The Ultratravel top 10 winter treats

From hot-spring holidays in Japan to romantic rail journeys through Siberia, snow travel is the way to go. Nigel Tisdall selects 10 dreamy trips.

To heaven by husky: Svalbard, Norway

Far above the Arctic Circle, the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is a savagely attractive land of glaciers, polar bears and explorers.

heaven husky 1519633i The Ultratravel top 10 winter treats

Here you can take a three-day husky safari across the frozen fjords to stay aboard Noorderlicht , a splendid red Dutch-built schooner caught in the winter ice. The adventure starts at Basecamp Spitsbergen, a trapper’s lodge-style hotel in Longyearbyen, constructed from driftwood, slate and furs, with 16 en-suite rooms. After that you’re off across the virgin snow, mushing a fiercely-motivated team of Alaskan dogs, with which you can interact over the 43-mile drive to the ship. Built in 1912, and modernised with 10 cabins and a bar, the ship is a marvellous hideaway from which to keep an eye out for polar bears and the Northern Lights.

Hot springs eternal: Winter in Japan

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Winter is a smart time to visit Japan – there are far fewer tourists and the countryside looks pleasingly white and pretty. It’s cold with plenty of snow in the mountains and excellent skiing, and you can intersperse sightseeing days with restorative trips to the onsen (hot springs). In the main resorts, many ryokan (traditional inns) have their own indoor hot-spring baths, while some also offer them outdoors (rotenburo ). Kusatsu is a famous onsen town while Kinosaki has seven bathhouses set among streets of traditional wooden buildings and narrow bridges. Start in Tokyo, then whizz around by train; besides the renowned Shinkansen (bullet train) there are many other enjoyable rides, such as the Odakyu Romance Car Express, which has extra-wide windows so passengers can enjoy the scenic journey to Hakone and nearby Mount Fuji.

To Russia for love: Winter in St Petersburg
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Few cities offer so fabulous a union of might and beauty as St Petersburg – and Peter the Great’s “Window on the West” looks especially enchanting in winter. Once the river Neva ices over in December, the city becomes ideal for fulfilling all those Dr Zhivago fantasies. Big fur hats, dreamy walks in the snow, glittering tsarist palaces, masterpiece-filled museums… January to early March is the best time for guaranteed snow. For a five-star break and a sense of history check into the Grand Hotel Europe , which dates from 1824 and sets up an ice bar on Nevsky Prospekt every year, serving vodka, caviar and oysters. A short drive out of the city, the Catherine Palace offers a memorable chance to think about doomed Romanovs, admire the marmalade walls of the Amber Room , then take a troika ride through the snows of nearby Pavlovsk park.

Steaming in Iceland
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Still feeling a bit credit-crunched? So are 320,000 Icelanders, and their spectacular homeland is your best bet for a winter break with an attractive price tag. It’ll be cold and dark, but that’s just what you want for seeing the Northern Lights. The four-star Hotel Ranga, an hour’s drive east of Reykjavik, is a conveniently isolated base. You’ll also need to make the most of the daylight (down to four or five hours in January) by driving out into the monochrome world of black lava, white fields and frozen waterfalls. If things get nippy, hit the famous Blue Lagoon baths or the country’s many geothermally-heated swimming pools. Just as we go to the pub, so Icelanders hit the tub – and believe it or not, getting parboiled in a blizzard really is an awful lot of fun.

Rocky Mountain Highs
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For an exhilarating change of scene, it’s hard to beat Calgary. Jump on a flight and, in just under nine hours, you’re at the gateway to the magnificent ensemble of national parks, evergreen forests, mirror-calm lakes and snowy peaks that is the Canadian Rockies. Drive 80 miles west and you reach Banff , a very can-do mountain playground set at 4,450ft, with superb skiing backed up with plenty of alternative activities, including snow-shoeing, sleigh rides, ice fishing and a half-day ice-walk to Johnston Canyon . Stay at the cavernous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, which opened in 1888 and resembles a Scottish castle. With a spa, outdoor ice rink and plenty of rooms with a view, it’s at the heart of the winter action. A 40-minute drive away lies Lake Louise , a sister resort that’s home to an equally grand-looking hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise .

