Settle in front
of the fire, pull the blanket right up to your chin and sit back with a hot
toddy – these five spots are some of the continent’s cosiest places to enjoy
The modern one: Chalet Gerard, Italy
Few regions wear their winter guise as well as the
Dolomites. Mountains tower over valleys lying deep in snow, their
cathedral-spire peaks turning red in the rays of the setting sun. As the day
fades and skies blanketed in stars lend an extra magic to crisp nights, light
blazes from the windows of village houses and isolated chalets, in scenes that
couldn’t look more typically Alpine.
however, takes traditional architectural forms and gives them new energy, from
the undulating roof that recalls a ski slope waiting for fresh tracks, to the
curvaceous fireplace that recalls a hovering spaceship in the lounge. The
Mussner family rebuilt the mountain lodge in 2010, using local Dolomite stone
and larch wood and the affect is one of calm modernity, all clean lines and
It stands in
splendid isolation on a hillside in the upper reaches of the Val Gardena, in the northern Italian
region of South Tyrol, between two vast mountain outcrops – the Sella and
Sassolungo groups. The Val Gardena is an oddity – one of two valleys within an
otherwise largely German-speaking part of Italy where most inhabitants speak a
Romance language called Ladin. The cooking offered at Chalet Gerard – cream of
pumpkin soup with mild gorgonzola, tagliatelle with venison and mushroom sauce
– is a satisfying tribute to the mix of cultures in this particular area of the
Alps. If guests are able to tear themselves away from the lodge, they head to
one of the many ski slopes in the region. The nearest resort, at Selva di Val
Gardena, is three miles away, although its ‘suburb’ of Plan de Gralba is an
easy ski down from the hotel – with a shuttle service back up when ski legs
tire and a place by the fire calls.
is 10 minutes’ drive south of Selva di Val Gardena/Wolkenstein in Gröden.
Innsbruck in Austria is the closest airport to the Val Gardena (two hours by
car). Verona (2¼ hours) and Venice (three hours) are alternative airports. Buses run to Val Gardena from
Innsbruck and Verona airports.
The traditional one: Les Fermes de Marie, France
When night falls and snow lies heavy on the boughs
of the fir trees, the instinct to scurry indoors, find a heat source and wrap
yourself up in something furry takes over. Les Fermes de Marie more than
fulfils this desire.
In the French
Alpine ski resort of Megève, nine old
chalets have been relocated from mountain pastures to form this hamlet-hotel.
Wood was traditionally a humble building material in the Alps, but old timbers
today are not at all out of place in luxurious surroundings such as these.
If it’s blowing
a blizzard outside, guests gravitate to the sofas arranged around the bar, or
by the open fire in the library. If it still hasn’t let up by dinnertime, the
hotel’s three restaurants beckon, with fortifying staples such as fondue and
spit-roasted chicken, as well as dishes which Savoyard farmers of a century ago
might be less familiar with, such as scallops with parsnip and salsify purée.
Megève is one of
France’s higher-end resorts – it was developed by the Rothschild family, after
all. The skiing here is at a lower altitude than Val d’Isère and Les Trois
Vallées, but between the forest runs and Megève’s cobbled streets, it’s
Fermes de Marie is in the centre of Megève, a 1¼-hour trip by car from Geneva
airport. Buses take around 1½ hours – several bus and shared taxi companies are
listed on the Megève tourism website but Borini is one of the cheapest.
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.
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).
these igloo communities pop up in six different locations – four in
Switzerland, one in Andorra, and one in Germany on the reliably frozen heights
of Zugspitze. Using the ancient knowledge of the Inuit, that air pockets
trapped in snow make it a surprisingly good material for insulation, these snow
chambers are just about warm enough to spend a night in, once you’re ensconced
in one of the sleeping bags provided, lying on top of an icy ‘bed’ with a
blanket or lambskin spread over it.
themselves come in various grades, from Standard (a six-bed affair for families
and friends) to Romantic Plus – an igloo for two with its own en-suite bathroom
and Prosecco thrown in. Snow artists have also been let loose on the designs,
and igloos sport fanciful carvings of anything from swans to the stone faces of
Angkor. All guests partake in mulled wine, an evening meal of cheese fondue, a
hot whirlpool bath in the snow and sometimes a nighttime snowshoe trip. At
Zugspitze, guests descend the mountain in the morning for breakfast in a log
The location is
an astonishment in itself. Zugspitze is Germany’s highest mountain, at 2,962m.
The rack railway that winds its way up makes its final climb inside the
mountain, leaving passengers to emerge blinking onto the snowfield at the top,
where the igloo village takes shape every winter. From here on a clear day,
there’s a view of four countries: Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.
Iglu-Dorf Zugspitze is open from 31
December to mid-April, weather conditions permitting. Zugspitze is reached on
the rack railway from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The closest international airport
is Innsbruck, an hour’s drive away. Garmisch-Partenkirchen is 1½ hours by train