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Winter holidays... without the skis

Book your flights, pack your bags… but leave the skis and snowboard at home. As Jo Caruana discovers, winter holidays don’t have to be all about the pistes.

Skiing’s great; of course it is. But it just isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Whether you do ski or not, you may well want an alternative to the puffy jumpsuits and treks up hills.

So here are our top suggestions for wonderful winter alternatives that non-skiers will love.

Whiskey trail in Scotland

The Scottish Highlands are known for their incredible scenery, great restaurants and original activities – one of which is a tour of a whiskey factory.

The Malt Whiskey Trail winds its way through some of the most picturesque spots in the country, taking you through the Grampians and Highlands, via some of the Speyside and Highlands whisky distilleries.

There are up to 16 to visit, and you’ll get to sample a ‘wee dram’ (that’s a glass to you and me) at every stop.

Get cooking in Italy

Italy and food go hand in hand, so why not take things to the next level by upping your cooking skills this winter?

Special schools set up during low season, cater for people who want to learn the basics, as well as something a little more intricate.

Piedmont, in the north, has some wonderful options, with speciality chefs teaching guests to rustle up local delicacies including their famed semifreddo.

But the experience doesn’t stop there, as you can expect to explore local wineries, vineyards and a truffle fair. Oh, and there will be plenty of eating at local trattorias, too.

Prepare to paint in Spain

Spain is usually all about food and passion, but it’s also a great place to get creative. If you like the idea of a holiday that encourages you to put paint to paper, then this holiday could be for you.

Over the course of a week in Andalucía, you will workshop with artistic professionals who know how to get the most from this stunning location.

The countryside will become your inspiration, as you learn more about the local fauna, flora and culture, and everything from easels to drawing boards will be provided.

A great escape for everyone from keen beginners to established painters.

City break in the Baltic States

‘New Europe’ is extremely up-and-coming, and makes for a great alternative to one of the better-known city break destinations.

There’s so much to discover, from the culture and rich history, to delicacies you will likely never have tried before.

Try to incorporate a couple of days in each country – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – going from baroque Vilnius and Jugendstil Riga to Hanseatic Tallinn.

You can expect to find all the city attractions you love, including shopping, theatre and museums, just with a refreshingly different flavour.

Get your kicks in Belgium

Whether you’ve got kids to entertain or not, a theme park holiday can be great fun. And while Belgium may not be the obvious choice for this, it has got plenty to offer.

The most well-known of the lot is Walibi, just south-east of Brussels. It has over 50 attractions including the Big 7 – a rollercoaster that will knock the socks off just about anyone – water rides and a 4D cinema.

Alternatively, Mini Europe, a park with over 350 models of European towns, and the Euro Space Centre, are also within relatively easy reach of the capital.

Dog-sledding in Finland

OK. Just because you don’t fancy skiing, doesn’t mean you have to avoid the snow altogether.

In fact, dog-sledding (or even reindeer-sledding if you wan to be even more original) could well be the way nature intended us to get around in the white.

The husky-drawn sleds can reach amazing speeds so it can be pretty exhilarating.

Safari operators will take care of the cold by wrapping you up in thermal suits and footwear, and you’ll usually stop en-route for a picnic in just about the most picturesque spot imaginable.

Complete the experience by staying in a glass igloo or ice hotel.

The Wild Card - For something entirely different…

Go below the Great Barrier Reef

Never mind skiing, if you can even stand to be anywhere cold why not chase the sun this winter? Last minute deals to the other side of the world can work out brilliantly, so if you’ve got a week or two to spare, skip off to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Charter a yacht, or join in with a larger group, and prepare to go below the surface of one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Scuba diving and snorkelling here is hard to beat. For something that little bit special, book a trip to the Thetford Reef, which has some of the most diverse marine life and corals anywhere in the world – you may even find yourself face to face with a turtle, dolphin or whale.

Complete this trip of a lifetime with a stay at the Penisula Airlie Beach Resort, one of the region’s top five-star hotels.

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