5 Best Winter Destinations to Embrace the Cold

Monday, December 21, 2015

I've never been a big fan of cold weather. Until now. Coming from the tropics, I usually spent Christmas on the beach, surfing my heart out in lukewarm waters in only a bikini. After having lived in New York and now in Europe, I'm starting to embrace and even enjoy the chilly weather.

As long as I'm well covered in layers of thermal wear, with a good hat, some gloves and boots, I can even have fun in the snow! As they say, there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. If you're highly adaptable like me, and you even actually look forward to the cold months, Expedia.com ask me to share a few places where you would freeze and not mind it one bit:

Snowboarding French Alps14

1 French Alps 

It's now our tradition to spend our holidays with my husband's family in Briançon, a commune in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France. We usually snowboard in the area as there are many ski resorts to choose from- whether you're into bunny slopes or terrifying 200m ski runs. And you can literally ski your way from France to Italy!

Aside from winter sports, one of my favorite things to do is to go to the Valvital Les Grands Bains or the Thermal Baths. It's a huge complex where you can relax in cold water or hot water, go to the spa, and even dip in the mineralising pool. But the best treat is to go outside in the freezing cold with a fantastic view of the Alps in just your bathing suit, pleasantly immersed in a cocoon of warm water. It can even be snowing, if you're lucky.

Briançon also has a medieval fortress that dates back in the 1700s and it's a great place to go sledding or simply visit the towers and walk around the small Christmas market.

And since this is still France of course, you have to sample the local foods like their honey, cheese, their assortment of wine, meat dishes and sausages that you would not be able to get elsewhere. 

It's almost unbelievable that this place is an exceptionally sunny part of France -Briançon boasts 300 sunny days a year! That's one of the best reasons to come!

2 New York City

When I first came to this city, I was pretty jaded. I found most streets dirty, the people rude, the whole place was in chaos. But I remember that specific moment when I fell in love with it. It was a cold January day and I was already annoyed as I was going out the door because of the heavy 5 layers of clothing I had to put on. But by the time I arrived in Midtown, I froze, quite literally in my steps. Blindingly white, fat, feather-like flakes started to fall from the sky. I couldn't resist so I stuck out my tongue and made a wish as a snowflake landed and melted away.

Everywhere I went, people were so happy, giddy, talking about their first memory of snow. Even the locals seemed transformed. That's when I started to see New York from rose-colored glasses- it became such a magical, winter wonderland!

As a tourist, you shouldn't miss skating in Bryant Park. Of course, you can also go to Central Park which has a bigger rink. But I enjoyed the intimacy of the Winter Village. I also found it so picturesque with the lights and the decoration. And drop by Rockefeller Center to take photos of the gigantic Christmas tree and Christmas decor. Who wouldn't feel the holiday spirit here?

If you're more of the partying type, one of the best places to go is 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar. It's New York's largest outdoor rooftop garden and fully enclosed penthouse lounge. One floor is fully enclosed so you can stay warm even on winter nights. But you can put on one of those cozy robes and head out to the rooftop garden which opens to the sky with one of the best views of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. You should come here with someone special or even celebrate New Year's Eve!

Paris Christmas Market14

3 Paris

Ah! Paree! The most elegant city to be cold in! Even when it's below 10 degrees out, I would still want to dress up in a skirt, wear some stocking and boots ala Parisienne and try to blend in.

This city is lovely to explore in any season really. But in winter, it gets even more festive and glamorous. I often walk up the Champs-Élysées slowly starting at the bottom with the Christmas Market. I must admit, it's not the most authentic one I've been to, but seeing all that vin chaud (hot wine), crepes, and fragrant soaps still makes me nostalgic.
I walk my way up to the Arc de Triomphe, passing through as many shops that tickle my fancy. I love to look but hardly spend. The French even have a term for it, "lèche-vitrine" which means literally, "lick the window". Which is what I often do when I go through Sephora, Louis Vuitton or even the Publicis Drugstore. 

