Robustly popular with Czechs but largely off-radar to outsiders, the rolling Krkonoše mountains mark Czechia’s border with Poland. Their foothills are dotted with resorts: Špindlerův Mlýn has everything you need for an active winter holiday, with a fistful of spa and swimming facilities, and plenty of cheek-stinging country walks.
There are few better ways of enjoying Budapest’s celebrated mineral-bath culture than by taking a dip in the outdoor pools of the Szechenyi Baths. Underground thermal springs guarantee a water temperature of 38ºC, producing an otherworldly canopy of misty vapour.
One other good reason to visit Budapest is its famously winter-warming food. Goulash is the hot, paprika-seasoned dish of choice; you should also consider halászlé (“fish stew”), a spicy fresh-water treat you are unlikely to get at home.
Baltic winters can be exhilarating, especially if you are there for a weekend rather than the full five months.
Tallinn is Europe’s most decorous (and dare we say, coolest) Baltic city, and its turreted towers and soaring spires look even more enchanting when seen under a dusting of snow. Take a stroll along the old-town battlements and cut some shapes on the open-air ice rink before warming your innards with a glass or two of spicy mulled hõõgvein.
© Anatoli Styf/Shutterstock
8. Ohrid, Macedonia
There’s nothing like a cold crisp winter day to tease the magic out of an ancient town like Ohrid. A popular lakeside resort in summer, Macedonia’s medieval capital is virtually deserted outside high season, creating ideal conditions for exploring its narrow cobbled lanes and spellbinding churches.
The current poster-girl of Mediterranean tourism nowadays receives over a million visitors per year – although you’ll find most of them surging through the Old Town somewhere between April and October. Come outside these times and you’ll have this walled masterpiece almost to yourselves.
It’s in the winter that Dubrovnik is reclaimed by locals, lending an authentic flavour to the café life. The climate is mild and you might even consider swimming: average sea temperatures rarely fall below 14ºC.
10. Stary Smokovec, Slovakia
For a real taste of skiing Central European style then head for Stary Smokovec in the shadow of Slovakia’s High Tatras. With its Belle-Epoque hotels, half-timbered pensions and Ruritanian railway station, it looks like something out of a gothic novel.
The facilities are reassuringly modern, however, especially the electric train that whisks you to the pistes at nearby Hrebienok. The slopes at Jakubkova lúka just above town are perfect for sledging – and it’s only eight kilometres from Poprad airport.