Bring your ultimate holiday dream to life with a trip to one of these snow-flocked — but cozy — realms, from the northern lights of the Russian Arctic to the looming icebergs of the Drake Passage.
RIDE A TWO-HORSE OPEN SLEIGH
Jingle bells ring out across the 37,000-acre Resort at Paws Up in western Montana, where wranglers hitch up a pair of Percherons to go dashing through the snow. Elaborate two- to four-bedroom cabins feature fieldstone fireplaces large enough for Santa to slide down. Spend days cross-country skiing across the snow-covered meadows, exploring further via snowmobile, ice skating, horseback riding, mushing a team of sled-harnessed huskies or hot tubbing as the snow gently piles up around you. Guests booking the five-night Christmas package even get a decorated tree in their cabin and a visit from Santa.
The latest property from the folks behind Le Bristol Paris and Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on the Riviera, L’Apogée Courchevel opens Dec. 11, the newest luxury resort in France’s celebrity-centric ski region. Located in the highest of the four mountain villages that make up Courchevel, the 53-room resort features a traditional gabled and wood-clad exterior, with streamlined interiors by noted designers Joseph Dirand and India Mahdavi. Amenities target the family spectrum,from a kids club to a caviar bar. Michelin-starred chef Franck Ferigutti stocks the ham aging cave at the signature restaurant, Le Comptoir de L’Apogée. The slopeside resort offers ski-in/ski-out access to the 370 miles of runs in the Three Valleys, the largest lift-linked resort in the world.
SAIL THE SOUTH POLE
Conquer the frozen continent on a voyage to Antarctica. While December is the start of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, the towering icebergs, frozen tundra and flocks of penguins contribute to a sense of polar confusion appropriate to the holidays. It’s not too late to book a berth on Crystal Cruises’ 18-day, Dec. 21 sailing aboard the 922-passenger Crystal Symphony. The Buenos Aires-to-Valparaiso trip offers the best of Patagonia — think glaciers, waterfalls and waterways filled with whales, sea elephants and sea lions — in addition to crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica for more intimate excursions by Zodiac to view penguin breeding grounds and glaciers. Decorated for the season, the ship will also host Christmas dinner, complete with an appearance by Santa, and a New Year’s gala.
TO RUSSIA, WITH LUXE
According to NASA, the northern lights will offer peak visibility this month and continue strongly throughout 2014. Catch the ghostly glow from the comfort of a luxury train as it chugs across the Arctic Circle. Steppes Travel now offers a 10-day land cruise aboard the Golden Eagle, Russia’s most luxurious private train, with cabins featuring underfloor heating, DVD players and en-suite bathrooms. The trip starts in St. Petersburg on Dec. 29 with a two-night stay, including palace visits and sleigh rides through bonfire-lit Alexandra Park. Guests embark on New Year’s Eve with a caviar dinner and a guest astronomer, crossing the Arctic Circle in time for a champagne toast at midnight in the snow. The long nights offer optimal conditions for viewing the aurora borealis, before returning to Moscow.
Don your down for the Euro sport of “rodeling,” sledding on a twin-runnered, solo-passenger sled on the nearly five-mile-long run at Le Massif. The Quebecois ski resort, linked to Quebec City by a new 87-mile train route along the north shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway, was recently acquired by Cirque du Soleil co-founder Daniel Gauthier, who has invested in making the rural region an all-season resort, including building the new Hôtel La Ferme. Check your sled, skis or snowshoes for the night at the modern inn, which has 145 rooms in a variety of themes, from family-friendly animal motifs to more minimalist, cloister-inspired quarters. Its spa features thermal pools, and three restaurants serve regional fare from cafe to counter service.
TO MARKET, STORYBOOK STYLE
Trade the Starbucks caramel brulée latte at the New World shopping mall for a mug of mulled glühwine in an Old World market on a floating tour to central Europe’s Christmas markets. Viking River Cruises still has cabins available for its eight-night holiday sailings on the Danube and Rhine rivers in December. Its “Romantic Danube” itinerary starts in Budapest and calls at Vienna, home to a new Christmas market next to central St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with 26 booths devoted to crafts, baked goods and warm drinks, as well as the 150-plus-stand at City Hall, aka Rathausplatz, before winding up at Nuremberg to shop for gingerbread and ornaments. The “Rhine Getaway” calls at Heidelberg, where wooden vendor huts fill more than five plazas with ceramics, knitwear, roast chestnut carts and marzipan.