Saying goodbye to fall is difficult because if you live in the northern U.S., you know what’s next, snow, sleet, ice, Nor’easters, and yucky weather in general. Still, there’s something magical about the first snowfall. When the first white flakes float through the air in November, I marvel in their beauty and walk outside to fell the cold, wet specks on my face.
Many people dream of warm weather to escape winter’s gloom, while others embrace the cold and live for cold weather, winter vacations. So if you don’t mind a little ice and snow, here are some ideas to enjoy the season.
Quebec City, Canada
Yes, Quebec is cold in the winter, but it’s also gorgeous, and the Old City is right out of fairy tale. Bundle up and take a horse-drawn carriage ride and then warm up with an exquisite French pastry and a hot beverage. Fully fortified, head over to the toboggan slide at the Chateau Frontenac for a ride on an ice luge constructed in 1884.
Next stop, a visit to the ice hotel. Sleeping over is optional (and not for me). The temporary hotel is open for tours and visits to the ice bar for cold drinks out of blocks of ice. (Written down, that sounds ridiculous). Kids love this place. The entire hotel is covered with elaborate ice carvings, and everywhere you turn are long ice slides open for rides.
Drive a little farther north to sample one of the oldest forms of transportation, dog sledding. The animals are strong, beautiful, and instinctively know what to do. For safety, my kids road with an experienced Musher, while we gave it a go on our own. (You’ll be happy to know I only crashed once). After our ride, we met the dogs, learned more about dog sledding (once critical to survival in arctic areas), and happily drank hot chocolate in the lodge.
Advent markets have filled the squares of European cathedrals for hundreds of years. Many are vast seas of stalls with thousands of Christmas lights glowing in the cold night air. Created as a place for residents to stock up on winter supplies, Christmas markets have transformed into seasonal celebrations with artisans from around the world and vendors selling hot, hearty, holiday food, and drinks.
Brussels, Copenhagen, Nuremberg, Prague, Rome, Salzburg, Strasbourg (the oldest market in France at 445 years), Vienna, (and more!) all host Christmas markets right out of a storybook. Visit one, and you’ll find handmade gifts, music, nativity plays, and perhaps even an ice rink, Ferris wheels, or four-ton fruitcake (Dresden).
A fun way to experience several Christmas markets is with a river cruise. Most major river cruise lines offer a Christmas market itinerary with trips like “Rhine Holiday Market” or “Christmas on the Danube.” Many holiday cruises start sailing in November, but the best experience is during the four weeks of Advent (December) and the first week of January. Christmas cruises are hugely popular, so it pays to plan early to get the desired destination.
Three for Families
Camelback Resort, Tannersville PA
With the country’s largest snow tubing park (42 lanes), plus skiing/riding, and a massive indoor water park, the new (opened in 2014) Camelback is perfect for families.
Okemo Mountain Resort, Ludlow, VT
If the family gets tired of skiing/riding on the resorts 121 trails, take a break and enjoy one of Okemo’s other fun attractions. Snow tubing, ice skating, a mountain coaster, and a GIANT mound of snow called the anthill will keep kids busy for hours.
Step back in time to the Old West with a visit to Breckenridge, CO. Families will love the mix of beginner and expert trails, plus ice-skating, an Alpine slide, and a mountain-top children’s museum. Breckenridge is 9,600 feet above sea level, and some flat-landers may have trouble with the change in altitude.
We can’t stop winter, but we can find ways to enjoy it. Contact me here to plan your own winter escape.