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White Christmas in the Alps for Aussie non-skiers

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Jan 1st, 2014, 12:02 AM
  #1
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White Christmas in the Alps for Aussie non-skiers

Like many others, we would like to spend a few days over Christmas in the Austrian/German Alps in a spot that has beautiful views, Christmas spirit, friendly people and activities like walking, sledding, sleigh rides, spas, shopping, skating.... We are fit and well, middle aged, romantic Aussies who also enjoy reading beside the fire... We plan to travel predominantly by rail. Like moderate luxury but not celebrity/ scene type places.
Which (one place) would you choose for us: Seefeld, Zell am See, Bad (Hof)Gastein, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, (Lech, Chamonix???) ?
THANK YOU!
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Jan 1st, 2014, 12:50 AM
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Hi Alifox,

I've lived in Garmisch-Psrtenkirchen since 2008, and I can tell you that a white Christmas isn't anywhere near a sure thing. Last year, we didn't have a white Christmas, and this year -- though we got a lot of snow in November -- it had all melted away in the warm temps and rainfall of December. There is snow on the Zugspitze, and the snow machines have kept the ski trails of the Hausberg, Alspzpitze, and Kreuzeck nicely covered.

I recommend you aim for a high-altitude resort, and specifically for Sils or Pontresina in the Upper Engadin of Switzerland, or for Zermatt, also in Switzerland.

If you decide on Zermatt, I would recommend you make your hotel reservations sooner rather than later. Many, many visitors enjoy Christmas week there, and many of them make reservations for the next year as they are leaving this year.

Have fun as you plan!

s
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Jan 1st, 2014, 12:54 AM
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Hi Alifox, I like Megeve, in France. Easy to get to (ski bus one hour from Geneva), and plenty to do for non-skiers. Lovely old village, with great restaurants. Au Coin du Feu is a nice hotel. You could probably use the spa at the (much more expensive) sister hotel Fermes de Marie.

For any of the locations you are looking at; Christmas is high season, and many hotels will insist on a week's stay at least. I know hotels who will only book 2 weeks over the Christmas holidays.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 01:41 AM
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Thank you Swandav and Tulips - this is all really helpful.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 02:14 AM
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There was loads of snow on the Zugspitz when I was there on Friday - incredible.

Also snow in the Upper and Lower Engadine when we were there in early-mid December, but it had been on the ground since mid-Nov - they were pretty snow deprived w/o fresh snow, and were and making the stuff at the time so they could open the ski pistes.

We found Samedan to be a good base for the Upper and Scuol the perfect base for the Lower - we much preferred the Lower Engadine to the Upper, which surprised me a bit. Trip report currently being written.

We also live in Australia and have just returned from three weeks - two in Switzerland (winter hiking in the Engadine and Berner Oberland), and a week split between Rothenburg ob der Tauber (something to behold at Christmas) and Munich.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 02:20 AM
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PS - swandav2000 -

We visited Sils on your recommendation - a nice little town, wish we'd had more time to explore, but we were on the way to Soglio.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 02:29 AM
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Thanks Melnq, We had tended to overlook Switzerland after hearing it was more expensive... Your trip sounds excellent: we were thinking about Berlin, Nuremberg (side trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber), Munich and then somewhere in the alps over Christmas. Now I'm thinking about Megeve... but worried about the long booking times required as per Swandav and Tulips above.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 02:57 AM
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After living in Perth, Australia for five years, Switzerland no longer seems all that expensive to us, certainly much better value than we've found here in Australia (from an American perspective anyway).

However, our goal was to depart Switzerland by Dec 21, when the Christmas season truly got underway and accommodation prices rose considerably. Prior to that, rates were quite reasonable and apartment bookings for less than a week were not a problem. As mentioned above, many ski areas in Switzerland have two week minimum stays over the Christmas holidays, but if you're not a skier, you could easily stay near a resort and potentially avoid the minimum stay requirements.

Germany seemed a real bargain, and even accommodation in busy Christmas areas like Rothenburg ob der Tauber didn't raise their prices - we booked about two months out as we were there the last weekend before Christmas.