Apart from going to the usual tourist spots like Montmarte or the Musée du Louvre, I often engage my inner child by playing little games like looking for the best chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) in town. So far, I haven't really succeeded. But I've gotten a few tips from the locals to look for a sign outside the shop that says, "Chocolat chaud à l'ancienne" which means they make it the old-fashioned way. Or you just go straight to Pâtisserie Viennoise which purportedly is the place to go for the perfect cup of hot chocolate in Paris. And what could be more perfect on a cold, winter's eve?


4 Seoul

Going to the capital city of Korea for winter seemed like a far-fetched idea until I actually did it- alone. That's when I first learned to snowboard at one of the many of the ski resorts scattered throughout Gangwon-do, the region that receives the most annual snowfall. 

Apart from snowboarding, getting on a flimsy board, falling on my butt, and getting up so many times to it all over again, I also enjoyed going through the streets of Korea to shop, sample the local food and revel in its cold weather. 

There are 2 things you should absolutely do if you find yourself in Seoul (for winter or any other season, but most enjoyably during the wintertime):

1 Go on a hunt for the best kimchi in town

Kimchi is a fermented Korean side dish made of vegetables with a variety of seasonings and is often very spicy. Traditionally, kimchi was stored underground in jars to preserve it during the winter months when food was scarce. What I love about it is how it makes you feel oh so warm after consuming even just a small quantity. I could even feel my ears turn pink! Kimchi is best enjoyed before having a big Korean barbecue meal where they have a plate stovetop so you can grill the food yourself. Kimchi is also even more (surprisingly) flavorful after putting it on a hot plate for a few minutes.

2 Dip into the communal baths sans bathing suit

This is probably one of my most challenging "get out of your comfort zone" moment while in a different country. Imagine having to get naked in front of other women of all sizes, ages and shapes in a communal bath and not feel awkward. But I got over it in a few minutes after I prided myself in the decision of not going there with anyone I knew. So don't suggest to go to the jjimjilbang if you're on a family trip or else you would take the word "awkward" to the next level. 

But if you're in Seoul on a really cold winter day and are not keen to spend your time outdoors, going to the Dragon Hills Spa at Yongsan Station stop is probably your best option. Imagine spending the day (or even the night) at a seven-stories complex with an arcade, food court, separate men and women's jjimjilbang, fitness center, sleeping area, barbecue and even a cinema!

Astronomical Clock, Strasbourg
Photo Credit: Paul Simpson

5 Strasbourg

When you talk about Christmas Markets, it's inevitable that the city of Strasbourg in northeastern France, very close to the German border, will come up. It's the oldest Christmas market in France where many town squares set up the traditional wooden huts, each of them having their own unique characteristics. It is held in the cathedral square from November 24 to December 24.

And while there, you should also visit the 15th Century cathedral, with its huge 468ft spire in rose-coloured sandstone. But the real magic of this place happens at 12:30 PM where you can witness a small miracle of medieval technology during the daily performance of its astronomical clock.

But even if you're not here to shop or visit the cathedral, you can also show off your skating skills at the ice rink on the place Dauphine. Or you can warm yourself in the many bars that offer especially brewed beers. And if you're not the beer-drinking type, head out for a day trip to the south along the wine-producing valley. You will find a lot picturesque villages and vineyards close to the Vosges Mountains.

So there you have it, my 5 Best Winter Destinations where you can enjoy being cold, indoors or out. Make sure you have the right gear when you go. Borrow, if you must! I often invest in a really warm jacket and simply layer on clothes so I can still pack lightly and not look like I dumped a bear's hide on my back. (I actually had to on my first real winter in Iowa- not too memorable).

I hope you enjoy the winter months and travel as often as you can despite the weather!

What about you? Where are you off to for the winter holidays?

Staying warm with a chocolat chaud,
Sole Sister Lois

Lois has traveled extensively and has lived in Asia, the United States, and Europe. She is currently based in Portugal with her husband and daughter. She is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of We Are Sole Sisters and has written the ebook "Where Should I Go in Southeast Asia?" based on her travels in the region for 6 months on less than 2,500 USD.

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1 sole trails

  1. This is really an awesome article about winter destinations to visit


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