Winter flavours: 10 of the best winter dining experiences around the world

From ice fishing in Canada to cooking reindeer in Lapland, here are 10 dining experiences to savour this winter.

Full moon dinner in the Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria.

Photograph by Manuel Marktl
By Christie Dietz
Published 13 Dec 2021, 15:00 GMT, Updated 22 Dec 2021, 11:39 GMT

1. Full moon dinner in the Austrian Alps
For this meal, diners sit at a long, candlelit table in the Gastein Valley, 5,220ft up in the Hohe Tauern National Park, high above the spa town of Bad Gastein. It takes place every full moon, and centres on a five-course, haute cuisine menu prepared by local chefs using regional ingredients. Dishes are accompanied by warming drinks such as mulled wine. And while the benches are lined with furs and blankets, dressing for dinner means ski suit and boots. 

2. Skrei in Norway
During Norway’s winter months, when the fjords are misty and the mountains capped with snow, a unique species of Norwegian Arctic cod — a firm fish with tender, flaky flesh — comes into season. Skrei migrate from the Barents Sea to spawn off Norway’s northern coast and can be caught from January until April, subject to sustainability restrictions. Join a fishing trip, stay in a fisherman’s shack, or try freshly caught or dried skrei in markets and restaurants all over the country. And be sure you try it the traditional way: poached and served with cod roe, liver and boiled potatoes.

3. Ice fishing in Canada
Drilling a hole in the ice and fishing for your lunch may sound extreme to some, but at Gros Morne National Park, on Newfoundland, it’s long been a part of everyday life. Wrap up warm, hop on a snowmobile and drive out to the mountain wilderness with a guide; find a fishing spot and wait for trout or Arctic char to bite. Lunch takes place in a backcountry cabin, where the catch will be cleaned, then cooked over an open fire. 

4. Christmas dinner in Constable Country
Follow a bracing December walk through Dedham Vale (aka Constable Country), with a three-course festive dinner at The Sun Inn — a 16th-century former coaching inn in Dedham, on the Essex-Suffolk border. The festive menu offers a choice of winter warmers, such as slow-cooked short rib of beef in barolo with salsify and wild mushrooms, or chestnut gnocchi with crown prince squash and brussel sprout tops, while desserts include a hearty steamed sponge pudding with apple and salted caramel custard. Just be wary of sinking into a sofa by the fire with a glass of English pinot noir — it’ll be hard to get back up.

5. Food with a view in the Dolomites
Accessible only by cable-car, AlpiNN, which bills itself as a ‘food space and restaurant’, juts out boldly over the snowy slopes on the summit of 7,464ft-high Kronplatz mountain. Part of the Lumen Museum of Mountain Photography, it has vast, floor-to-ceiling windows, which afford stunning views of northeast Italy’s Dolomites. These mountains are home to small farms and producers from whom chef Norbert Niederkofler obtains ingredients for his seasonal, sustainable ‘mountain cuisine’. Marvel at the view while enjoying dishes such as barley risotto with speck, chard and goat’s cheese.  

The Oak Room at The Sun Inn, in Dedham.

The Oak Room at The Sun Inn, in Dedham.

Photograph by The Sun Inn

6. Marzipan in Lübeck, Germany
For marzipan aficionados, there’s only one true Christmas destination: the city of Lübeck, on Germany’s Baltic coast. It’s been produced here for hundreds of years and, in 1996, the city’s almond confection was awarded Protected Geographical Indication status. Head to Café Niederegger, in the atmospheric Old Town, for some of Lübeck’s best — a slice of marzipan and hazelnut cream torte is highly recommended.

7. Saffranspannkaka, Gotland, Sweden
A speciality of the Swedish island of Gotland, saffranspannkaka is an oven-baked rice pudding made with almonds, cream, eggs and a generous pinch of saffron and served with whipped cream and dewberry jam. Today, it’s eaten throughout the year, but as a comforting dish once made with leftover Swedish Christmas rice porridge, it has distinctly festive associations. On select weekends in December, Majstregården restaurant and cafe — located on the beach in southwest Gotland — offers a Christmas buffet that features saffranspannkaka. Enjoy it for dessert after a plateful of savoury Swedish specialities, including herrings and Jansson’s temptation (a traditional Swedish casserole made with potatoes, onions, pickled sprats, bread crumbs and cream). 

8. Cook traditional Sámi food in Lapland
The Sámi people live in the cultural region of Sápmi, which stretches across the far northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. They’re famed for their reindeer-herding and fishing skills. Spend a day with a herder family in the village of Inari and learn to cook traditional reindeer and lake-fish dishes, as well as local desserts. It’s a delicious way to learn about Sámi home life, culture and their connection to nature — and you’ll also get to meet the family’s reindeer herd.

9. Fondue carriage ride in Switzerland
The Swiss village of Maienfeld is famous for its wine and the Alpine pastures that inspired Johanna Spyri’s children’s book Heidi. Both can be enjoyed in the winter from the back of a heated, horse-drawn carriage. Inside are cosy, fur-lined seats and a communal wooden table complete with a steaming pot of fondue. The cheese comes from the neighbouring municipality of Bad Ragaz; also on offer are soft drinks, beer and schnapps. Just remember that, according to Swiss tradition, if you lose a chunk of bread in the melted cheese, your carriage mates will have to assign you a punishment.

10. Christmas beers in Iceland
Since Iceland’s 74-year ban on full-strength beer was lifted in 1989, there’s been an explosion in breweries and craft beer pubs. Inspired by the long history of Christmas beers in Nordic countries, the release of limited-edition seasonal beers has turned into an annual tradition, with breweries producing beers with festive flavours such as figs, plums, ginger and cloves. Catch them while you can at bars, restaurants and government-run off licences from set dates in November until 6 January (the 13th day of Christmas and the traditional end of the Icelandic holiday season).

Marzipan cake at Café Niederegger, in Lübeck.

Marzipan cake at Café Niederegger, in Lübeck.

Photograph by Alamy

How to do it

Full Moon Dinner
Take the €5 (£4.20) shuttle from Bad Gastein or Mozartplatz train station to Alpen Restaurant Valeriehaus in Sportgastein, from where there’s a transfer to the dinner location. Five courses with drinks costs €99 (£84) per person. Email to register.

Ice Fishing
Small-group tour operator Wild Gros Morne’s ice fishing trip includes snowmobile rental, a trail pass, a safety lesson and gear, as well as a local tour guide. C$399 (£235) plus taxes. 

Fondue Carriage Ride
The carriage ride (for groups of four to 12) starts at Maienfeld train station and lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. It costs CHF80 (£64) per person for adults and CHF30 (£24) per person for ages three to eight. Includes fondue and drinks. Available from November to April.

Published in Issue 14 (winter 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food (UK)

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