Do you remember that line in Jerry Maguire when Cush, the top draft pick trying to decide between Denver or San Diego, indifferently declares, “I’ll either surf or ski.” The goal for Cush was simple: he just wanted to play football. The location was irrelevant.
I’m not quite sure it’s as easy for us travelers. I am a beach baby through and through, but I married a mountain man who loves a ski slope. Add to that our mutual desire to explore as much world as possible, indulge our daughter in cool kiddo experiences, and my personal ambition to locate the best eats and drinks in every place we visit, and you’ve got a mighty full travel log!
The good news here is that I am A-OK with visiting Europe as often as possible. You can drop me in any country on the continent, and I am a train ride (or less) away from inspired food, beautiful vineyards, quaint towns, and fun family experiences…along with, you guessed it, the best beaches and ski slopes in the world! All that’s left is to decide whether to surf or ski! To that end, I’m going to spend this week and next letting you in on my top picks for both. Today you’ll find the must-visit European ski destinations, and seven days from now, I’ll blog about my favorite Euro beaches!
MY TOP PICKS // EUROPEAN SKI DESTINATIONS
Switzerland – Zermatt & Jungfrau
It would be impossible for me to make an impartial decision between these two glorious mountain meccas! The good news is, you don’t have to choose! You can easily scale the famous Matterhorn and enjoy its icy funhouse, the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (a MUST for families!) for a couple of days, then make the short trip to the easy-does-it villages in the Bernese Oberland for more incredible skiing, breathtaking views, and pure fresh air.
Day trip: Bern – the adorable Swiss capital in all its medieval glory; Lucerne – my favorite Swiss city with reason enough to visit the country sans ski; Interlaken for the daredevils and adventure enthusiasts.
When to go: The best skiing is December – April, making it a perfect spot for American spring break skiers. Summer is ideal for hiking and lake sports, though you’ll still find open slopes at Zermatt.
Austria – Innsbruck/Tirol
Though Austria can’t claim the big name peaks like Switzerland and France, the best skiers in the world know that she offers the best training ground available. I love Austria most for the gentle hospitality of its people and general coziness of your surroundings. I also love Innsbruck in particular for how simple it makes a ski holiday and how appealing it is to families.
Day trip: Salzburg – for a Sound of Music tour (or your pick of evening symphonies); Vienna – though the capital city deserves more than a day, an overnight stop to enjoy the Boys’ Choir is a must-do.
When to go: December for the prime skiing and Christmas markets. The holiday season in Austria and neighboring Germany is more magical than Disney.
Italy – The Dolomites
Though a far cry from the dynamic skiing you’ll encounter in the French and Swiss Alps, the Dolomites offer up what I call the dolce vita version of a ski holiday. The granite mountains are stunning to look at—and not exhausting to traverse. The region itself is precious and also unlike the rest of Italy. The blend of Italian-German-Austrian heritage is profound and fascinating. This is also an area that is spectacular for those of you who may be a bit more into relaxing than skiing; the resorts of the Dolomites are just as spectacular as her pink-hued mountains.
Day trip: While you could easily sneak in some time in Verona or even Venice, you are much better off sticking around and enjoying the gorgeous and charming Dolomiti towns of Bolzano, Castelrotto, Trento, and Rovereto, where you can enjoy amazing meals, inspiring art, and countless historical sights.
When to go: Early February or anytime in March (but avoid Easter)
France – Chamonix/Mont Blanc
Whether you are a novice or an expert skier, you’ve no doubt heard of Chamonix. Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Europe, but Chamonix is known as the apex of mountain destinations for so many more reasons. The Chamonix village at the base of Mont Blanc is true Alpine perfection and a glorious place to visit if you even slightly enjoy skiing, hiking, adventure activities, and so forth. The scenery, shopping, and the aprés are lovely, but if that’s all you’re after, visit Switzerland instead.
Day trip: The Aiguille de Midi Gondola will take you over the Alps and into Italy (and back again, if you wish). This is a no-brainer and, I must say, a total bucket list item for me! Who wouldn’t want to float into another country? Unless you’re afraid of heights, that is (sorry, mom).
When to go: If you can swing the time off, after New Year’s is best for winter sports. The mountains stay snowy all year, and you can easily ski anytime from December to May. If you are more of a “winter places in summertime” lover like I am, Chamonix is heaven on earth.
Did any of these spots whet your appetite for a winter or spring European ski getaway? If so, I hope you’ll give me a call. I would love to hook you up at the best resorts or chalets, reserve your lift tickets, and arrange your equipment rentals…and, of course, set you up at the perfect aprés-ski lookouts!
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