The five best holidays guaranteed to make you feel fitter and healthier
We all know about cold-water swimming and what a game changer that is for mental and physical wellbeing, so how about a whole holiday of bracing outdoor activities that see you coming away feeling energised, revitalised and filled with unbridled joy? Oh, and all while surrounded by life-giving mountains and all-round mind-blowing scenery?
Head to Austria for an active break that will do wonders for your body and mind this winter.
1 Winter kayaking
What’s that we hear you say? Kayaking is a summer pursuit? Pfft. Stuff and nonsense. Paddling across an Austrian lake in the winter months is as invigorating for your body as it is for your soul (though if you’re not the most experienced in a canoe or a kayak, make sure you’re with a guide who is).
Of course, the best time to choose for winter kayaking is when the weather and water is cold but not yet frozen. Try Lake Neusiedl through the beautiful bay of Rust, where you can hire canoes, sea kayaks or even team canoes for up to ten people, if you fancy more safety in numbers. Or, for something very special, kayak through nature’s ice palace, an ice cave at the Hintertux Glacier. If you’re feeling particularly bold, there’s even the option to kayak down the rapids of Kitz Alp. Just think of that enormous endorphin release. Be sure to layer up (we don’t need to tell you that the top one should be waterproof do we?) wear a hat, neoprene gloves and shoes and, always, always, a life jacket and helmet.
2 Husky sledding
One for the bucket list, big time. Make like the Inuit, with a chance to learn all about caring for huskies and how to drive a sled (using special communication skills for these clever hounds to understand). Then, along with an experienced musher (that’s the driver of the sled to you and I), seize your chance to take part in the very fun and exhilarating sport of dog sledding.
Try your hand with the marvellously-named Husky Toni in Brandnertal valley in Voralberg. Special stuff.
If you’re already partial to a spot of kite surfing or water-skiing, your ears may prick up at the news that you can do it in the winter months too – on snow. Or perhaps a mere skiing holiday doesn’t offer quite enough adrenaline and needs a new twist.
Snowkiting is a burgeoning sport in Austria and the popular resort of St Anton has a good choice of schools and stations (plus, plenty of opportunity to ski on any non-windy days).
Snow-reliable Achensee is also a great choice, with good wind conditions and a snowkiting school.
Snow shoes, you say? Surely you’re talking about wellies and just trying to be fancy? Alas no, a snowshoe is a proper piece of equipment, which works by distributing your weight over a larger area so that you don’t sink in the snow (you’ll basically be floating. LOVE). It means you can go hiking even in deep snow fall and marvel over views from splendid mountains to spectacular glaciers (tip: the bigger the shoes, the less you’ll sink but, if you’re tackling particularly steep terrain, go narrower. You’ll also need poles and other necessary accessories you can find here). A particularly stunning snowshoe hiking trail is in the Rauris Valley near Salzburg, where there are guided hikes with a park ranger, or try the Hohe Tauern National Park in East Tyrol. It’s possible that you may even spot the Big 5. Alas they haven’t found lions and rhinos rocking up in the snowy mountains, we’re talking about the alpine version – namely the ibex, golden eagle, snow grouse, chamois and bearded vulture.
5 Ice skating
OK, so we can ice skate in some impressive locations in the UK come Christmas time these days, but nowhere is quite the same level of magical as Vienna for getting your skates on. The eislauf-verein (we’ve all learnt some German today) at the Wiener Konzerthaus Concert Hall is one of the oldest – it’s been there for 150 years, no less – and largest ice rinks in the world. And, most aptly for Austria, you do your best pivots (or hold on to the side in terror, depending on your skating prowess) to a background of waltz music. Oh what an atmosphere. Outside of the capital, Lake Weissensee in Carinthia provides over 6km of the largest natural ice surface in Europe, for the kind of skating experience you are never going to get here in Blighty.
But, if you did want to go skiing….
These are the best resorts for your what your heart desires
Best for: Families
Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis in Tirol might just lay claim to being the child-friendliest ski resort in the world. Family-friendly accommodation, child care options for the littlest ones, slopes purely for kids and even a snowy adventure land.
Best for: Tighter budgets
The Ski Juwel skiing area of Alpbach and Wildschönau is close to Innsbruck, so easily accessible transport wise, Ski Juwel is considered to be good value for money and ticks the snowy boxes for everyone – there are 68 miles worth of blue, red and black runs and ski roads, a large beginner’s area on Schatzberg mountain, a park for freestylers and snowboarders, and everything from romantic horse-drawn sleigh rides to the Wildschönau train ride for time away from the ski slopes.
Best for: A longer ski season
Zell am See-Kaprun, SalzburgerLand sees beginners and advanced skiers both well catered for – with everything from glacier skiing to family friendly slopes, and there are chances for some high-end retail therapy on the pretty, quaint cobbled streets of Zell am See. Not that you’ll need a distraction from the slopes because there is pretty much a 100% guarantee of snow from October right through until June. Early summer ski trip anyone?
Best for: Post-slope refreshments
The small, medieval town of Kitzbühel in Tirol is the place to refuel after a snow-swept day on the slopes (if you’re not falling asleep in your cocoa in front of the fire, that is). A resort that particularly excels at inviting a state of gemütlichkeit (basically meaning a feeling of warmth and good cheer – and we’ll raise a glass to that), there are many dining options including more than 50 mountain huts and award-winning restaurants, to enjoy ahead of another day on the slopes.
For more information, visit the Austrian National Tourist Office, the official travel portal for Austria.