Winter is the time for exploring snowy European cities that are full of cosy cafes – such as Zagreb, Ljubljana and Tromsø – especially when they’re served by budget airlines with low-season fares
Take one small city with a heart of medieval mitteleuropean quaintness at the foot of magnificent, snowy mountains. Then add an open-air spa where everyone has year-round fun, be it quietly relaxing in hot pools or screaming down water slides. The happy result is Poprad in Slovakia. Its historic centre, Spišská Sobota, is not huge, but its baroque architecture places it firmly in an old and very central part of Europe. Vino and Tapas on leafy Sobostské Square does great-value fine dining; for accommodation, Pension Sabato (doubles from €60 B&B) has a lovely garden at the back.
Be sure to venture beyond the old town to discover the highlights of other districts, notably chocolatier Bon Bon on Dominika Tatarku, over the river near the station, and the Podtatranské historical museum on Partizánska Street further west. Best of all is the quick, cheap public transport to the High Tatra mountains, with cable car connections for skiing or just enjoying spectacular panoramas. Starý Smokovec is the main village. Back in town, the spa, Aquacity, is hugely popular with locals (family day ticket €52). Those whose idea of enjoying cold weather is a long lounge in an open-air hot pool before breakfast can even stay here (doubles from €119, including spa access).