It’s a difficult enough decision at the best of times but for non-Europeans, with a limited amount of time in the UK there’s added obligation of squeezing in as much European culture as humanly possible as well.
While you probably think that skiing holidays are less likely to bring you into contact with Europe’s cultural highlights, and more likely to demolish your bank balance at the same time, you might be pleasantly surprised by the fact that two of eastern Europe’s most picturesque cities have ski resorts that are possible to visit in a relatively simple day trip. What’s more, with lift passes costing as little as £10 per day, a beer costing just 80p, and the slopes being ideal for beginners and intermediates then there’s every reason to mark one of the following cities in your must see for your diary this winter.
Prague is beautiful at any time of year but in winter it is particularly charming, and crowd free. Charles Bridge, which is often akin to a massive rugby scrum in the height of summer, is delightfully free of tourists in January and February. With a dusting of snow the city’s romance is a picture perfect destination for Valentine’s Day. Cosy up under the castle with a mug of mulled wine, ice skate in Old Town Square with Orloj- the astronomical clock- behind you, or take in a concert at one of the historic churches and theatres that put on nightly performances.
What about the skiing?
Herlíkovice is the largest resort with over 8 miles of runs and modern snow making facilities in case mother nature fails to provide the real thing. A bus makes the 80 mile trip from Prague daily at 06:35 and costs around £20 return, while a lift pass costs around £15 for the day. Smaller resorts can be found closer to the city and with cheaper prices- Kamenec for instance is just 50 miles away and has lift passes costing just £10- but buses only run here on Saturdays.
For details of how to get to all the ski resorts close to Prague, including lift prices and bus timetables/booking, go to snowhill.cz, who have an English language option on their website. For more details of what to see and do in Prague go to prague.eu/en.
Winter in Krakow can be very cold but the frost and snow on the soaring spires only add to the beauty of the old town. There’s a fairytale feel to the place, with horse drawn carriages crossing cobbled roads and snowy squares. On Market Square elaborate churches compete with baroque buildings for your gaze, while courtyard cafes bath in the glow of candlelight at night time. For something more poignant visit the nearby former concentration camp at Auschwitz or Oscar Schindler’s Factory, which is now a museum. If you’ve enough time left after that head to the 700-year-old Wieliczka salt mine, a massive complex of caverns and lakes and even an underground chapel carved from the salt.
What about the Skiing?
Zakopane in the Tatras Mountains is easily reached in a day trip, with buses making the 2 hour journey regularity in both directions until late in the evening. A return journey costs around £6 while a lift pass at Kasprowy Wierch- the closest resort to the centre (3km)- costs around £18. Kasprowy Wierch has high altitude skiing in a treeless bowl, which is ideal for intermediates and advanced skiiers, though it’s in a national forest so there’s no artificial snow should the real stuff not prove forthcoming. Beginners are better off using Zakopane’s Nosal ski centre which- though much smaller- has gentle slopes, lessons for novices and cheaper lift passes- around £10 for the day.
Easyjet have return flights from London Stansted and Gatwick in February for less than £60 return and flights to Krakow from London Gatwick for less than £70 return in March.