two or three connections. Chesa Wazzau is a five-minute walk from the station.
The unusual one: Iglu-dorf, Germany
Most winter refuges operate on the principle that however pretty the snow looks from the warm side of the window pane, guests must leave the white stuff at the door. Iglu-Dorf, on the other hand, is happy to welcome the most ardent chionophile (snow-lover).