Holidays in the snow don't have to mean hitting the ski slopes. If you're not a huge fan of skiing but still love the idea of heading to icier climes this winter, a hiking break might just be the thing for you. Winter walking is a great way to keep active in the colder months of the year and discover Europe's most glorious landscapes.
You can make the hike as easy-peasy or intense as you like by just putting on a pair of warm snow boots and taking in as much of the surroundings as you wish or join a determined group of snowshoers for a challenging hike wearing tennis racket-style footwear.
What we love most about winter walking is that all generations can enjoy doing it and hiking has even become trendy among younger travellers, making it a fantastic activity for the kids to do with their grandparents, for young couples in search of the ultimate romantic walk or for anyone looking to get out on their own.
With beautiful snow-covered valleys, icy peaks and wintry woods, Switzerland is a brilliant place for winter hiking in Europe. There are 3,500km of winter walking paths stretching across its sunny scenery and many of them combine rewarding stops, such as the fondue-fuelled hike above Gstaad or the planetary stroll among astronomical sculptures through wild and rugged Val d'Anniviers.
Techies thinking of a break in Switzerland should download the new Winter Walking App which allows you to choose where to go, find out how long it takes and see detailed maps and routes from your iPhone. It gives offline access to 36 different hikes too, meaning you don't have to worry about losing internet signal however high up you go. The free app also comes with restaurant stops along the way.
So what are the best winter walking routes in Switzerland? The village of Saas-Fee offers a charming, easy walk at an altitude of 3,000 metres with Switzerland's mightiest peaks towering over it. As a non-skier you can have the whole mountain to yourself, while the Fee glacier attracts ski crowds. Don't miss the panoramic views from the top, which make the hike worth the effort.
For a romantic experience, the Schwagalp trail every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening from November to March takes you through the snow-blanketed forest with hundreds of lanterns illuminating the two-kilometre path. Finish off the evening with a fondue at the Schwagalp mountain hotel.
Snowshoers should head for the Freiburg Alpine foothills for snowshoe paradise. There are over 100km of signed routes and it's perfect for all ages and abilities, whether you want to walk alone, in a group or by moonlight.
Inntravel offers a selection of winter walking holidays in Switzerland, some combined with cross-country skiing, from £570 per person for seven days.
Another beauiful destination for winter walking is Austria. Here you'll want to get your snowshoes on and explore the breathtaking valleys covered in snow. Snowshoeing in Austria gives you the chance to go off track and climb icy surfaces as the shoes have spikes on the bottom for safe footing.
An especially impressive snowshoe trail is at the head of the Rauris Valley in Salzburger Land. Be amazed by the three thousand metre high peaks above you before following the route into the forest. With plenty of nature's beautiful sites to admire along the way, the trail is its own reward and after three hours you'll gain 370 metres. Stop at the Alpine inn Ammererhof for a hearty meal and borrow a toboggan for a less-demanding return.
There are countless trails for winter hiking in Austria that take you through enchanting forests and over sun-drenched mountains. If you're a little less ambitious with your walking, ascend the mountain in a cable car and start from there. The Salzburg Großecksattel in the Mauterndorf ski area is a good place to do this.
A number of hiking paths offer more than just walking. The health care spa Mariapfarr, for example, has its own solar nature trail with signs displaying information about the solar system and solar energy.
Ramblers Worldwide Holidays offers a week of snowshoeing in Lechtal with a guide, half-board accommodation, a fondue lunch and BA flights from £835 per person.
Britain's own winter hikes can be enjoyed in the wild and wonderful Scotland. In the Scottish Highlands you can spend the days exploring the snowy summits, spectacular scenery and quiet trails on foot and the evenings being warmed by a wee dram and roaring open fire.
Wilderness Scotland has introduced a new winter walking adventure in the Highlands for winter 2012/13, promising stars, snows, storms and possibly the Northern Lights. Could a winter hike get much better than this?
With NASA predicting some of the best displays of the Northern Lights this year, you can make seeing the magical lights a truly memorable experience by watching them as you walk through the magnificent Highlands, where the dark skies are free from light pollution. Watching the Lights as you hike also means your toes won't freeze as you stand still waiting for the phenomenon to appear!
Described as Scotland's 'last wilderness' and only accessible by boat, the remote and beautiful Knoydart Peninsula is a spot for the biggest winter walking enthusiasts. Experience Scotland's most isolated communities, learn essential winter survival skills and explore the mountains while you're there. If you are a true adventurer, climbing the great mountains of Ladher Bheinn and Sgurr Coire Choinnichean, will be a rewarding experience, especillay when you see the fine views from the summit.
Ben Nevis, the Cairngorms and Creag Meagaidh offer more great opportunities for winter hikers with a whole host of peaks to choose from. Once you've covered as many areas as your legs can take, retire to a cosy cabin and relax by the fire to recharge before another day of hiking Scotland's varied terrain.
Wilderness Scotland offers a range of winter walking holidays in the most beautiful spots, from £595.
Looking for a winter walk that's closer to home? Discover some of Britain's wonderful winter wonderlands for day trips...
Sign up to our weekly newsletter | Follow us on Twitter | Become a fan on Facebook