20 great alternative winter holidays

20 great alternative winter holidays

You could go skiing again. Or you could go ice driving in a Lamborghini Gallardo. Your call

There's nothing wrong if winter holidays bring to mind scenes of sipping mulled wine and hot cocoa by a raging fireplace after a day spent knee-deep in powder.

But you can get more creative with December-to-March vacation ideas.

From racing 'round a glacier in a supercar to working on your tan on a sun-drenched beach boot camp, there's more to winter trips than ski lifts and saunas.


Winter wonderlands

1. Hotel de Glace

hotel de glace, canadaDon't put your cup of hot cocoa on the floor. Or the bed. Canadian ice hotel Hotel de Glace is located just outside Québec City, and features one of the world's longest indoor ice slides.

Over the course of three weekends, delegates from Inuit (February 24-26), Cris (February 17-19) and Innus (March 2-4) nations host a series of activities and performances to showcase their indigenous cultures.

A discovery package for two, which includes breakfast and dinner, costs CAD799 (US$810) per night. Premium suites have in-room fireplaces that ensure cozy stays. Those who prefer not to stay can visit during the day.

Dates: January 5-March 24, 2013

2. Ice and snow festivals

Some of the winter season’s grandest ice carvings can be found at competitions in Harbin, China; Sapporo, Japan; Québec City and Banff, Canada.

In addition to spectacular ice creations, the festivals offer plenty of cold-weather activities, from climbing ice walls to a photo-op with Sapporo’s Ice Queen.

Dates: Harbin Ice Festival 2013, January 5-February 5; Ice Magic Festival, January 18-27, 2013; Banff Snow Days Festival, January 12–February 10, 2013; Québec Winter Carnival, February 1-17, 2013; 64th Sapporo Snow Festival, February 5-11, 2013

3. Music under the northern lights

The Ice Music Festival is the world’s only music festival in which the instruments and stage are made of ice. It takes place during the first full moon of the year near Geilo, Norway, which has great skiing as well.

One of the best places to catch the northern lights is at Norway’s Trømso Northern Lights Festival. The fest features jazz and classical performances by the likes of Saint Petersburg’s State Hermitage Orchestra and the Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra.

Dates: The best time to spot the northern lights is between 6 p.m. and 1 a.m. on clear nights from September to March. While the northern lights can be seen all over Norway, the best viewing is found above the Arctic Circle.

Ice Music Festival, January 24-27, 2013; Trømso Northern Lights Festival, January 25–February 2, 2013


The largest hotel of its kind, the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, is 17 kilometers from the town of Kiruna (where you'll find standard accommodations).

As the name suggests, ICEHOTEL is made entirely of ice. Beds are covered with mattresses made of reindeer skins, but thermal underwear and sleeping bags are required to stay warm at night.

Bathrooms are in an adjacent building. The hotel has a restaurant and, of course, the Icebar. There’s even an Ice Church for ice weddings.

From Kiruna airport, guests arrive by either snowmobile (from SEK1,900/US$285) or dog sled (from SEK5,950/US$891). A night in a deluxe suite including breakfast is around SEK7,000 (US$1,068).

Dates: Open from mid-December to late April, but the best time to stay is from January (when hotel construction has been completed) to March.

Also on CNN: How to build a Swedish ice hotel

5. Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg doesn’t lose its winter charm after Christmas. There’s another reason to visit later in winter: to celebrate the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Each year for a week around his birthday, the Austrian city hosts a music festival in honor of one of its most famous musical sons.

Dates: Mozart Week runs from January 24-February 3, 2013


Wild winter

6. Ice driving

ice driving swedenKind of like James Bond in "Die Another Day." Laponie Ice Driving offers drivers a chance to handle a Porsche on the most demanding of courses. This year, Laponie have added Subaru Imprezas, Audi RS4s and a Lamborghini Gallardo to its stable of cars.

Two days behind the wheel of a Porsche Boxster in northern Sweden (80 kilometers from the Arctic Circle) will set you back €3,100 (US$4,080), while two days in a Lamborghini costs €6,400 (US$8,423).

Below Zero Ice Driving offers exclusively rally-equipped Porsche 911s, while Ice Driver’s stable includes Citroen Xsara WRCs and Group N Lancer Evolutions.

Dates: January to March

7. Eskimo role play

You can experience life as an Eskimo by learning how to build an igloo, then spending the night in it.

Westcoast Adventures offers an overnight igloo trip on Sproat Mountain near Whistler, Canada. The experience includes dog sledding, snowshoeing and dinner in a log cabin. It costs CAD3,500 (US$3,550).

Dates: December to April

8. Yukon Quest

The Yukon Quest is a thousand-mile (1,600 kilometer) dog sled race, which starts in Canada's Whitehorse, Yukon, and finishes in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The race runs through Chena Hot Springs, a great place to decamp. Up to 50 teams compete, each comprised of a musher and 14 dogs.

Date: The race starts on February 2, 2013, and lasts from 10 to 16 days.

9. Snow kiting

Eskimos Iceland offers an extreme winter wilderness experience in Midgard, Iceland. Snow kiting is pretty much what it sounds like -- riders on skis are propelled along by a large kite. It's like kiteboaring on water, only on snow and with skis.

Trips start from three days (EUR1,300/US$1,711 per person, minimum 5 people).

