Lesser-Known Ski Resorts You Need to Visit in Europe

Hotel Sacher Salzburg in Austria is the ideal place to stay for a mountain holiday away from the crowds
Hotel Sacher Salzburg in Austria is the ideal place to stay for a mountain holiday away from the crowds | Courtesy ofHotel Sacher Salzburg / Booking.com
Photo of Konstantina Pyrnokoki
Travel Writer10 November 2021
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Desperate to get back on the slopes but not so keen on the ski-lift queues? Try swapping Zermatt or the Dolomites for the lesser-known ski resorts in Europe. From Pamporovo in Bulgaria to Gudauri in Georgia, these are the European ski resorts that guarantee fresh, powdery snow with the bonus of fewer crowds and cheaper stays.

Valdesquí and Puerto de Navacerrada, Spain

The peaks of the Sierra de Guadarrama – which form part of the Sistema Central mountain range – hide the locally popular ski resorts of Valdesquí and Puerto de Navacerrada, both of which are within easy reach of Madrid. Valdesquí has 21km (13mi) of pistes, while Puerto de Navacerrada soars up to 1,858m (6,095ft) above sea level and has a range of beginner and intermediate courses within pine forests – it also offers a ski jump and slalom run. Both resorts are now temporarily closed but, hopefully, they’ll be up and running soon.

Where to stay

URSO Hotel & Spa, for comfort in Madrid

A bedroom at the URSO Hotel in Madrid with a plush four poster bed and beige and white decor
URSO Hotel and Spa is a fabulous base for exploring the Guadarrama Mountains | Courtesy of URSO Hotel and Spa / Booking.com
URSO Hotel & Spa in Madrid is an excellent choice if you wish to ski the Guadarrama mountains. White-marble details, floral Japanese prints and light-cream colours welcome you to this lavish sanctuary, while the rooms come with bathtubs, laptop-compatible safes and desks. There’s also an indoor pool and a wood-finished wellness centre. Treat yourself to a facial or enjoy breakfast in the conservatory; you’ll be surrounded by palms and bathed in light coming through the stained-glass roof.

Pamporovo, Bulgaria

Pamporovo is popular among local skiers yet still largely undiscovered by the rest of the world. The resort sits in the southern Rhodope mountains, in the Smolyan province of Bulgaria, within abundant Norway spruce forests that become even more attractive when covered in snow. The ski area here isn’t massive, but there are a number of green and blue runs (around 3km/2mi) that make Pamporovo the ideal ski destination for beginners and non-professionals. Plus, it’s way cheaper than its western counterparts.

Where to stay

Mountain Lake Hotel, for epic views in Smolyan

Mountain Lake Hotel, a large white building with a terracotta roof, is nestled amongst the pine trees in the Rhodope Mountains
Stunning views from Mountain Lake Hotel near Pamporovo, Bulgaria | Courtesy of Mountain Lake Hotel / Expedia
One of the best places to take in the Rhodope range is Mountain Lake Hotel. This boutique in classic rustic style lies a short drive from Pamporovo and is ideal for a relaxed family stay. The lobby fireplace is sure to warm you up after skiing, as are the spa services. Pamper yourself with a massage, a visit to the indoor pool or a steamy session in the sauna. A complimentary ski shuttle service is also available, so you’re never too far from the slopes.

Bansko, Bulgaria

Another Bulgarian gem, this ski resort in the small town of Bansko – home to around 13,000 – lies in the Pirin Mountains, at an altitude of 2,000-2,600m (6,560ft-8,200ft). Bansko is more suitable for beginners, and has several ski rental shops offering the necessary gear. There are also many luxury hotels nearby; most offer a bus service to the ski-lift station in the morning and afternoon. Arrive early as possible, though, as it tends to get crowded.

Where to stay

Premier Luxury Mountain Resort, for easy access to the slopes

The pool in front of the Premier Luxury Mountain Resort in Bankso, Bulgaria
Take a dip in the pool at the Premier Luxury Mountain Resort in Bankso, Bulgaria | Courtesy of Premier Luxury Mountain Resort / Booking.com
Just a 15-minute drive from Bansko ski resort, this plush hotel is exactly what you need after a tiring day on the slopes. Get rid of your gear and lie on the fluffy bed or the sofa in your regal suite. Everything feels refined here, from the rejuvenating treatments at the hotel spa to the glamorous outdoor pool or the fine dining options at the two restaurants. You can also get your ski passes right here, so you don’t have to queue at Bansko’s gondola lift.