Do be aware that similar to Australia, Germany pretty much shuts down between 2 pm on Christmas Eve and Dec 26, with some places staying closed until early Jan. Not a problem really, as public transport goes on and there's always a place to eat or a mountain to explore.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 03:18 AM
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I would choose Innsbruck. Between the cities you name, Garmisch looks the best. Seefeld is small and overrun with Italian tourists, Badgastein looks a bit like a ghost city as the spa business had a downturn some years ago and several major hotels were abandoned.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 03:28 AM
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Thanks again and to asps - really good to get the insider information
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Jan 1st, 2014, 04:04 AM
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Hi Alifox - this sounds great!

Here is a comment I made to another poster a couple of weeks back - hope it wasn't you!

Have a look at this trip report - an Australian writer and spent a Christmas doing some of the sorts of things you seem to be looking at.

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...rs-5-weeks.cfm

Her planning is also fantastic and reading some other entries might also help.
Lots of good advice on this forum - so do some searching as well to see what is possible.
A snow Christmas with our adult family is still on our wish list - so all the best with your planning.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 10:21 AM
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It always annoys me when people suggest Switzerland is expensive. Compared to where? While it was no doubt true several decades ago that Switzerland was one of the most expensive destinations in Europe, that really is not the case any longer. The UK and Scandinavian countries are certainly more expensive for the traveller.

I'm a big Switzerland fan and so would suggest you consider it. It's your choice but just don't rule it out based on incorrect evidence. Check some prices for yourself it's easy enough to do.

I'm also a fan of Sils Maria in the Engadine but I don't know if it would be busy enough for you given the kind of 'Christmas Atmosphere' you might be looking for. For that, although I am not a fan, I would have to agree that Zermatt would probably be a better fit or perhaps some of the Bernese Oberland villages like Wengen or Grindelwald.

The Bernese Oberland would also have the added attraction of being within an easy day trip by train to some of the Christmas Markets in Switzerland. This area also has lots of non-skiing winter activities available like snowshoeing (as a Canadian I'd kinda like to see an Aussie on snowshoes, ;-))

Trust me if you can walk you can snowshoe. It takes about 5 minutes to get the hang of it.
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Jan 1st, 2014, 10:42 PM
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Melnq8 -- I'm glad you thought the trip to Sils was worthwhile -- I need to get myself there and invest some quality time. Yes, there is snow on the Zugspitze, but you probably didn't see any snow in town, maybe just spots of hard-packed ice.

I agree with dulciusexasperis that Switzerland isn't as expensive as many claim. There are many ways you can reduce your costs, from visiting supermarkets to buy picnic supplies (plus you get a taste of real life when shopping!) to researching and getting the right train pass.

Probably the best tip to get the most for your money is to get a package deal from your chosen hotel. Most hotels offer something like half board (breakfast and dinner) plus a transportation pass, to make your stay really reasonable. I've done this a bunch of times, including twice in Wengen, once in Zermatt, and once in Gstaad. Let us know if you'd like more information on something like this --

Have fun as you plan!

s
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 02:01 AM
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> It always annoys me when people suggest Switzerland is expensive. Compared to where?

> The UK and Scandinavian countries are certainly more expensive for the traveller.

Austria and Upper Bavaria (Germany), for example. Also South Tyrol/Trentino (Italy). If you want to go to the Alps, then you must compare these to Switzerland, not Scandinavia or the UK.

> There are many ways you can reduce your costs, from visiting supermarkets to buy picnic supplies (plus you get a taste of real life when shopping!) to researching and getting the right train pass.

I agree. But if you go for that kind of trip, then you can do the same in the other countries mentioned above and again, it's less expensive than in Switzerland.

To the OP: Seefeld will meet your criteria. At an elevation of 1200 m they are reasonably snow reliable, had snow on the ground over Christmas even this (last) year. Quite a lot of 4 to 5 star hotels to choose from. Rates over Christmas are of course higher than usual (but not as high as in Switzerland). Seefeld is not that much about Alpine skiing (they have enough ski runs), more about cross-country skiing, walking, sledding, sleigh rides, spa etc. Shopping is doable as well, but Innsbruck is close by and has plenty of shops.
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Jan 2nd, 2014, 05:18 AM
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Empirical data would suggest that subjective opinions are not always accurate;

