Sun, ski or city break? Three winter escapes with a difference

Book a holiday less ordinary

Winter sun, ski break or city escape? This time of year, grey skies and short days have us heading straight to Skyscanner. But instead of sticking to well-trodden paths (or ski slopes), why not take a chance with something a little different? Here’s three winter escapes with a difference.

Winter sun: Thanda Island, Tanzania

Okay, this isn’t the most budget-friendly choice – but if you’re looking to spend some money, Thanda Island is just the thing. Nestled in an archipelago that bridges the turquoise sea between Tanzania and Zanzibar, Thanda Island is as dreamy as winter sun gets. The journey there is a little involved – you fly in to Dar es Salaam, before boarding a 45-minute helicopter ride, or catching a local plane and then a boat. But it’s more than worth it when you get there. Azure seas, pristine white beaches and peaceful seclusion mark out this slice of tropical paradise, which stands at only 1.1km in circumference and 350m wide.

The island, which is also part of a marine conservation area, is owned by Swedish millionaires Christin and Dan Olofsson, and the sumptuous five-bedroom villa on the island is their pièce de résistance. It contains an indoor aquarium, Steinway grand piano, wine collection, cigar humidor and dining area with 180-degree view of the ocean. If that’s not enough, there’s also an infinity pool, al fresco beach baths, a cocktail bar and a tennis court. Meals are cooked by your own private chef, and spa treatments are available if desired, too. What’s more, if you stay between October and February, you’ll be well placed for up-close encounters with gentle whale sharks when snorkelling, as it coincides with their winter migration route. It’s not cheap, but as the villa sleeps nine adults you’d do well to round up your friends for a winter break you’ll neveer forget.

$15,000 a night,

Ski break: Riksgränsen, Sweden

Forget the Alps. Try something a bit different for your winter escape, and head north to Sweden for a totally unique skiing experience. Riksgränsen is the world’s most northerly ski resort, situated in the Arctic Circle in the far north of Sweden, not far from the Norwegian border. Here, you can ski under the flickering gleam of the Northern Lights when the slopes open in February, and under the glow of the midnight sun until they close in June.

More suited to experienced skiers, Riksgränsen offers extensive off-piste skiing opportunities – the annual Big Mountain Championships are held there in May, and are a magnet for adventurous types. Heli-skiing is also offered, with an impressive unrestricted drop area bigger than the Netherlands – perfect for freeriders looking for something a bit different from their adrenaline kick. Off the slopes, Riksgränsen is a short drive from the glamorous Ice Hotel, and you can also take guided husky tours across the Arctic landscape. Better than the Alps, we think.

Price on request,

City escape: Vienna, Austria

Vienna has been slightly overlooked in recent years, overshadowed by more zeitgeisty city breaks like Prague, Budapest and Barcelona. But what could be more festive this winter than Vienna’s Baroque architecture and gold-flecked monumental palaces? The city is also having quite a cultural moment, marking 100 years since the deaths of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. Scores of exhibitions are being put on to reflect this, like the Schiele ‘Jubilee Show’ at the Leopold Museum, which explores his work as an expressionist artist, and the ‘Klimt Lost’ exhibition at his former studio, which reflects on the theme of loss in art.

Art aside, winter in Vienna is a luxe smorgasbord of balls, fireworks displays and beautiful snowy vistas. Traditional Austrian Christmas markets line the streets in December, while the New Year is ushered in with a New Year’s Eve Trail in the city centre. Mulled wine and food stands line the streets, while live music is played on every corner. Waltzing lessons are available in the squares and, at midnight, a large fireworks display lights up the grand City Hall. Go in January, and you’ll arrive in the midst of ball season, with Vienna’s sumptuous ballrooms lighting up throughout the month, culminating in the grand Opern Ball on 8 February. Forget Copenhagen or Dublin – now this is what we call a city break.