Finland in the fast lane
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Those who are keen to discover their inner Clarkson might consider visiting the Juha Kankkunen Driving Academy in Finnish Lapland. The four-time World Rally Champion driver leads a team of skilled instructors who teach guests how to safely tear around ice-covered tracks in adapted vehicles ranging from a VW Golf to a Subaru Impreza. Topping the programme is a four-mile, 125mph race through the forests as the star’s co-driver. Accommodation is a first-class hotel or timber cottage and there’s a host of outdoor activities available, including snowmobiling, lessons in winter survival skills, ice fishing and saunas.

Siberia in serious style
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A ride on the Trans-Siberian railway is one of the world’s great train journeys – and particularly romantic in winter, when the views from the carriage window present a mesmerising cavalcade of snow-clad fir trees broken up by merciless expanses of tundra, the flash of a gorgeous onion-domed church, and curtain-calls of Chekhovian faces waiting at the level-crossings. Fortunately, there is now a super-luxurious way to enjoy this 6,600-mile trip. Departing Vladivostok on February 18, the lavishly-appointed Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express will make a one-off winter journey westbound to Moscow. John Simpson, the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, will be a guest speaker on board, and the odyssey includes a stop for lunch in a Mongolian yurt, a dog-sled ride across the great white plate of Lake Baikal , and a tour of the ornately decorated wooden houses of Irkutsk.

Swiss Ball: St Moritz
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Set on the sunny side of the Alps in Switzerland’s Upper Engadine, St Moritz is the grandaddy of all winter-sports resorts. A classic setting amid a panorama of lakes and mountains is matched by an equally captivating array of wealthy visitors, top-end shops and madcap activities ranging from ice polo to the Cresta Run. By comparison, a few days’ downhill skiing with a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride through the snow seems a commendably sane way to enjoy oneself. For a complete immersion, book into the mock-gothic Badrutt’s Palace , whose founder is reputed to have kicked the whole party off back in 1864. With palatial suites, an outpost of Nobu, and the King’s Club nightspot, it helps explain how they put the ritz in St Moritz.

Spa in the snow: Italian Dolomites
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In the heart of Italy’s majestic Dolomites – recognised this summer as a World Heritage Site – San Cassiano is a picturesque mountain village within the highly rated Dolomiti Superski network. Here you’ll find the family-run Hotel Rosa Alpina , with 52 rooms and suites that offer a luxurious blending of the contemporary and the rustic. Top of the bill are its new chalet loft suites that come with a fireplace and south-facing balcony. Further treats include a Michelin-starred restaurant, pool, sauna and the original Daniela Steiner spa, known for its attention to detail – the herbs, oils, clays and salts used are prepared just before each treatment.

Add in helicopter flights, an exceptional choice of gastronomic restaurants, shopping in Bolzano and the absorbing cultural mix-up that is the South Tyrol – well, if it was good enough for George Clooney, it has to be heaven for us mortals.

Spa in the snow: Italian Dolomites

10 The Ultratravel top 10 winter treats

In the heart of Italy’s majestic Dolomites – recognised this summer as a World Heritage Site – San Cassiano is a picturesque mountain village within the highly rated Dolomiti Superski network. Here you’ll find the family-run Hotel Rosa Alpina , with 52 rooms and suites that offer a luxurious blending of the contemporary and the rustic. Top of the bill are its new chalet loft suites that come with a fireplace and south-facing balcony. Further treats include a Michelin-starred restaurant, pool, sauna and the original Daniela Steiner spa, known for its attention to detail – the herbs, oils, clays and salts used are prepared just before each treatment.

Add in helicopter flights, an exceptional choice of gastronomic restaurants, shopping in Bolzano and the absorbing cultural mix-up that is the South Tyrol – well, if it was good enough for George Clooney, it has to be heaven for us mortals.

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