My first white Christmas in Europe
Christmas in Australia includes cold drinks under the pergola, swimming and then lazing in the hammock under some shade. The flies are annoying and our roast lunch will be cooking even when it’s 40 degrees outside. Yet strangely, our windows are sprayed with fake snow and we hang sparkly snowflake decorations on pine trees while singing about walking in winter wonderlands. In our heart of hearts, do Australians dream about the magical places in colder climes where a truly different Christmas experience awaits?
Last year it was time to enjoy a European Christmas; we imagined making snowmen and sipping dessert wine around the fireplace after a day of skiing so we chose Austria and we weren’t disappointed.
Flying into Salzburg which is capital of its region, we spent a couple of days enjoying the historic town centre made famous by its favourite son Mozart.
It was during our visit to Salzburg’s famous Christmas markets that the white Christmas idea started to become a reality. The historic town square was packed with locals and tourists alike enjoying a warm drink and shopping for traditional Christmas trinkets and decorations. The memories of the Christmas sights and sounds along with the smell of roasting chestnuts still make me smile.
About a half hour drive from Salzburg is Flachau which is at the centre of Austria’s largest skiing playground “The Ski Amade” or “Upstairs” as the locals know it. This whole area can be enjoyed with just one ticket giving you access to 270 lifts across 700 Km’s of piste.
Put simply this region is huge and caters for beginners through to those superheros who dare to ski the famous Hermann Maier World Cup downhill run. Hermann grew up around Flachau as did snow board queen Claudia Rieger.
In Flachau we chose Hotel Alpenhof which boasts one of the best wellness centres in the region. After a day skiing you can choose to relax in the heated open air pool surrounded by steam and snow or the indoor grotto pool which features underwater music. There is an amazing choice of saunas/steam rooms and a relaxation room with views of the Alps plus a day spa where you can pamper yourself silly.
Our first evening at the hotel was Christmas Eve. Austrians, like most Europeans, celebrate Christmas on the 24th. We settled in for a sumptuous six course Christmas dinner with a selection of local wines from the hotels well-stocked cellar. The outlook from the restaurant was a streetscape of freshly laid snow which covered the street lamps and shone brilliantly in the moon light. Now this really was feeling like Christmas from the storybooks.
As if right on cue at around 7:30pm the snow started to gently fall past the restaurant windows. Oh what a beautiful sight. It was like magic, these elegant snowflakes appeared from nowhere and took their time to flutter down to the ground with a million others. To be honest at first I thought there must have been someone on the roof top pouring it down for effect to impress us tourists. Once I overcame the awe I, as most Australians would, left my dinner and ran out into the streets to whirl and turn in the snow as I looked into the sky with an open mouth trying to catch some flakes on my tongue.
So this is what a white Christmas is all about. A winter wonderland! The snow covered Alps, story book villages and medieval castles. Christmas cheer in the town square and not a BBQ in sight.
I do love our summer Christmases here in Australia but if you haven’t experienced a white Christmas I certainly recommend Austria as a great place to try one.