Alternate Hygge: Wintery hideaways around the world

Move over Denmark - hunkering down doesn’t always mean hygge. Chris Moss ponders our predilection for open fires, closed doors and solutions to S.A.D-ness.

For a few months last year you’d have thought cosiness was the exclusive property of the Danes. So much hype around the notion of “hygge” – which translates as “comfortable conviviality, or “fun”, or “well-being” – was an invitation to PRs, press, retail spaces and restaurants to go all out over boutique porridge, patterned mittens, stoves and knitting clubs.

But as winter draws in across the chilly north of the planet, people of all cultures and nations find ways to keep warm and, at least as important, think warm. Mood, emotion and physical sensations are part of our mental hard wiring, and what the eye perceives directly affects what the skin records in terms of heat and cold.

For this non-Danish special, I’ve rounded up ten alternative concepts of cosy, from castles to cabins to caravans.

Cover image credit: istockphoto.com/mkovalevskaya

Scotland: Caledonian castles

A road leading to a castleImage credit: istockphoto.com/Astalor

Tartan – love it or hate it, it says comfort, heather, exposed knees. It must impart something uniquely fiery to the loins, or else why would Scottish men wear kilts in midwinter? Just a glance down at that pattern and that fluffy sporran must be enough to warm the cockles.

The Highlands, in particular, packages up a busy bundle of elements to encourage its citizens to stay in, light a fire and sip a hot cocoa or a single malt. Scottish castles are well-provided with huge fireplaces, soft furnishings, small windows and dim lights. When you do go outside there are silvery rivers, lochs and glorious Munros often speckled with snow for most of the winter.

Our choice: Thirteenth-century Eilean Donan on a wee island where three lochs meet on the Kyle of Lochalsh.

Austria: tweezy does it

A fried egg on potatoes and onionsImage credit: istockphoto.com/bernjuer

Say the word “Tyrol” and you can’t but think of “twee”, and “quaint”, and rather dark wooden furniture, not to mention leg-slapping dances and ruddy cheeks. You can’t deny that there’s something about Alpine Austria that has perfected choc-box winter accommodation. The snow helps, in the way it seems to purify things and clean the air, and the lungs.

Then, after a snow-shoe walk or a skiing session you head back to your mountain cabin for a plateful of the heartiest food on earth – the likes of Groestl (combining roasted potatoes, speck, and onions, and a fried egg) or Speckknoedel (dumplings with little rashers of bacon), with the fire blazing, your face even hotter, and a view of gloomy black densely forested mountains framed by fairy lights.

Our choice: Ferienhaus Ramsbacher, with just two bedrooms, two minutes from Katschberg ski resort.

Helsinki, Russia, Sweden: steam-powered pleasure

Sauna equipmentImage credit: istockphoto.com/jarvna

The sauna, in all its expressions is a work of genius – in a digital world, it demands we detox, switch off, and be cool by being very hot indeed. The Romans loved their baths, but it’s thought the Finns were diving into steamy rooms centuries earlier.

In 1112, Nestor the Chronicler wrote of “hot wooden saunas in which naked bathers beat themselves with branches” and, afterwards, “pour cold water over themselves”. It is an idiosyncratic mix of soothing and stimulating, pain and pleasure. But with pores wide, muscles relaxed and then “surprised” by a cold splash, and all that city-stressed sweat deposited on a wooden bench, you’re ready to face the world again.

Our choice: The lakeside Hotel & Spa Resort Järvisydän, which packs Finnish wood stove saunas, traditional smoke sauna, steam sauna and an outdoor hot tub, with space for 70 bathers.

Iceland: winning the pools

A steaming pool of waterImage credit: istockphoto.com/svedoliver

Hot pools fed by Iceland’s volcanoes take myriad forms, from the collective soaking spaces of the Blue Lagoon and Landmannalaugar spas to private wooden-walled baths in chalets and back gardens. It’s magical to be out in the dark – and from now till around March it’s dark pretty much all the time – in temperatures close to zero, with the stars glistening in a very clean, clear sky, and lying back in balmy water.

Our choice: The 64-room, smartly decorated Grimsborgir hotel at Selfoss, which has great skies for Northern Lights viewing, and rooms with private hot tubs as well as communal ones.

Russia: home from home

A house in the dark with its lights onImage credit: istockphoto.com/Dmitriydanilov

The dacha is – claim Russians – an untranslatable home from home, as emotional and intimate as “hygge”. As a seasonal or year-round second home, these usually wood-framed country houses are normally found in the sticks outside cities.

Ideally – and idyll-y – they should be on the banks of a gelid lake, perhaps loomed over by skeletal pine trees in some solitary patch of the taiga. With its proper, serious, wind-blasting, river-freezing winters, Russian cosiness is a sort of survival method. Let Jack, or Ivan, Frost do his worse while you hide away in the endless night.

Our choice: Book privately through websites such as cian.ruexpat.ruwww.gdeetotdom.ruavito.ru and domofond.ru.

England and Ireland: the gypsy caravan

A stove in front of gypsy caravansImage credit: istockphoto.com/VictorHuang

The notion of a night in a thin-walled box in the country during winter might not sound particularly cosy, but, let’s face it, England and Ireland don’t really have extreme winters – thus, it’s important to introduce a bit of a challenge to really feel wintry.

Caravans are pretty wonderful anyway – that sense of being free to move on, of travelling light, of locking the door on the world when it’s bedtime. But vintage gipsy caravans, smaller and more wooden than their contemporary cousins, provided with big horsey blankets in vivid colours, and pillows, are about as cute as winter living gets. The loo might be outside, but when you get back in the small hours you’ll really appreciate your wam little house on wheels.

Our choice:  There’s a huge range – check out www.gypsycaravanbreaks.co.uk

Argentina and Chile: the lonely estancia

A stone building with a gate in frontImage credit: istockphoto.com/jon11

The north doesn’t own cosy any more than Denmark does. In southern South America, there are more sheep than people and open spaces such as the Patagonian steppe can seem very stark and solitary indeed – especially in the austral winter (July-September).

Fortunately, there’s a ready-made solution to southern hemisphere S.A.D. in the shape of estancias – traditional ranches, many built at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which functioned as homestead, workshop, cattle barn, stables, even local school. They’re often surrounded by rolling fields or arid plains, and there’s nothing like saddling up a criollo pony, heading out to the edgelands, and then coming “home” for a feast of roast lamb around a huge fire.

Our choice: Nibepo Aike near El Calafate is pretty remote and has a lovely trad feel, with vintage décor and dimly lit interiors.