Ultimate Winter Travel Experiences
Ultimate Winter Travel Experiences, b
Rough Guides’ new book Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth: 1000 Ultimate Travel Experiences lists travel adventures and activities all over the world. This voluminous book is filled with international destinations for travel enthusiasts and dreamers alike, with lots of excellent photographs. Below are some samples from their section on winter activities:
Big foot: snowshoeing through the Black Forest
GERMANY There’s nothing more satisfying than being the first person to step on deep virgin snow. Except, perhaps, being able to step on it without sinking to your thighs.
The solution? Snowshoes: clumsy tennis-racket contraptions that have morphed into lighter, high-tech models with snazzy spikes and the power to glide.
Forget the adrenalin rush of bombing down the Alps; snowshoeing offers silent winter thrills in frozen forests and the chance to see a country’s wild side. I’d picked the Black Forest in Germany, a winter wonderland of fir-clad hills custom-made for this low-impact sport.
Just for the “wow factor,” I decided to hike the forest’s highest peak, 1493m Feldberg, geared up for snowshoers like me, with mile upon mile of well-marked trails.
Leaving civilization behind, I took my first giant steps through layers of crunchy powder, little by little adapting to the shuffle and swoosh of my snowshoes in quiet exhilaration.
More confident now, I attempted a few Bambi-style leaps and bounces down a smooth white slope. Heart racing and cheeks glowing, it dawned on me that I’d have to climb back up that hill. Damn.
I’ve seen some big trees in my time, but Black forest firs beat them all – Goliaths standing to attention, their branches thick with gloopy snow as though someone got a bit carried away with the icing sugar.
I flopped beneath one of them, slurping hot tea and enjoying the isolation of being out of my depth in snow and surrounded by utter silence.
Taking long, rhythmic strides past fox prints, deer poo and stacks of fresh-cut timber, I finally emerged at Feldberg’s summit. Ahead, the panorama opened up to reveal glacier-carved valleys framed by the pointy Alps and Vosges. Behind me, a solitary set of footprints twinkled in the midday sun.
From ski suit to swim suit in a single day
LEBANON The best things come in small packages, but few small packages contain quite as much as Lebanon. In a single day you can swish your way down the slopes in the morning before losing the salopettes and donning your shades at the seaside in the afternoon.
Though boasting neither the altitude nor the acreage to qualify as a major international resort, Lebanon’s skiing is great fun. Best of all, the resorts all lie within one day’s trip by car from Beirut, meaning you don’t have to risk long and expensive journeys for nothing.
The best plan is to check out the resort’s snow conditions in advance then head out early the following morning – either taking a hire car along the boisterous roads or traveling with a tour company – to catch the snow before Lebanon’s Levantine sun turns it all to humus.
The pick of the bunch, with the most well-developed infrastructure and facilities, is Faraya Mzaar, northeast of Beirut, with the powder-friendly Cedars, southeast of Tripoli, close behind. Many resorts also offer cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, and there’s a good variety of pistes, though most are short. The most important thing to remember is that in Lebanon looking good is almost as important as skiing.
To work on your tan, head to Lebanon’s best beaches, which can be found south of Tyre and near Byblos. In Beirut the best public beach, Ramlet al-Bayda, is grubby, and the well-maintained private beach clubs are generally your best bet – they have heated pools (in case you find the winter sea chilly) and are home to much shimmying and strutting.
After a day on the slopes, there’s no better way to unwind, and there’s still time for a spot of shopping in Beirut’s boutiques, a beer followed by fresh fish at one of the city’s bars or restaurants and more shimmying and strutting at the booming nightclubs. Best of all, you’ll return from your skiing trip with a perfect tan, much to the chagrin of your panda-eyed Alpine friends.
Ice skating on the world’s largest rink
Because when the chill hits, an 8km stretch of water running through the heart of the city freezes and becomes the world’s largest natural ice-skating surface, the size of ninety Olympic-sized ice rinks. This is the signal for hearty Ottawans to bundle up, strap on their skates and head out onto the ice to play, glide past the sights of the nation’s capital and even commute to work. It’s all part ofan annual ritual that has become a favorite winter pastime.
ONTARIO Yes, Paris has the elegance of the Seine. Fine, London has the bustling of the Thames. And OK, Rome has the historic Tiber. Great waterways all, no doubt about it – but none of them is a match for what you can do on the ribbon of snow and ice that is Ottawa’s Rideau Canal in winter.
Completed in 1832, the whole of the Rideau Canal is actually much longer than the segment you can skate on in Ottawa. Its 202km-length connects the capital with Kingston, to the southwest, via a series of canals, rivers, lakes. In winter, though, the canal is best experienced in Ottawa during the annual Winterlude Festival, held during the first three weekends of February.
In the crisp bright of a Canadian winter the canal is a hive of activity. Thousands glide – and sometimes totter – about, a quick game of pond hockey breaks out on a more isolated stretch, figure skaters spin, speedskaters skim by, all metronome-like consistency, and everybody vies for a glimpse of world-renowned sculptors carving masterpieces from blocks of snow and ice.
As daylight gives way to an even chillier darkness, floodlights light up the canal and the icy spectacle becomes cosier and even more magical. Children – overbalanced either by lack of practice or thick winter clothing – zip precariously along, steaming cups of hot chocolate are sipped, kisses are exchanged and BeaverTails (don’t worry – they’re the fried, sweet pastry variety) are eaten. Everyone, it seems, is totally oblivious to the subzero temperatures. Who needs a beach when you can have this much fun on ice?
Going downhill in the Andes
ARGENTINA Skip the beach this year. Instead, embrace winter in July and get a tan on the sunny slopes of the Andes in the middle of Argentina’s Lake District at Bariloche, a laconic town turned major South American skiing destination.
Surrounded by spectacular forests, pristine rivers and lakes, rift valleys and towering alpine peaks, and with average seasonal temperatures around 4°C, it’s no wonder that this is prime ski country for South Americans. Luckily, since the rest of the world hasn’t quite caught on, you won’t spend a fortune on rentals and lift tickets, or wait a lifetime in line.
Starting by hitting the slopes at Cerro Central, the oldest, largest, and most developed ski resort in South America, which features a vertical drop of 1070m and over 75km of marked trails, gullies and chutes – the longest run is 4km long – to say nothing of the off-piste possibilities, with back-country riding that can rival anything in the French Alps or Colorado.
Skiing is a lot less common in South America than elsewhere in the world, and mid-level skiers will find themselves in plenty of good company here. On the other hand, if you’re a superstar on the snow, the more challenging pistes are much less crowded and yours for the shredding.
Unlike the massive resorts of US and European ski centres, Argentina’s mountain destinations are decidedly more low-key in terms of their sprawl, though don’t think for a moment that this means there is less going on. Argentines are well know for their indulgence in the refined institution of après-ski, and Bariloche’s off-slope adventures include dozens of discos, casinos and wine bars, with ample restaurants for savoring Argentina’s scrumptious cuisine. After all, what would a week (a month? an entire season?) on the slopes be without exploring the excellent winter nightlife?
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