Each week, The Independent’s travel team go head-to-head to see who can come up with the best version of a particular trip. Today we’re tackling a ski trip at Christmas that won’t break the bank.
If the travel industry had its way, not only would Easter have a fixed date each year but Christmas Day would always fall on a Tuesday or a Wednesday – the quietest days of the week for journeys, with a lucrative weekend before and afterwards. That particularly applies for the winter sports operators. A Sunday, as 25 December is this year, is about as bad as it gets. The standard one-week ski package begins on a Saturday or Sunday, which means people flying out on Christmas Eve or the big day itself –which, experience shows, they are unwilling to do. As a result, fares fall.
Simon’s choice: Swanky Slovakia
Price per person for flights and accommodation: £810
It’s a buyer’s market, whether you seek a package holiday or a DIY arrangement. My bargain basement luxury deal is to the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia: a beautiful, little-visited part of Europe, with hotels whose faded grandeur has been replenished.
Ryanair will get you from Stansted on Christmas Eve, back on New Year’s Eve, to Bratislava for £222 return. From the capital there are good, cheap train links (£10 each way) to the city of Poprad – from where a bus trundles uphill to the resort of Tatranska Lomnica.
Your accommodation, the Grand Hotel Praha, is an Art Nouveau palace, currently being sold through Travel Republic at £168 per night, excluding breakfast. So a couple can indulge for £810 each for a week, in a style that would cost three times as much in Switzerland. And this being Slovakia, ski hire and lift passes are commensurately low. Still not tempted? Fly out on Boxing Day and the cost falls to just £607 each for five nights.
Simon Calder, travel correspondent
Nicola’s choice: Budget-friendly Bulgaria
Price per person for flights and accommodation: £325
For a bargain break on the slopes at Christmas, look no further than Bulgaria's Pirin Mountains. The country's best-known ski resort, Bansko, is regularly named the cheapest in Europe, and as Bulgaria is outside the Eurozone, you’ll find the exchange rates a little kinder than in, say, France.
Neilson offers a week’s package for the Hotel Bizev in Bansko for an extremely reasonable £325 per person. For your money you get flights from Manchester to the capital, Sofia (well worth a visit in itself), departing on 20 December, and half board. Add on a six-day lift pass for £110 and ski hire for £50, or for the same price you can book yourself a Beginner Ski Pack, which also includes four lessons (improvers £20 extra). Over-65s get a discount on equipment hire, passes and tuition.
The nine-room hotel is traditional in style, and located almost a kilometre from the ski lifts, but it does run a free shuttle to the gondola, and has its own sauna for loosening up after a day on the slopes.
Nicola Trup, head of travel
Laura’s choice: Beginners’ break in Poland
Price per person including flights, accommodation, transfers, equipment, lessons and lift passes: £686
If you want to spend your Christmas learning to ski, but not risk turning into a bitter Scrooge as accomplished ski bunnies swish past while you awkwardly hone your snowplough, probably better not to start at a snooty mega-resort.
Instead, beginners would do well to spend less on their first bruising bum-landings – and thus preserve their Christmas spirit – in Poland’s premier ski resort, Zakopane, in the foothills of the Tatras.
Sunshine World is offering a week-long beginners’ package – including B&B in a catered chalet, equipment rental, coaching, lift passes and transport to and from the slopes, plus return transfers from Krakow airport – for a rather reasonable £495 per person, between 20 and 27 December. The Polish zloty keeps food and drink prices on budget – but you’ll need to get in quick as this price expires on 15 October.
The cheapest flights that fit the package dates involve flying via Berlin – with British Airways for the first leg and Air Berlin onwards to Krakow – giving a price of £191 return.
Laura Chubb, deputy head of travelReuse content