High design and haute cuisine meet crackling fires and snow-covered vistas in these European winter destinations.
Europeans have dreamt up many definitions of cozy. Denmark has hygge, a concept that evokes “coziness when relaxing with good friends.” Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have gemütlich, which translates to “comfortably homey.” And Bulgaria has its уют, which means “snug.”
Still, the concept of a European winter getaway is changing. Seaside towns and off-season resort areas are seeing an uptick of visitors who come for digital detoxes and crowd-free retreats that can cost a quarter as much as a ski weekend. Sagres, in Portugal, for instance, is experiencing an increase in visitors, namely golfers seeking a bit of cool January sun and surfers coming for the winter swells. Croatia’s Istrian coast, meanwhile, attracts flocks of Zagreb creative types thanks to the significant off-season savings at its seaside and design-forward hotels.
Find out why there’s no winter like a European winter—especially in these towns.
Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
Jutting west into the North Atlantic Ocean, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is Iceland at its most stunning: moss-blanketed lava fields, misty fjords surrounded by craggy cliffs, and a towering volcano crowned with a glacier that dates back to the Ice Age. Do it as a road trip, starting with a night at the fire-engine-red Hotel Egilsen, in the tiny fishing town of Stykkisholmur. The inn’s 10 cozy rooms have a New England vibe, decorated as they are in light blues and greens, and original sketches of local landmarks by Icelandic artist Tolli line the walls. Across the street, Narfeyrarstofa, with its doilies and lace curtains, may look like someone’s grandmother’s house, but the restaurant serves the best lamb stew in town. It’s about an 80-mile drive around the tip of the peninsula—past waterfalls and golden beaches—to Hotel Búðir, the region’s game-changing property. The 17th-century trading post turned 28-room lodge is a destination in itself, with views of the Snæfell glacier or bay from every window, sitting areas with deep leather sofas and scores of old National Geographics to flip through, and a lobby bar with one of the country’s largest whiskey collections. If you’re looking to knock the northern lights off your bucket list, you’re in luck: an overnight concierge will wake you up for the show. —Brooke Porter Katz
Alpe di Siusi, Dolomites
Most visitors who come to the jagged, skyscraping peaks of northeastern Italy stay at a traditional hotel in the Badia Valley. But Adler Mountain Lodge is luring more design-inclined skiers to the lesser-known Alpe di Siusi region to the west. The main building has 18 rooms, with spare pinewood interiors, floor-to-ceiling windows, and décor inspired by the owners’ trips to Africa—a totem pole here, a carved wooden eagle there. You’ll also find 12 stunning terraced villas resembling ancient Tyrolean huts. Surrounding the property are more than 220 miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails dotted with traditional baitas (stone-and-wood houses) selling steaming cups of hot cocoa. Ask the concierge to arrange a one-hour trek that ends with lunch at Gostner Schwaige, where Franz Mulser serves his signature hay soup, a hearty mix of vegetable stock, cream, butter, and boiled hay in a bread bowl. There’s little reason to leave the area, but it’s worth taking the short cable car ride to Santa Cristina village to see the town square glow with holiday lights. —Valerie Waterhouse
With its snow-covered peaks, café-lined town square, and red-hot après-ski scene, this mountain resort in northern Sweden is the Aspen of Scandinavia. There are more than 100 powdery ski runs, or you can navigate the slopes by snowmobile or dogsled: Explore Åre and Camp Åre are two top outfitters that can arrange tours. After dark, a lively crowd congregates over pints of Swedish Brekeriet beer at Hotel Fjällgården, where DJs keep the place thumping late into the night. For a quiet evening, curl up with a mug of glogg at Gute Grill & Bar in the Tott Hotel. A five-minute walk away, chef Markus Aujalays runs Fjällpuben, a cozy restaurant with a farmhouse feel that serves dishes like tender elk carpaccio with currants and pickled beets. You’ll find several sophisticated hotels in town, but for a true northern adventure, consider spending a night at Igloo Åre, where the beds are made of packed snow covered in plush sleeping bags and reindeer skins, and private guides lead early morning snowshoe hikes. If the thought of ice blocks leaves you cold, there’s the new wood- and-glass Copperhill Mountain Lodge by American architect Peter Bohlin, a high-design ski-in, ski-out chalet with huge stone fireplaces, furnishings by the likes of Tom Dixon and Patricia Urquiola, and spa “tee-pees” that pay homage to the region’s indigenous Sami tribe. Book a Samezen massage, which uses warm stones and plant extracts, then take in the mountain views from a natural hot-spring-fed pool. —Ingrid K. Williams
Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, is not known for taking foolish risks. So when he decided to give the hotel business a try with the ultra-luxe Cheval Blanc Courchevel, he set his sights on Courchevel’s most glamorous zip code, Le Jardin Alpin. Its north-facing slopes are among the best, its network of ski lifts the most efficient, and its habitués the most monied in all of Europe. With Arnault’s imprimatur and designer Sybille de Margerie’s bright, futuristic interiors, the property was a big-enough deal to lure chef Yannick Alléno from Paris’s Michelin three-starred Le Meurice to open Le 1947, where traditional French dishes get a modern spin. Just up the mountain, L’Apogée Courchevel bears the dual stamp of Parisian designers India Mahdavi and Joseph Dirand. The 53 timbered rooms and suites are surprisingly casual, decorated in a burgundy, green, and gingham palette, while the two chalets have log fires, perfect for curling up beside after a long day on the mountain. Courchevel’s equally polished town center is lined with high-end boutiques, including Isabel Marant and Ski Dior, and the bakery Maison Braissand is an essential stop for its buttery pain au chocolat. —Alexandra Marshall
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