Travel: Forget Tenerife, sun and beaches - for the coolest winter break, try Siberia
Sunday 05 October 1997
But what a mistake that always is. People from cold climes sitting on sunny beaches in the depths of winter? When they should be battling against the wind and dark of the north? No thanks. I don't want to miss out on those rare bits of winter that our climate can still muster.
There is sense in this. People already go to Cuba in search of the lingering dregs of communism. They visit Brazil to see the last unchopped swathes of rainforest. I have even heard of people going to Wales in search of traces of Welsh language and culture. And now, to judge from the holiday bookings of friends, it seems that people are heading north in search of the last relics of coldness.
I don't blame them. My best winter holidays have always been in bleakly cold places. If you too are worried about your children missing out on the stuff of your own Christmases, this is obviously the solution. Join the new trend for visiting cold places at their coldest.
I suppose it is a way of re-introducing nature into our mechanised lives, by ensuring that summers are hot and winters are cold. No doubt the same people who go to Iceland for their Christmas holidays go to the Mediterranean during the summer. Some say that the human frame was designed to experience seasonal changes. Whatever it is, for the benefit of the new frigophiles, I have been researching a few of the options available this Christmas.
Closest to hand of course is Scandinavia. Although by no means the coldest part of the world, it does score highly in terms of darkness and abundance of snow. The Finns have rustled up a Father Christmas industry with reindeers in the Rovaniemi area on the Arctic Circle, but for snow without the kitsch try the coastal areas of northern Norway where blizzards are almost incessant. Too far from the Pole? No problem: aim for the Spitzbergen Islands, which are entirely dark and glaciated.
Iceland and Greenland are also interesting possibilities, particularly Iceland which has become one of the trendy night-club capitals of the world. The colder it is in the streets outside, the hotter those Nordic clubbers become. Analogies with hot springs and geysers emerging from perma-frost are spot on.
Canada and Alaska are another promising area for the cold. You won't even need to head into the wilderness here. For example, temperatures in Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, average around minus 20C in January. But the trouble with North America is that life carries on so normally that the cold hardly seems to count. You could pass an entire winter in Winnipeg without putting of your coat and gloves, if you stuck to the shopping malls and underground car parks.
There is nowhere to beat the northern half of Asia for real winter cold. This mainly means Russia, though Manchuria in north-eastern China packs some pretty serious frosts as well, as does the Dras region on the Srinagar- Leh highway in northern India. Brrrr. Manchuria happens to be my favourite winter hideaway: I recall arriving there at Shenyang railway station one January and tramping noisily up a black iron staircase with hundreds of men with hats and steaming mouths. Steam engines were puffing and groaning all over the place. I got on to an icy bus and my thin jeans evoked gasps of horror from passers-by. The cold was so bitter that it became a profound relief to duck into a local dog-meat restaurant.
Not that this is a patch on Siberia itself, of course. Yakutsk, with average January temperatures of minus 42C, is probably the coldest place where you could spend your Christmas. Oddly enough though, Regent Holidays in Bristol, which specialises in sending people to obscure parts of the ex-communist world, claims not to have noticed a flood of bookings to Yakutsk this winter.
Could this imply that most people are still choosing Tenerife and its sunshine for their winter break? More's the pity.
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