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Best Winter Trips in Eastern Europe 2012

Chilling temperatures, and fields of white, when winter arrives, with all its magic, the world of travel puts on its mittens, and gets ready to live life to the fullest… Argophilia Travel News editors have picked five of the best winter destinations in Eastern Europe for you.

Romanian Carpathian Mountains.

Breathtaking views over the Carpathians in Romania - image by Eugen Mihai, exclusive for Argophilia.

Why Eastern Europe Winter Trips?

Because Eastern Europe is still that “hidden” part of the Continent, the place that, in fact, is the birth of the whole European culture and civilization. Think ancient Greece, consider the Illyrians and the Thracians, and the list could go on. Traces of these ancient civilizations are still visible today, the pride of their countries, and some of the most important tourist landmarks in this part of the world.

Some parts of Eastern Europe will not pamper you in the most sophisticated spas. You won’t dine like a king, either. But instead, you’ll know life as it used to be: Eastern Europe is an adventure, more appealing to that segment of the travelers who enjoy active holidays.

However, the top destinations below offer all the luxury and comfort found in other popular winter destinations around the world, at a fraction of the cost. Instead of spending a small fortune to ski in the Swiss Alps, consider the Rhodope Mountains, or the Carpathians. If you are looking for Christmas magic, Tallinn is your best bet. See what wonders await in Eastern Europe:

Winters in Pamporovo

Pamporovo, a popular winter destination in Bulgaria, boasts 37 kilometers of ski tracks around the mountain peak Snejanka at 1926 meters above sea level; and offers a variety of opportunities for practicing winter sports. The most popular are skiing, snowboarding and skidooing. With ski kindergarten and special ski slopes for kids, Pamporovo is ideal for those who travel with children.

Pamporovo

Additionally, the resort offers excellent accommodation, at very competitive prices, starting at as low as 35 € per night for a single room, with breakfast included in the Orlovetz five star hotel, or even cheaper at the hotel complex “Perelik”. Guests of the hotels can also use other facilities, such as swimming pools, saunas, steam baths, fitness, parking and transport to the Malina ski centers for free. You won’t find better value for money than this, just make sure you book in time.

Aside winter sports, Pamporovo resort offer excellent entertainment and other activities, including day trips to Perpericon, and demonstrations of ritual Rhodopi cuisine: barbecue, roasted potatoes cooked with cheese, yellow cheese, onion and garlic; Smilian beans; Rhodopi cheese pastry; hominy and of rice-stuffed well-cooked cabbage leaves and more.

Skiing in Sinaia

Sinaia, named after the Biblical Mount Sinai, is a mountain resort in Prahova County, Romania. It is one of the most popular skiing resorts in the country, boasting the largest ski area in Romania and the biggest skiable vertical.

sinaia

Close to Bucharest, the Romanian Capital, Sinaia is one of the most popular mountain resorts in the country, all year round. Image© kafkam - Fotolia.com

Often referred to as the “Pearl of Carpathians,” Sinaia may not be the most affordable destination (in fact, it can be more expensive than the Bulgarian Pamporovo, but it can be more fascinating. Aside winter sports, the town offers a wealth of historic, artistic and cultural treasures. You won’t have to travel far to see a fairy-tale like castle:

Peles Castle

Peles Castle © Florin Giorgini - Fotolia.com

Mount Sljeme

Mount Sljeme, in the mountain Medvednica, is Croatia’s most popular ski destination. No, it’s not like skiing in the Swiss Alps, but it does have advantages: you are only twenty minutes drive from Zagreb’s city center. At 1035 meters, you’ll get magnificent views of Zagreb, the Zagorje region and even the Slovenian Alps. Skiing here is so popular, that they even keep the track open at night.

Sljeme - skiing at night.

But the best is the proximity to Zagreb, which celebrates December with a beautiful Christmas Market. There’s no better time to sample authentic cuisine, and shop for Croatian souvenirs than this. The city is dressed with Christmas lights and decorations, a joyous time when young and old gather around the Trg Ban Jelačić to sip mulled wine, and party around the Christmas tree.

Tallinn Christmas Market

Tallinn, home of the world’s first Christmas tree, erected in 1441 by the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, may not have the oldest Christmas Market in Europe, but it aims to have one of the most beautiful, and most interesting. From the last week of November, Tallinn’s Town Hall Square fills up with scents and flavors of mulled wine and ginger bread. Crowds gather around merchant stalls selling traditional arts and crafts, jewelry, quilts, ceramic and glassware, and Estonian souvenirs; while children wait impatiently for Santa Claus to make his rounds.

Tallinn Christmas Market

Tallinn Christmas Market © Aleksandr Stennikov - Fotolia.com

Don’t miss the Estonian Open Air Museum, which you can find in the Kopli Bay area. The museum reenacts traditional Estonian Christmas rituals every season – the best opportunity to learn more about this fascinating country. Everything you need to know about Christmas in Estonia will unfold in front of eyes full of wonder – an exhibition of decorated Christmas trees throughout the past century at the Sassi-Jaani farm, or learning how the Setos (Orthodox Estonians) are preparing for their winter holidays at the Sepa farm. It’s a fun celebration, with Christmas carols, cooking of traditional Estonian Christmas dishes and even traditional Christmas games.

Estonian Open Air Museum in the winter.

Kuie school, courtesy Estonian Open Air Museum

Winter in Moscow

Moscow is stunning after a good heavy snowfall – the best time to visit this amazing city. Unfortunately, we cannot speak of “budget” holidays here – accommodation in this part of the world is more expensive than you’d expect. Yet, what an experience!

Moscow St. Basil Cathedral

Moscow St. Basil Cathedral © Julia Shepeleva

Russians love winter, and celebrate it with a variety of festivals. The festival in Izmailovo Park begins in the last week of December, when you can enjoy troika rides and folk music performances, taste local cuisine and much more.

Don’t miss the indoors ice sculpture museum in Sokolniki Park, a fantastic world, which opened its doors only last year, on December 12.

Remember that Moscow does not celebrate Christmas on December 25 – but on January 6, according to the old Julian calendar. But in December they do celebrate the Winter Solstice: a day of new hope, the coming of new light.

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