The Seven Wonders of Winter

Italy’s Sunken Bell Tower

Italy’s Sunken Bell TowerHead to  this winter and you’re likely to come across one of Europe’s most bizarre sights – an apparently amputated church spire poking out from the frozen waters of Lago di Resia. The 14th-century bell tower, pointing like an arrow to the blustery skies above, is a forlorn monument to an entire village drowned beneath the waters of an artificial lake created as part of a hydroelectricity project in the 1950s. Locals will tell you that the tolling of its church bell can still be heard on a cold night – even though the bell was removed when the valley was flooded. Tall tales may have sprung up around it, but the church and the lake are very much part of local life, particularly in winter. Snowskiters twirl across the ice, leaping high into the air as their kites catch a gust of wind, keeping an eye out for ice-skaters gliding around the lake’s perimeter. Families slip and slide their way to the base of the tower, eager to slap their gloved hands on a piece of history that’s out of reach most of the year.

 

Yellowstone’s Boiling Waters

There are few places as beguiling as the Yellowstone National Park in the US. It is a landscape created by grinding glaciers and volcanic eruptions, a place of fire and brimstone where the very earth breathes, belches and bubbles like a giant kettle on the boil. Here, in a land roamed by moose, bears and wolves, geysers and hot springs seethe and simmer and finally blow, capturing the imagination as they have done since the park’s inception in 1872. It is America made wild and primaeval.

 

As the temperature drops and the snow piles high, the park takes on a special drama and grace. The tourist crowds thin, replaced by cross-country skiers silently swooshing along marked trails. Shaggy-coated bison pick their way through the deep snow to warm themselves in geyser basins, waiting for a waft of hot stream from shimmering thermal pools. They retreat a few paces as a hot spring suddenly erupts, sending an arc of boiling water high into the frigid air.

 

A little way off the main geyser trail and into the forest, the sense of quiet and isolation deepens. The only sound is the plink-plink of a frozen waterfall as it slowly melts onto the dark rocks below. A line of paw prints leads from the waterfall and disappears into the trees, their branches heavy under the weight of freshly fallen snow. A wolf or coyote, perhaps? Unnerved, you retreat to a fireside armchair at your lodge, lost in thoughts of the wild land beyond the frosted windowpane.

 

The Northern Lights of Canada

 

It’s the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. It’s so dark that you can hold your hand three inches from your face and not see it. The silence is so complete that the low thud of snow falling from a nearby tree makes you jump. Your eyelashes are close to frozen and it’s a struggle to separate them when you blink. And yet you’d happily sit there all night, for many nights to come, for the chance to see nature’s most mysterious sight: the northern lights.

 

With little light pollution, optimum weather conditions (very cold, with plenty of clear nights) and its position directly beneath the prime-viewing zone of the auroral oval, Churchill in Canada is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights. The Arctic tundra and boreal forest surrounding the town see over 300 nights of auroral activity each year. Displays might last hours, or be gone in a minute. Flashing neon pink, turquoise and green, the lights swirl across the sky in myriad imagined shapes (is that a walrus, a witch, a whale?) before whipping back on themselves and disappearing. In the presence of such a spectacle, it’s easy to believe local Inuit myth that the aurora borealis are signals from the afterlife, particularly if you hear the sky crackle and swoosh as some claim. What is in no doubt during those moments when the lights whirl above your head is that you’re part of the greatest show on earth.