If your plans to enjoy North America’s famous powder snow and tree-skiing have been derailed by the current economic downturn, why not try a quicker, cheaper and altogether more unusual winter holiday in the tiny but spectacular country of Montenegro? While many European resorts suffer from overcrowding, limited fresh snow and unskiable pine forests, Montenegro’s mountains offer deep, light powder, virtually no people and acres of perfectly spaced beech trees. If your timing is right, these can rival Colorado’s best aspen groves for a fraction of the cost.
Europe’s best-kept ski secret lies in the Bjelasica mountains at Jezerine, about 15 minutes by car outside the town of Kolasin, itself an hour and a half’s drive up the stunning Moraca Canyon from the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica. Although the range’s highest peak, Crna Glava , is only 7,018 ft. , the amount of snowfall and variety of terrain in Jezerine will surprise you. While relatively small compared to many European resorts there are only five lifts, although a high-speed quad is being built Jezerine’s tree-skiing, powder and lack of crowds make it truly exceptional. In March, under blue skies with flurries of light, cold snow, it was possible to ski untracked powder all day, on groomed trails and through the trees, with fewer than 10 skiers on the mountain. At only $30 for a ski-lift ticket, with a good restaurant and brand-new rental and locker facilities on-site, this may be the greatest ski bargain in Europe.
The Bianca Resort, www.biancaresort.com, is the best place to stay in Kolasin, with its wonderful spa, first-class gym, nightclub, fine restaurant and massive indoor pool. Rates start from about $190 for a standard double. While the nightlife does not rival Val D’Isre’s, you can swap Budweiser and burgers for pear schnapps and kacamak, a delicious fondue-like dish made from boiled potatoes and melted cheese, eaten in traditional straw-roofed restaurants like Savardak, tel: 864 204.
If you prefer steeper terrain, then the town of Zabljak, in the mountainous Durmitor region, is well worth a visit. Although there are only four lifts, these access some dramatic chutes and superb powder fields with virtually no competition for your fresh tracks. It’s there that the beautiful Tara River runs through Europe’s longest canyon, and there are 20 peaks over 6,500 ft. , overlooking 18 gorgeous lakes, so it is not surprising that discussions are under way to set up a heli-skiing operation.
Despite its size, Montenegro has extraordinary scenery and numerous alternatives for adventurers should the snow fail from white-water rafting to snowmobiling and mountain-biking. Alternatively you could head to the gorgeous coast to enjoy fabulous resorts like the Avala in Budva, where you can eat fresh branzino fish under swaying palm trees a mere two hours’ drive from the mountains. Who needs Colorado
See TIME’s Global Adviser for exotic, beautiful and interesting getaways.