Orelle, France

The Three Valleys – or Trois Vallées – lying in the heart of the French Alps is one of the most popular ski regions in southeast France. It’s home to several ski resorts, the most famous being Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens. Few have heard of Orelle, though, the fourth little valley just above Val Thorens. Small yet practical, Orelle has a mini supermarket, a bar-restaurant, a pizzeria and a mountain restaurant, along with a few stone houses offering accommodation. Try skiing, zip-lining, ice-climbing and snowshoeing or take a gondola ride to Val Thorens to ski some more.

Where to stay

Le Val Thorens, for a prime spot in the Trois Vallées

The lobby at Le Val Thorens hotel. With modern decor, the lobby is warm and welcoming, with high ceilings, a plush yellow sofa and bookcases.
Relax in the cosy lobby of Le Val Thorens after a long day exploring the Three Valleys | Courtesy of Le Val Thorens / Booking.com
There’s no better spot to make the most of the Three Valleys than in the town of Val Thorens. From here, you can access all the three major resorts, as well as Orelle. Stay in Le Val Thorens to get a taste of the high life. The elegant hotel will win you over with minimalist interiors and vintage details, which contrast with the sleek 15m (50ft) indoor pool that looks out to the mountains. Even spa treatments are different here; you can choose your own playlist as you’re enjoying a facial, or book a massage or a mini manicure for your kid (using child-friendly products).

Mount Parnassus, Greece

Towering above the town of Delphi – home to the Temple of Apollo, built in the fourth century BCE – Parnassus is one of the highest mountains in Greece. As well as the incredible flora and fauna (including olive groves where wolves and boars run freely), you will find 36km (22mi) of slopes and some of the best ski resorts in the country, the highest of which sits at 2,260m (7,410ft). Fterolakka/Kellaria is the most popular resort and a perfect place to ski and snowboard.

Where to stay

Amalia Hotel Delphi, for a spot on Mount Parnassus

The Amalia Hotel Delphi and pool nestled into the mountainside of Mount Parnassus
Amalia Hotel Delphi is the perfect place to stay to explore Mount Parnassus in Greece | Courtesy of Amalia Hotel Delphi / Booking.com
Sitting on verdant slopes at the foot of Mount Parnassus, the sophisticated Amalia is surrounded by evergreen trees and comes with coastal vistas across the Gulf of Corinth; the charming towns of Itea and Galaxidi are visible from here too. Inside, you will find retro-chic rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and wide balconies that open up to the majestic scenery. Alternatively, take in the view from the terrace or the palatial outdoor pool.

Tatranská Lomnica, Slovakia

This resort in the High Tatras range in northern Slovakia offers slopes suitable for beginners, but also some of the steepest pistes in the country. There’s a cable car that will take you to Lomnický štít, the second-highest mountain in Slovakia (reaching 2,634m/8,642ft), while you can ski from the resort’s highest and steepest slope, Lomnické sedlo (2,190m/7,185ft above sea level) directly down to the beautiful Tatranská Lomnica village. Families, adrenaline-seekers and professional skiers will all be satisfied here.

Where to stay

Hotel Lomnica

The plush dining room, with blue velvet chairs and carpets and grand windows, at the Hotel Lomnica in the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia
Once the go to hotel for aristocrats in the 19th Century, the renovated Hotel Lomnica is now the best place to stay in Tatranská Lomnica, Slovakia | Courtesy of Hotel Lomnica / Booking.com
It doesn’t get more sumptuous than the First Lady of the High Tatras. Opened in 1894, Hotel Lomnica was the first mountain hotel in the region. Back then, it was the place to be for the well-heeled – including aristocrats, statesmen and artists – a reputation it lives up to today. The hotel became dilapidated during the Soviet era but was renovated in 2016. It now marries the old with the new through imperial-looking suites that feature furnishings in white and burgundy and a stylish rooftop terrace overlooking the Tatras that comes with a hot tub.

Gudauri, Georgia

The largest and highest ski resort in Georgia is found in the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region, on the southern plateau of the Caucasus mountain range – the highest lift station is a little over 3,000m (9,840ft) on Mount Sadzele. There are slopes for all skiing and snowboarding levels here, with the total length of marked piste around 50km (31mi). Cat skiing, heli-skiing, night skiing, cross-country trails, ski tours and snow tubing are also available in Gudauri.

