The chic, the challenge or the change? The top 3 European ski towns for this Winter

The summer sun may be setting over Europe as winter slowly creeps up on us, but the opulence of the continent is evergreen. The sun loungers of Sicily are being swapped for the ski fields of Veneto as the season of sun, snow and the seductive high life begins. But where can you find the best slopes in Europe? There are too many to choose from, so here’s an option for those looking for a chic escape, those after  a true ski challenge and those wanting a change from the usual.

The chic – Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy

Welcome to Cortina d’Ampezzo, the most fashionable ski town in Europe (and arguably the world). The town centre sparkles with festive lights, the resorts pulse with activity, and the crisp morning breeze offers fresh air city kids can only dream of. This town’s history dates back to hundreds of years ago, but the city really came to the public’s attention by hosting the winter Olympics in 1956. This led to the picturesque town (which was under Austrian rule for much of its history) being scouted to appear in hit films such as The Pink Panther (1963), For Your Eyes Only (1981) and Cliffhanger (1993). In Cortina, it’s not uncommon to spend the morning skiing, the afternoon shopping at designer boutiques, and the evening enjoying scrumptious food at a Michelin-star restaurant. For a refined dining experience, head to Corte del Lampone for a soft, warm atmosphere and some flawless cocktails. Even if winter isn’t for you, Cortina d’Ampezzo certainly will be. The sights, the sounds, the scenery, the spas! This is an Italian-style winter, where all the frills are not just offered, but encouraged.

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The challenge – Les Trois Vallées, France

If you want a physical challenge, you’ll find no other ski field as grand as Les Trois Vallées, with the interlinked ski pass of the adjoining valleys giving you access to the largest ski area in the world. Yes, you read that right – this humongous skiing area consists of Saint-Bon, Allues, Belleville and the Maurienne Valley, and is unrivalled in its size and experience. Dotted around this giant skiing area are a number of quaint towns, each with its own unique twist. Originally a sleepy market town, Morzine has now morphed into the image of a European ski holiday fantasy – wooden chalets line the street with golden street lights illuminating the snow at night. The town’s centre is a church clock tower, telling the skiers when it’s time to hit the slopes and when it’s time to hit the bars. Nearby Avoriaz is a purpose-built ski resort built in the 1960s with up-close-and-personal views of the mountains. It’s a fantastically-designed, pedestrianised town that services families wonderfully.  Les Gets offers a superb culinary experience, with over 60 restaurants in the town that are famed for utilising the region’s tasty local produce. Not only do all 3 towns provide you with direct access to some of the best ski slopes in the world, but it’s also in the perfect location for day trips or overnights to Geneva, Switzerland and Turin, Italy, which are both only a few hours away.

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The change – Bansko, Bulgaria

There’s nothing like a change of pace and scenery, and those looking to shake up their annual ski holiday with a new destination should head to Bansko, Bulgaria. While it’s certainly not off the beaten track, it does provide a refreshing take on the classic European ski holiday with a serious dose of Bulgarian hospitality. The town couldn’t be better located – not only is it steps away from some of the most sensational slopes in Eastern Europe, but the actual township is set on a flat valley in the astounding Pirin National Park. The nature of the park extends beyond the sky-scraping mountains and into pristine lakes, gushing freshwater rivers and a surprising variety of native wild life. As you follow the cobblestone streets into the picturesque old town, you can choose between varieties of traditional Bulgarian grill restaurants that are situated in the perfect location for unmatched vistas of the mountains that surround the village. The charming heart of the town lies in the central square, which looks like a fairy tale land. While the nearby ski fields ensure there’s a reliable flow of visitors, little about this town feels like a tourist trap. Rather, locals go about their daily business as those visiting blend in to the daily life of this enchanting town in the heart of Bulgaria’s ski region.

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Filip Boyen is Chief Executive Officer of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

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