Five Best Winter Festivals & Events

Hot-air Balloon Week; Winter Carnival; Snow Polo, San Moritz; Quebec; Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan; Lederhosen sledding, Germany
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The Independent Travel

Hot-air Balloon Week, Gstaad

Snowy slopes make a great backdrop for hot-air balloons: next week sees the Swiss resort of Gstaad's 29th International Hot Air Balloon Week, (00 41 26 924 25 25; www.gstaad.ch) which runs from 20-28 January 2007. Watch as over 80 balloons take to the skies, and join in the street parties and firework displays. Even more exhilarating than looking up at a sky full of spectacularly coloured balloons against the snowy alpine backdrop is flying in one.

Made to Measure Holidays (01243 533 333; www.mtmhols.co.uk) has four-night ski breaks to Gstaad from £650 including flights and rail transfers. A 40-minute balloon flight costs £133.

Winter Carnival, Quebec

Carnival might make you think first of steamy nights in Rio, parades in New Orleans or packed streets in Notting Hill, but for the world's biggest winter carnival head for Quebec City in Canada. Running from 26 January to 11 February, the theme of the 53rd Carnaval de Quebec (001 866 422 7628, www.carnaval.qc.ca) is "challenges". Expect wintry games and competitions, including a 6km dog-sled race through the streets of Old Quebec, a canoe race across the St Lawrence River and a soapbox vehicle race.

Quest Travel (0871 423 0123; www.questtravel.com) offers week-long breaks including flights for £659 departing 26 January.

Snow Polo, San Moritz

Not too long ago, skiing was considered something of a glamour activity only affordable by the rich. Although skiing is now much more in the public domain, some sporting activities continue to be associated with the glamorous and wealthy. Get out your designer winter finery and head to Switzerland's St Moritz for the prestigious Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow (00 41 81 839 92 92; www.polostmoritz.com), which runs from 25-28 January.

Black Tomato (020-7610 9008; www.blacktomato.co.uk) is offering packages from £999 including return flights from London to Geneva, and four nights with breakfast at Badrutts Palace Hotel.

Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan

Close to two million people are expected to visit Hokkaido, Japan, from 6-12 of February 2007 for Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, the Sapporo Annual Snow Festival ( www.snowfes.com), now in its 58th year. The highlight and focus of the festival is the International Snow Statue Contest: teams from all over the world come to create magnificent snow statues and ice sculptures. The intricate results of their endeavours can be seen at three impressive locations around the city.

Audley Travel (01993 838210; www.audleytravel.com) offers return flights between Heathrow and Sapporo via Tokyo and five nights from £1,290.

Lederhosen sledding, Germany

Forget going down mountains on skis: why not slide down on your backside? On 18 February, little Neudorf im Erzgebirge (near the Czech border in south-eastern Germany) is home to the world Arschleder-Wettruscheln ("arse-leather sledding") championship. In the Middle Ages, workers in the area's silver mines used leather britches (Arschleder) to protect their work clothes. In 1998, the tradition was tweaked and reborn as a sporting event.

Dertour (0870 403 5442, www.dertour.co.uk) can organise a tailor-made trip. Flights, car hire and three nights in Oberwiesenthal costs £499.

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