Where to stay

Marco Polo Hotel Gudauri

A social area in Hotel Gudauri Marco Polo, with sofas in muted colours and a wooden staircase leading to another floor above
A stones-throw away from the ski slopes, Hotel Gudauri Marco Polo is a relaxing place to stay during your mountain holiday in Georgia | Courtesy of Hotel Gudauri Marco Polo / Booking.com
If you’re looking for a luxury stay just steps from the ski resort, then the Marco Polo Hotel is what you need. Swim in tranquil pool waters while gazing at the mountains through floor-to-ceiling windows, enjoy quiet time at the sauna or spend your days playing sports and games, from tennis and ping pong to video games, pool and bowling (at the hotel’s very own alley). The rooms are minimally decorated creating a calming ambience, while the restaurant serves Georgian treats, such as khachapuri (cheese-filled bread).

Obertauern, Austria

Austria’s snowiest winter-sports destination, Obertauern has 100km (62mi) of ski slopes. Purpose-built for skiiers, it sits in the Radstädter Tauern mountain range in Salzburgerland and is surrounded by snowy peaks and fine hotels, making for a delightful après-ski experience. There’s a mix of red, blue and green runs here, along with some off-piste options, so skiers of all abilities are welcome. If you’re not that fond of skiing, you can try snowboarding, tobogganing, winter hiking, ice skating or sleigh riding. End the day with a drink at the chilled-out Qu-Bar.

Where to stay

Hotel Sacher Salzburg, for refined luxury

A luxurious suite, including a living room and bedroom, with red, white and gold decor in the Hotel Sacher Salzburg in Austria
Stay at the Hotel Sacher Salzburg, where seasoned pros and beginners alike will find something to enjoy at this resort in Austria | Courtesy of Hotel Sacher Salzburg / Booking.com
Stay in the heart of Salzburg and find out what old-world luxury means by booking one of the 110 opulent suites at Hotel Sacher. Marble bathrooms, antique sofas and plush carpets set the luxurious tone while the views of the imposing Hohensalzburg Fortress are priceless. Relax at the sauna or hit the fitness centre, before passing by the Sacher Bar for a delectable cocktail. The pretty Sacher Café serves mouth-watering meals, including the traditional wiener schnitzel.

Nevis Range, Scotland

This is the place to visit if you want to avoid the queues. Nevis Range opened in 1989 on the slopes of the Aonach Mor Mountain in the Scottish Highlands, just a short drive from the town of Fort William. The resort has 32 different runs, including green, blue and black ones. For pro skiers looking for a thrill, the yellow itineraries of ungroomed runs on the trail map are a must. The snow is best here in February and March, while those seeking extra fun can also take part in tree-climbing courses or indulge in mountain gondola rides.

Where to stay

Inverlochy Castle Hotel, for a regal stay

A room at the Inverlochy Castle Hotel, with eclectic, vintage decor and a window looking onto the mountains
Live like Queen Victoria with a room at the Inverlochy Castle in Fort William, Scotland | Courtesy of Inverlochy Castle Hotel/ Expedia
How do you feel about staying in a 19th-century castle surrounded by green meadows and dreamy lochs? Queen Victoria spent a whole week here in 1873, so Inverlochy Castle Hotel also has heritage. Think vintage furnishings and four-poster beds with windows facing the serene water. There’s also an arcade room and a space to store your ski gear. Warm up with a glass of whisky at the nearby Ben Nevis Distillery.

Mount Etna, Sicily

As strange as it sounds, Mount Etna, reaching 3,323m (10,900ft), is home to two ski resorts. Piano Provenzana is on the north and Nicolosi on the south of this very active volcano. The temperatures here are low during the winter, which makes Etna a marvellous place to ski. Nicolosi is the largest, with more vertical pistes and lifts to the summit. Skiing on Etna is possible from November to the end of March and sometimes into April.

Where to stay

Monaci delle Terre Nere, for a countryside hangout

The Monaci delle Terre Nere hotel and garden in Sicily, lit up from the outside at dusk. The garden has lush green grass, high trees and stone walls.
Adventure seekers and eco-enthusiasts will love a stay at Monaci delle Terre Nere at the foot of the Mount Etna volcano in Sicily | Courtesy of Monaci delle Terre Nere / Booking.com
Right on the Mount Etna slopes, this country retreat offers dramatic volcano views and a rambling garden that could easily become your personal oasis. Stone walls and wooden floors mix with an otherwise modern decor. There’s an ecofriendly restaurant – all of the products here are seasonal, coming straight from the estate farm and vineyards. Wine tasting, cooking classes and yoga sessions are also on offer.

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