(By Darsha Soobramoney)

Like most South Africans living in Jo’burg, my December holidays usually involve “braai after braai” and days at the pool…

But last year, I decided to go for something completely different – a festive trip to snowy Europe with my family! Here’s why I believe that Europe in winter is the ‘hottest place to be’, figuratively speaking, of course!

My family and I decided to book a tour with Insight Vacations which went through Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria. We chose a tour as we wanted to ensure that we were getting the best deals available, as well as having the assurance of a well-established organisation to support us if anything went wrong (thankfully, it all went according to plan, and it was a wonderful getaway!)

Wandering through the stalls of the Christmas markets sipping warm glüwein, horse-drawn carriage rides through the snow and the twinkling festive lights made me feel as if I’d stepped into my favourite Christmas movie.

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Christmas in the Swiss alps
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I got to experience snow!

Although Jo’burg gets really chilly in winter, we hadn’t experienced any ‘real’ snow before, just the annual frost. To see the delight on my eight-year-old daughter’s face was simply magical, and I felt just as awed as she did! You will never forget the first time you see the tiny, fluffy flakes falling from the sky.

There were many benefits travelling in the winter such as fewer crowds and the streets and attractions are a little less busy. Also, the sun only rises at 10am, so it’s also a good excuse to treat yourself to a sleep-in.

On New Year’s Day, we visited the iconic Kapellbrücke – a wooden covered bridge in Lucerne. Despite being a major tourist attraction, it was deserted on New Years, so we had it all to ourselves! Most travellers would never get to experience that. It was pretty surreal.

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We rode the cable car to the top of Switzerland’s snowy Mount Pilatus and explored the frost-covered gardens of Mirabell Palace in Salzburg. We feasted on Black Forest cake and Austrian schnapps, giant pretzels and beautifully decorated gingerbread cookies that were almost too pretty to eat. It was one highlight after the next.

Although it was cold, the weather really is bearable

All the buildings are heated and coming back to a cosy hotel room and snuggling up next to roaring fires is very romantic.

I would recommend to any visiting South African that they invest in a good pair of winter boots and a warm jacket. They will go a long way in keeping you warm and comfortable.

A European winter experience should be on every traveller’s bucket list – so that you can discover for yourself why Europe in winter is just so hot.”