13. Warm up by the fire
The snowiest corner of the British Isles is the Cairngorms — the wild, windswept plateau where few sensible souls venture in winter but for hardy stags. Admire their snowy summits from a safe distance by booking a night or two at the Woodman’s Hut — a timber cabin perched in secluded Scots pine forests facing south towards the range. Days might be spent wandering beside mountain streams or sinking pints in old coaching inns, while nights see guests piling logs onto the wood-burning stove and gazing up through the skylight at a star-filled sky.
- Go for a winter ramble
Long before chairlifts, motorways and railways opened up Switzerland‘s remotest reaches, a helpful way of moving goods about over steep slopes was the pack goat — a beast of burden accustomed to cold winters, sharp gradients and long walks in the company of lonesome goatherds. These days, you can play your own small part in the proud Helvetic tradition of goat-rambling by joining Hugeiss — an outfit offering treks with rare and endangered goat breeds in the canton of Bern. Accompanying you (and obligingly carrying your luggage and perhaps your picnic) are the magnificently-named goats Ikarus, Adonis and Orpheus —names almost as epic as the mountainous scenery through which they trot.
- Come in from the cold
Rising above the plains of Germany, the Brocken was the mountain where Soviet spies came to snoop on their adversaries during the coldest days of the Cold War — listening in on radio transmissions from the westernmost edge of the Iron Curtain. Their commute to and from work was the Brocken Railway — a narrow-gauge line of rickety antique carriages and puffing steam engines, climbing into the clouds from the valley floor. These days, lay tourists have displaced KGB passengers, but the ride is as beautiful as it ever was — especially in winter when the tracks are smothered with pristine snow. Remnants of the mountain’s Cold War history remains at the top, but spying out over vistas of frozen pine forests is more distracting.
- Take a sleigh ride
Witnessing the celestial drama of the northern lights playing above the Arctic Circle typically demands a toll of chattering teeth and frost-numbed toes. Not, however, if you’re lucky enough to ride in the new heated aurora sleighs found in Finnish Lapland. Looking not unlike a tiny greenhouse mounted on skis, these snowmobile-hayed sleighs keep their inhabitants snug while whooshing over frozen lakes and snowy meadows. If the gods allow it, you can sip hot berry juice ensconced in the balmy confines of the sleigh, looking smugly through a glass ceiling at the aurora flashing and flaring in the cold skies above.
- See the northern lights
Camping alone in the middle of a frozen lake might not make for the easiest night’s sleep. Fortunately, sleeping isn’t the priority at the new Aurora Village in Swedish Lapland where (hopefully) nights are passed paying attention to the ethereal green swirls of the northern lights overhead, rather than vaguely ominous creaking underfoot. If the aurora proves elusive, guests can keep warm inside the three cabins — traditionally used by ice fishermen and moved onto the lake during the winter months. Night time visitors will be scarce — the cabins are only as part of a snowmobile ride or a snowshoe hike from a nearby village.
- Visit Narnia
When CS Lewis was searching for inspiration for his frozen kingdom of Narnia, his first port of call wasn’t the Arctic expanses of Scandinavia or the wastes of Siberia. It was, rather surprisingly, the small hilltop town of Narni (known in Latin as Narnia) in Italy, whose name he resolved to borrow when flicking through an atlas as a child. By happy coincidence it’s a lovely spot for a winter retreat: a jumble of terracotta rooftops, belvederes and church towers overlooking wooded Umbrian slopes. Lions and witches are regrettably in short supply, but cobbled squares, grand fortifications and characterful cafés are not. Narni enjoys some fame in Italy as the supposed geographical centre of the country — there’s an old stone monument in the forest just outside town; all that’s missing is a lamppost hidden in the trees.