The 8 Most Magical Alpine Villages in Europe To Visit This Winter
Come December, towns across Europe transform into winter wonderlands. Streets are festooned in twinkling fairy lights, squares converted into open-air ice rinks, and festive Christmas markets pop up overnight, selling everything from handicrafts to mulled wine.
None can match the charm and Yuletide spirit of the historic towns and villages perched high in the Alps, however. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and thick fir forests, these picturesque clutches of half-timbered chalets and soaring church spires offer a timeless holiday atmosphere far from the bustle and commercialism of larger cities. Here are a few Narnia-like Alpine villages where you can experience the magic of the winter season.
Set in the dazzling peaks of the Bernese Oberland, this postcard-perfect village offers magnificent views of the Jungfrau massif. Its tiny cluster of pretty chalets and historic hotels can only be reached via train, but that doesn’t put off ski enthusiasts from across the globe, drawn here each winter by events like the Lauberhorn Downhill and Alpine Ski World Cup. From Wengen, you can hop on the Jungfraubahn to the Jungfrau summit, take a gondola to Männlichen to ski or hike, or visit the Trümmelbach glacier waterfalls to the south.
This UNESCO-listed village, one of the most picturesque in Austria, is wedged between the western shores of Lake Hallstatt and the steep slopes of the Salzkammergut mountains. In winter, the waters of the lake reflect the village’s chocolate-box chalets and glowing holiday lights, creating a sublimely festive scene. Enjoy the view from the cozy confines of a lake-view café while tucking into apple strudel or take the Salzbergbahn funicular 2,750 feet (838 meters) up to the Hallstatt Skywalk for sweeping views over the village, lake, and surrounding peaks.
Dubbed the “Venice of the Alps” for its three placid canals, Annecy can be a challenge to visit in the summer when hordes of tourists crowd the Vieille Ville, or old town. Come winter, however, this jewel-like lakeside town in the Haute-Savoie settles into dreamy silence; so, you can stroll the medieval lanes and bridges along the river Thiou and admire the Palais de l'Île and Château d’Annecy in complete peace. Once you’ve explored the town, relaxed over a wine and cheese tasting, and browsed the local market, head to the nearby ski resorts of Le Semnoz or La Clusaz for a day on the slopes.
One of the most fashionable ski resorts in the Dolomites, Cortina has a more cosmopolitan feel than many other Alpine towns. Luckily, the buzzy atmosphere doesn’t detract from the beauty of its jumble of half-timbered hotels and stone churches framed by dramatic stone peaks on all sides. Winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing are the biggest draw here, but the town also offers Michelin-starred restaurants and luxury spa retreats—plus it serves as a convenient base for exploring the magnificent surrounding Dolomites.
With its candy-colored buildings topped by ornately carved gables and babbling brook flowing through its market square, this fairy-tale town in the Bavarian Alps has been captivating visitors for centuries. Known as the “Village of the Thousand Violins,” Mittenwald has been renowned for its locally crafted instruments since the 17th century; you can learn more about its musical history by visiting the Geigenbaumuseum. Complete your story-book visit with a day trip to the spectacular Neuschwanstein, the 19th-century castle said to have inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty confection.
Perched high in the Julian Alps, Kranjska Gora is Slovenia’s flagship ski resort and an ideal destination for an action-packed winter holiday that doesn’t skimp on Old World charm. This picture-perfect town—just an hour from the capital city of Ljubljana and near the Triglav National Park and Lake Bled—is surrounded by world-class slopes. When you’ve explored the surrounding peaks, head over the Vršič Pass to Soča Valley, also known for its excellent skiing and winter sports.
Even in the swanky French Riviera (Côte d'Azur), the land of megayachts and modern high rises, you can find pockets of Alpine charm. Overlooking the French and Italian coastlines, tiny Sainte-Agnès is the highest coastal village in Europe and its cobblestone lanes are lined with cafés, artisan workshops, and boutiques. Explore the Maritime Alps on foot along the Circuit de Bausson trail, tuck into rustic winter meals of wild hare and boar at the local eateries, and explore the ruins of the 12th-century fort above the town.
Handkerchief-sized Liechtenstein is divided into two areas: the western side of the country is part of the Rhine Valley and relatively flat, but the land east of the capital city of Vaduz rises sharply to join the Alpine mountain chain. The pretty town of Triesenberg sits right where these two halves meet, its streets zigzagging up the slopes towards the Malbun ski area and its houses overlooking the bucolic valley below. Though delightfully scenic all year round, Triesenberg is particularly atmospheric during the winter holidays.