By Donna Manz
For some people, a winter escape means an escape from winter. For others, such as I, a winter escape means finding winter outside the comfort zone of my hometown.
It means scenery unlike my ordinary exposure — museums with no lines, skaters bundled up gliding across community ice rinks, concerts in great theatres, rich and hearty food, personalized customer service…
There are plenty of practical reasons to visit Europe in the off-season, most notably lower airfares and fewer tourists. And the economic benefits translate into soulful immersions. To fully take in the magnificent art pieces at an uncrowded British Museum or Louvre is one of life’s most sensual pleasures.
Airfares that are lower than in the peak-season make it feasible to take an extended weekend to London, museum-hopping at one of the city’s great free museums. I’ve done it several times, visiting Paris, London and Amsterdam for three-day visits, after jumping on an inexpensive airfare when I saw it. And, by the way, if you enjoy the theatre, good seats in concert halls and at the opera are easier to come by in winter months.
Is it coincidence that many of the world’s great cities launch their season of balls, concerts and opera in January, off-peak for much of the world?
Vienna’s high-ball season, for example, is in full swing in January and February, with galas often benefitting the arts and nonprofits.
It’s the time when black-tie couples waltz their way across elegant ballrooms and orchestras perform in the city’s grandest venues. While two of the most famous are the Bonbon Ball on February 8, 2013, and the Johann Strauss Ball the following day, there’s a gala ball for every taste and every dance step.
If you’d rather ice skate outdoors than dance the night away, the mega-rink at Vienna’s Rathausplatz opens to the public on January 25, and runs until March 10. Called Vienna Ice World, the ice surface covers the park abutting the spired Town Hall. You can even rent pre-heated ice skates there.
If you’re a Francophile, what better time to be in an aromatic Parisian kitchen taking a cooking class than on a chilly, damp day? And if you don’t have enough reasons to visit Paris, here’s another one. Paris’s six-week “sale” season opens in early January. That’s when stores are permitted, by law, to run store-wide sales. But regardless of where you shop in Europe in the winter, shopkeepers are always a tad hungrier for business in off-season, and have the time to talk with customers and help them in a more personalized manner.
Not surprisingly, destinations such as Innsbruck, Austria, feature snow adventure events in its winter, from skiing to snowboarding competitions. But the nicest part about a snow-cation is that you don’t really have to do anything in the white stuff if you prefer not to.
I love snow. I love its sparkle and its gentleness as it floats to the ground. Just looking out at a winter wonderland from the warmth of a lodge soothes my soul.
Pre-Lenten celebrations, what we typically call “Carnival,” “Carnavale” or “Carnaval,” are robust precursors to the solemn season of Lent that embrace Easter. Rio does not have the monopoly on the fun although Rio’s is, indeed, the most extravagant, colorful and artistic.
The most prominent pre-Lention celebration outside Rio is that of Venice, Italy. Venice celebrates Carnavale with masked balls, themed dinners and gala concerts. The hotel-sponsored balls and concerts are open to the public and tickets are available for these elaborate events online. They’re not inexpensive, but no more expensive than a New Year’s Eve’s specialty festivity in the U.S., and shops will rent you ball costumes and period dress. The festivities kick off on February 1.
What deters many travel-lovers from winter travel? Probably, the colder temperatures but you really don’t have to be cold even when the weather is frigid. The secret to staying warm really is no secret — dress for the coldest weather you can imagine and you’ll withstand almost anything.
Here’s what I brought and wore on a recent December river cruise to visit Christmas markets: wool-blend tights, wool socks over my wool tights, lined wool pants, fleeced-lined all-weather boots, two sweaters (one light, one heavier Irish wool), ankle-length down coat, Irish lamb’s wool scarf, pull-over hat with face protector, thermal gloves …. and get this — I was TOO warm when walking briskly.
Right now I’m thinking of a late-March river cruise, when the airfares are still down and the flowers in the Netherlands are sprouting.
Or, maybe, I’ll keep my eyes out for a cheap fare to London. I never got around to all the museums this past December.
If you go:
Europe’s most renown museums have websites that showcase their winter exhibitions.
For winter tourism information on Innsbruck, including events and hotel packages, visit http://www.innsbruck.info/en.
Details on Venice’s Carnival, including balls and costume rentals, can be found at http://www.venice-carnival-italy.com/
You will find details on the 450 balls Vienna hosts, mostly in the off-season cold months, at