Column headings, after the country name;
Consumer Price Index - Rent Index - Consumer Price Plus Rent Index - Groceries Index - Restaurant Price Index -
Local Purchasing Power Index

Norway 173.85 68.99 123.52 162.53 183.30 95.91
Switzerland 151.77 70.90 112.95 153.05 142.36 137.26
Australia 133.66 72.72 104.41 128.69 116.39 103.02
Luxembourg 124.76 67.68 97.36 111.78 130.80 121.39
Denmark 119.95 42.93 82.98 103.97 130.50 102.15
Japan 115.24 43.81 80.96 112.83 70.01 85.99
Sweden 114.47 36.11 76.86 105.57 110.14 106.57
New Zealand 113.63 46.06 81.20 111.68 93.48 80.65
Bahrain 113.49 29.58 73.21 162.91 71.01 59.29
Iceland 112.43 39.30 77.33 118.81 99.72 67.91
Ireland 112.33 40.37 77.79 105.55 102.99 95.06
Venezuela 111.01 41.48 77.64 126.37 93.65 16.64
Belgium 108.04 39.18 74.99 90.14 115.60 94.09
Finland 106.99 40.37 75.02 101.29 100.24 94.06
Singapore 105.39 103.04 104.26 91.19 63.28 59.94
Netherlands 103.90 45.71 75.97 81.11 107.68 92.88
France 103.24 37.99 71.92 97.75 100.45 98.11
United Kingdom 102.24 41.10 72.89 93.06 94.28 89.07

Switzerland is the second most expensive country, based on CPI, and the most expensive based on the combined metric of Local Purchasing Power Index. Of course, not all of these measured indexes represent what the tourist pays for goods and services while traveling but it is still a better indication of the relative dearness of staying in a country than any travelers subjective recollection.

So, it can quite reasonably be said that Switzerland is more expensive that "anywhere".
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Jan 3rd, 2014, 02:44 PM
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Thank you to everyone for your responses. Still not sure which place to choose for Christmas. Just to clarify, we were mainly thinking of the Tyrol/Bavaria alpine region for Christmas because prior to Christmas we hope to visit Berlin, Nuremberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Munich - and after Christmas probably Vienna prior to flying home... all via train. But whenever I read about places in the alps so many of them seem so gorgeous and enticing. So anywhere that is reasonably in reach of Munich would be OK. We were thinking about 5 nights in the one place just before and during Christmas. Thanks again.
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Jan 4th, 2014, 09:50 AM
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I don't disagree with that Ingo, my point was that people often discount Switzerland based on incorrect information. Austria may well be a bit cheaper for the same things but 'expensive' is a relative term. Whether something cost 100 or 110 doesn't make one cheap and the other expensive. Someone should not make a decision based on a belief that one is 100 and the other is 200 when in fact that is not the case. There are of course differences in average costs between any two places but not enough in this case to rule one out based on it being 'expensive'.

Can't agree with that Aramis. Data is only as good as the interpretation of that data.

To compare the CPI of countries only tells you about what it is like to live in those countries in relative cost terms.

To compare what it is likely to cost you for 2 weeks as a tourist you have to compare what those tourist 'apples to apples' costs are.

So the price of two comparable hotels or two comparable meals or two comparable rail journeys etc.

If you do that, I still contend that the UK for example is just as expensive if not more so than Switzerland. I would say 'just as' except that what you get for the same money in Switzerland is probably better/higher quality.

Compared to Austria as a more relevant comparison here, I would say that you can visit either country for pretty much the same budget. So the decision should be based on what interests you more, not which will cost marginally less. It's not a case of one will be half the cost of the other.
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Jan 4th, 2014, 03:18 PM
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So, where would you recommend?
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Jan 4th, 2014, 10:46 PM
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Alifox,

I really trust Ingo's advice, and have for several years. He's usually spot-on about sights, hotels, restaurants, walks, and ambiance whenever I've asked specific questions. So, I would investigate his suggestion of Seefeld -- it lies right on the train line between Garmisch and Innsbruck. Though it's nearby, I haven't ever visited it, but I've been meaning to for a while. It would be worthwhile to check it out, I think. Do a search on Google Images, find the town's website, etc.

s
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Jan 5th, 2014, 12:34 AM
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Thanks Swandav and others for your advice
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