Pioneering Scottish mountaineer and poet Shepherd felt an exhilarating feyness that overtook her every time she ascended a summit and surrendered to the elements. While many of us can attest to the extraordinary beauty of these behemoths of the natural world, we appreciate their mysterious powers best when in solitude. With that in mind, we present five winter mountain escapes in niche destinations, that—should you be in the area and able to travel in the next months depending on the restrictions or even next winter—will give you plenty of space to explore within and without.
The Meili Snow Mountain region is shrouded in legends as well as snowcapped peaks, dense forests, and beautiful wildflowers in spring. This sacred mountain for Tibetan Buddhists is located at the famed “Three Parallel Rivers” where the Nujiang, Lancang, and Yangtze run roughly parallel to one another, separated by mountains. The three parallel rivers area is known as the ‘mother of the world garden’ thanks to its rich biodiversity with some of the species surviving from the last ice age 10,000 years ago and was listed as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage in 2003.
Rare species, such as the Yunan snubnosed monkey, snow leopard, and red panda, as well as many plants that survived from the glacial epoch, can be found in this region. While you can appreciate the rugged peaks right from the Sunyata Hotel Meili, other highlights the region has to offer include glaciers, deep river gorges such as the ‘Oriental Grand Canyon’ Nujiang Gorge, as well as lakes and Tibetan villages.
Thirty kilometers up a winding road through pine-clad hills southeast of Borjomi, Bakuriani was initially developed as an Olympic training facility. Although its main charm is its blanket of snow, best explored from the ski-in, ski-out Rooms Hotel Kokhta, the resort town is a year-round destination for those who wish to experience Georgia’s natural beauty on foot or by bike.
Each season is remarkable here. For adventure-seekers, the Trialeti range lends itself to skiing and snowboarding for a longer period of four to five months. For those ailing, the special climate here is therapeutic for asthmatic patients while the mineral water which contains carbohydrate and calcium-sodium treats alimentary tract diseases such as gastritis and ulcers. Further north, experience the majesty of the Caucasus mountains.
Tucked snugly in the Pyrenees between Spain and France, Andorra is the best winter getaway you haven’t heard of—unless you’re really in the know. For a country that has more slopes than roads, plus around 300 kilometers of pistes, it makes sense that skiing is a part of the schools’ curriculum here. One of its lesser-known natural wonders is the Incles Valley with its characteristic u-shape that indicates that it was formed by a glacier. The valley offers an intimate experience of the magnificence of the subalpine landscape with rich flora and fauna that gives way in the colder months to the raw splendor of a snow-decked landscape.
At the foot of the mountains, L’Ovella Negra Mountain Lodge frames this natural beauty with a gentle, slowed-down hospitality concept. Inspiration comes from the outside in, with natural materials setting the scene for inviting spaces and objets d’art. While the lodge encourages guests to go hiking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or heli-skiing, they also suggest staying put and enjoying the freedom of doing nothing against the immense backdrop of the valley and rugged peaks.
Even the fare at the Lodge Canteen by local chef Sergi Simó speaks the language of the mountains. After having spent time in the kitchen of Nerua restaurant in the Guggenheim in Bilbao and restaurants in Andorra, Simó brings the joys of seasonal bounty to the plate at L’Ovella Negra.
From its first wave of popularity in the late 1880s as a summer vacation spot to the 1960s when the hippies showed up, Catskills has drawn artists and independent-minded people with the romanticism of its nature and sublime sense of otherworldliness. With over 20 acres of mountainside to explore, Scribner’s Catskill Lodge reflects its larger surroundings. Here, trails for hiking and rivers for swimming, tubing, or fly-fishing abound, with apple picking as well as wine tastings and beer sampling from local breweries never far off. Winter activities at nearby Hunter Mountain and Windham Mountain include skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing.
The reining prince of powder, Niseko not only offers kilometers of ski trails, but also spectacular backcountry and the option to explore off-trail skiing, a relatively uncommon practice elsewhere in Japan. A striking, 1,898-meter-tall volcano dominates the landscape in Niseko—that of Mount Yotei. The mountain is home to many mammals such as the Ezo red fox, Japanese sable, Eurasian red squirrel, Siberian chipmunk, and over 130 species of wild birds. At the foot is a small, 1.3-square-kilometer crater lake called Hangetsu-ko (Half Moon Lake) which is surrounded by thick virgin forest.
Set in the middle of Niseko Hirafu, Kimamaya by Odin captures the essence of the alpine atmosphere of Hokkaido. The nine-room hotel offers plenty to unwind after a day exploring including a restorative Onsen bath, relaxing massages, and seasonal alpine food.
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