Zermatt is a tiny village in the Swiss Alps with approximately 6’000 inhabitants. It’s also one of Europe’s premier ski resorts and swells to some 20’000 guests during the winter high-season. Nestled in a deep valley enclosed between steeply scarped mountains, it is dominated by the huge and gracefully curved pyramid of the Matterhorn. From the moment you step off your Swiss-red train, and catch sight of the cobbled streets and horses with sleighs patiently waiting for their rides, you know you are in a special place. Zermatt is ‘auto-free’ to prevent air pollution so you can’t drive into the village, but you can get there by cog railway train or taxi from the nearby village of Täsch.
An Alpine town of fin-de-siècle villas and grand hotels that is stuffed to the gunwales with ambitious skiers and boarders. They come from all over the world to prove themselves against the long, steep descents of the Mont Blanc massif, and they imbue the place with special atmosphere. No doubt about it: this is one of the greats.
Chamonix looks and feels like a workaday town, rather than a ski resort, and its satellite villages stretch for miles up and down this vast valley. The lift system does the same – with big, impassable gaps in between.
Famed for its gargantuan 9200-ft. vertical drop, it’s a favorite for extreme skiers of every shade, though there are plenty of lower valley areas to suit novices. Chamonix-Mont-Blanc is also know for its high number of off-piste (off-trail) runs, including the world-renown Vallée Blanche, which runs a whopping 13.7 miles from top to bottom.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Dolomiti, Italy
Nowhere is more picturesque than chic Cortina, the most up market of Italian resorts. Dramatic pink-tinged peaks rise sheerly from the top of the slopes, giving picture-postcard views from wherever you are. Cortina is a small village of 7,000 that’s big on skiing and ski-culture. Cortina still has a relaxed, rustic atmosphere, despite its popularity as a travel destination, and is known for its gently thriving shops, bars, and restaurants downtown.
Zell am See, Austria
Picturesque small town in lakeside settings in the middle of the Austrian Alps, Zell Am See has been given more than its fair share of natural beauty. This charming medieval town has developed into one of the major Austrian ski resorts, which has outdoor sports activities available all through the year, from glacier skiing to trekking, climbing and mountain biking, not to mention water sports on the lake. The attractive lakeside town of Zell am See has a different feel to it than most Austrian ski destinations. Perhaps because of its size or its water front location, this is not the normal mountain village made up of a few dozen giant wooden chalets.
St Moritz is the high-end destination for Jet-Setters and the European Aristocracy. It is one of the top three luxury resorts in Switzerland. The ski resort of has long attracted the rich and famous, with its blend of luxury boutique hotels, spas, top-notch mountain restaurants and fabulous, high-altitude skiing. It’s little wonder that the resort brands itself ‘the top of the world’. It isn’t merely about exclusivity and glamour, though – its setting will ensure that while you’re skiing, you won’t be able to resist stopping and staring out at the view in front of you, such is the majesty of the scenery here. The skiing itself is extensive, and off the slopes you’ll be spoilt for choice – you can even play snow cricket or polo during a stay here.