European Winter Wonderlands

  • 5 min read

For many, the idea of winter conjures up images of snow-covered mountains, sleepy villages, and quiet evergreen forests. The warmth of a crackling fire comes to mind, and cozy evenings after days spent enjoying the great outdoors. If this sounds like the perfect winter getaway to you, there’s no better destination than Switzerland and Austria’s ski towns.

Renowned for their stunning natural beauty, quaint alpine villages, and world-class winter sports — think skiing and snowboarding — these resort towns are fabulous places to spend some time in the winter. If you only have a few days, we recommend basing yourself in one of them and fully immersing yourself in the experience, though it’s certainly possible to hit multiple resorts if you have more time. To help you choose which spot to stay in, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites, along with tips on what kind of vibe to expect and what you can do while you’re there.

Verbier

W Hotel in VerbierW Hotel, Verbier. Photo: Courtesy of hotel.

Located just a two-hour drive from Geneva and a three-hour drive from Zurich, Verbier has long been a favorite among vacationers from around the world. Skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels love this Swiss resort for its incredible terrain, which encompasses 400 km of runs with 80 lifts servicing them. Even if you aren’t into winter sports, you can still take advantage of Verbier’s fabulous shopping, restaurants, and nightlife. The après-ski scene here is legendary, and the charming town center manages to maintain a laid-back vibe despite the celebrities and royals that frequent this resort.

Some must-visit restaurants include Milk Bar, an intimate café located above a cheese shop that serves the most mouthwateringly delicious hot chocolate and crepes. For some classic cheese fondue, head to Le Caveau, located right on Place Centrale. And for the ultimate après-ski experience, save some energy for Farinet Lounge Bar at Hotel Farinet, where resident DJs keep the beats thumping fireside from 4 p.m. all the way until 2 a.m.

One of the best places to stay is W Verbier, which blends the brand’s signature contemporary style with traditional alpine influences. Its unbeatable location at the foot of the Médran cable car also provides an incredible ski-in, ski-out experience. If you’re looking for more of a boutique stay, Hôtel La Cordée des Alpes embodies the concept of “rustic chic.” And for Epic Pass holders looking to enjoy access to the resort for free, there’s Hotel Le Gietroz, a cozy, fuss-free, locally owned chalet steps from Le Châble, which connects riders to the Verbier Cable Car.

Andermatt-Sedrun

Andermatt Sedrun Andermatt Sedrun. Photo: Switzerland Tourism / Jan Geerk

Though it’s Switzerland’s biggest ski resort, Andermatt-Sedrun is not as well known as its sister resorts, like St. Moritz, Zermatt, and Verbier (though it’s steadily gaining mainstream popularity). It currently earns our vote as best hidden-gem for those craving a low-key winter escape that still offers plenty to do, lots of terrain to conquer, and max charm during snowy strolls around the main town. Freeriders have been flocking here for years for the resort’s super-steep off-piste runs and incredible powder, but Andermatt’s real universal appeal is its beauty and remote vibe. The traditional village of Andermatt is walkable and dotted with local shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes. Its sister village, Sedrun, sits in the sunshine and yields stunning mountain views. A train connects both with neighboring villages, making it easy to visit multiple towns during your stay.

If you’re not hitting the slopes, one of the best things to do here is to hit Andermatt’s huge outdoor ice-skating rink in the Feldküche area. It’s open from Christmas all the way until the end of February. You can also rent a sled from a local sports store and coast down the hill beneath the Gemstock cable car or follow the sledding run from Nätschen down to the valley below. And of course, few winter activities are as romantic as a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh, nestled beneath thick, cozy blankets.

Just visit the local visitor center for more information about any of these activities — it’s located right next to The Chedi hotel, which is also hands-down the best place to stay in the area. This stunning luxury property features breathtaking Asian-inspired design and world-class amenities. Equipped with an indoor and outdoor pool, a 2,400-square-yard wellness and spa area, and more than 200 fireplaces, it’s a true winter oasis for those willing to splurge on a stay. That said, you can easily find more affordable — and still cozy — accommodations with traditional alpine style located throughout the resort. Some local favorites include Andermatt Reuss, Hotel Kruezli Sedrun, and the Gasthaus Skiklub.

Lech and St. Anton am Arlberg 

View of slopes at St Anton am Alberg St. Anton am Arlberg. Photo: TVB St. Anton am Arlberg / Sepp Mallaun

If you’re flying into Zurich International Airport and only have a few days to spare on holiday, you can also consider crossing into Austria to enjoy the world-famous ski resorts of Lech and St. Anton am Arlberg. Both are just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the airport, and part of the larger Ski Arlberg resort. If you’re visiting to ski or snowboard, know that Lech has more options for beginners and intermediates, while St. Anton am Arlberg offers a broader selection of advanced runs. St. Anton is also better known for its lively après-ski scene, thanks in large part to the notorious Krazy Kanguruh bar, which boasts the biggest open-air dance floor in the area). Lech is quieter, though you’ll still have your pick of pubs and bars where you can fight off the winter chill with a delicious cocktail.

No matter which town you choose to stay in, you’ll have access to the other — most of the villages in the Ski Arlberg resort are connected via cable cars and runs. What’s more, both are great options for anyone craving a luxurious alpine escape. You’ll notice that the vibe at each feels a bit more upscale than casual Andermatt and even Verbier. If you’re not looking to ski or snowboard, you’ll still have plenty to do, like beautiful snowy walks, sleigh rides, and out-of-this-world restaurants.

If St. Anton sounds more like your vibe, consider staying at Himmlhof, a boutique chalet decorated in authentic Tyrolean style, complete with antler chandeliers, exposed wooden beams, and rustic accents. There’s also Mooser, one of St. Anton’s few ski-in, ski-out accommodations situated right at the foot of the mountain. The most striking feature about this hotel is its heated infinity pool, which was carved right into the rock of the gorge. Rooms are modern, airy, and bright, and the views from the top-floor restaurant and bar are awe-inspiring.

If you prefer Lech, it doesn’t get better than Skilodge Oberlech. Nestled just above the town of Lech in an exclusive enclave called Oberlech, this beautiful, intimate chalet boasts ten contemporary rooms and suites designed with warm wood and nature-inspired decor. Guests must take a gondola to reach the chalet, which offers panoramic mountain views from its expansive sun deck and ski-in, ski-out accessibility.

No matter where your wanderlust takes you this season, the Swiss and Austrian Alps are well-deserving of a spot on your winter travel list. Whether you’re most drawn by the landscapes, alpine charm, or unrivaled skiing and snowboarding, you’re in for a truly unforgettable experience.

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