Dates: February and March

10. Winter wilderness survival training

Wildwood Bushcraft runs survival courses in Scotland, Sussex, Canada, and Arctic Sweden, teaching students to survive in temperatures as low as -50 C among reindeer, moose, wolves and bear.

Among skills taught: ice fishing, emergency snow shelter construction, making fires in the cold and other activities such as flora and fauna identification.

The course is led by an instructor with 16 years of Arctic experience and an ecologist. A weeklong Arctic course costs £1,200 (US$1,940) per person.

Dates: February 23-March 3, 2013

11. Patagonian pampering

Patagonia's pristine glacial wilderness has two new luxury lodges -- Tierra Patagonia and The Singular.

Both offer spas with spectacular Patagonian views and amenities to rejuvenate tired feet from all the expeditions.

Rooms at The Singular with full board start from US$610 per person per night, based on double occupancy. A three-night stay at Tierra Patagonia inclusive of daily excursions and meals starts from US$1,950 per person, based on double occupancy.

Dates: The Patagonian summer runs from November to early March.


Alternative ski resorts

12. Morocco

morocco skiingSki in the morning, be back in town for tea and shisha in the afternoon.Hike up and ski down Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains with descents ranging from 600 to 1,200 meters.

Ice Axe Expeditions' 10-day trip provides up to six days of backcountry skiing and a chance to soak up the atmosphere in some souks (US$5,200 per person).

Dates: February 21-March 3, 2013

13. Hawaii

Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island offers skiing on an extinct volcano with a summit of 4,205 meters. Skiing and snowboarding on the mountain is at the skier/boarder’s own risk, as the mountain’s slopes are not maintained.

Access is by unpaved road (The Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii is located at the summit), requiring a four-wheel-drive vehicle to take skiers up the mountain after each run. On the plus side, there are no ski passes to pay for.

Ski and snowboard gear can be rented from Mauna Kea Ski Corporation for US$50 per day.

Dates: Late January to March

14. Lebanon

You can eat mezze and drink arak on the slopes of Mzaar, just an hour’s drive from Beirut. The resort has 15 ski trails, spanning 80 kilometers. A good place to stay is the Intercontinental Mzaar.

Dates: Ski season runs December to March.


Winter cruises

15. The Antarctic

antarctica travel"Sorry, sir, if your name's not on the list, you're not coming in."Walk among penguins, look for leopard seals, kayak among icebergs. Whether it’s on an ice breaker, luxury expedition ship or research ships, a cruise to the Antarctic is an unforgettable experience.

Polar Cruises can help with the decision-making process, helping to pick between National Geographic Expeditions, Quark Expeditions and others. Quark has an 11-day itinerary that starts from US$4,595 per person.

Dates: November to March

16. The Caribbean

The Disney cruise ship sails for warm ports of call in the Caribbean. From on-board nurseries and arcades to princess and pirate boutiques to tween-exclusive spaces and a signature Oceaneer Club, the cruises cater to the needs of kids as young as three months through to teens.

It’s not just fun and games. Children engage in all sorts of educational activities in the Oceaneer Lab.

A three-night cruise to the Bahamas and Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, starts from US$900 for an inside stateroom.


Winter sun

17. Bikini Boot Camp

bikini boot campAbout time humans started migrating south for the winter, too.Here’s a chance to work off the excesses of the holiday season in bikini and bare feet at a Bikini Boot Camp in Tulum, Mexico, or Ibiza, Spain.

Days begin at 6:45 a.m. with 90 to 120 minutes of exercise before breakfast. Activities include walks along the beach, yoga, sculpt classes and dance classes.

Massages and spa treatments are part of the package. You’ll be camping out in eco-chic resorts such as Amansala in Tulum.

Camps start from US$2,101 for five nights to US$2,381 for six nights.

18. Cambodian private island

For most travelers, Cambodia brings to mind the ancient temples dotted around Siem Reap. Now, there’s Song Saa.

Song Saa Private Island opened this year to rave reviews among the luxury, beachcombing set. The resort has set up Cambodia’s first protected marine area. It covers a million square meters and employs a marine biologist and conservation staff.

Guests participate in the resorts’ efforts to improve the lives of villages in nearby Prek Svay. The resort partners with Pack for a Purpose to encourage guests to contribute items of use to the villagers.

Villa rates with full board start from US$1,477 per night.

Also on CNN: Song Saa -- extreme luxury in Cambodia

19. Delicious detox

Kamalaya in Koh Samui, Thailand, offers a relaxing week of detoxing.

Guests learn about nutrition and how to prepare healthy food they'll want to eat when they return home. A three-night Intro to Detox is 56,100 baht (US$1,830), while the 14-night Comprehensive Detox is 261,200 baht (US$8,522) and includes all meals and various combinations of consultations, classes, treatments and therapies.

20. Winter whale watching

Near the whale sanctuary of El Vizcaino, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, humpback and gray whales converge in the waters around Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in winter months.

Whale Watch Cabo offers private whale-watching tours for US$295 (two people) to US$495 (10 people).

Dates: Mid-January to mid-March


When she’s not working, playing, blogging, tweeting, facebooking or twining (she’s always looking for social enterprises to add to her Goodwill Shopping twine), Winnie works on her book, No Clue Yet, a journey through the realms of philosophy, psychology, cognitive and affective neuroscience, spirituality and whatever inspires her to ponder the question: What does it mean to be human and happy?

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