I’m on the metro, Line 1 of Oslo’s T-bane, but instead of shopping bags and briefcases, people are getting on with skis and snowboards. The train heads north, emerges from the tunnel in a forested suburb covered in thick snow then climbs up and up. At Midtstuen station a crowd of excited children get on with their sledges. They have clearly just toboganned down the hill.
“Stay on the train until the last stop,” a 12-year-old tells me. “You rent a sledge and helmet. The run ends at Midtstuen.”
Imagine that! In a capital city. It’s like getting on London’s Northern line to Edgware, then sledging back down to Camden Town. I cannot resist.
At the top I rent a sledge and helmet (150 krone, around £14 a day) and hit the run. It is fast, and sometimes bumpy – but then it was the bobsleigh route for the 1952 Winter Olympics. Steering is by foot braking, taking care not to twist an ankle. Soon individual races start to emerge, with good-natured barging and lots of laughter. At times I’m alone, hurtling through forest with glimpses of the city lights below, the only sound the sizzle of runners on ice. Each run takes about 10 minutes, then it’s about 20 to get back up on the train. After three runs I retire to a cafe halfway down the slope, and there are all my adversaries, inviting me for a hot chocolate. The camaraderie of this slope is wonderful.
To call Oslo an “accessible” winter sport destination is an understatement. With budget flights and Airbnbs near T-bane Line 1, it is also affordable. And you’ve got all the city museums and galleries too.
I’m staying in a lovely old house booked through Airbnb, close to the T-bane, and the next day I head to Voksenkollen, the penultimate station. From there, I walk up to Winter Park, a ski area with 18 slopes and 11 lifts. You can downhill ski or snowboard here, but I’m going to try cross-country skiing.
On my one previous attempt, also in Norway, I took an hour to go 100 metres before I was rushed to the nearest bar, so I have arranged tuition. I rent skis and boots at Winter Park and my instructor, Stefano, walks me to flat ground by a frozen lake. He tells me that classic cross-country skiing is done on a prepared course: the skis slot into the spor – grooves in the track. We proceed calmly until the first downhill stretch. He shows me how to snowplough, but I still crash. The hills are short, however, so I’m not hurt and, with Stefano’s help, I improve.
Going uphill is easier: you just impersonate a frog doing the quickstep. After a few tumbles I make it to the refreshment hut at Tryvannstua, for traditional Norwegian ski food – waffles with sour cream and jam – by a large log fire. Dogs in snow booties wait outside. Babies sleep in papooses. At this point I think I love everything about crosscountry skiing, except perhaps the skiing.
Next morning I meet Kjell from DNT, the Norwegian Trekking Association, which runs a vast network of trails, mountain huts and tours. Membership brings access to some of Norway’s wildest, loveliest places. Our objective is Kobberhaughytta Hut , a mere 8km away, the closest overnight hut to Oslo.
It takes us all day (a competent skier can do 30km without breaking sweat). At what Norwegians call blå time (twilight), I stagger up the last hill to a magnificent log cabin with huge stone fireplace, sauna and dorms. Everyone eats together and the group translate the menu for me: cauliflower soup and moose steaks are easy, but they struggle to find words for dessert, finally coming up with “covered farm sluts”. It proves to be apple crumble.
One guest, Eric, says cross-country skiing has a good effect on people: “When you are cold and hungry, you learn to stay cheerful and keep sharing. You learn the true meaning of altruism.”
Next day we ski back to Oslo under blue skies – trees heavy with snow, tiny ice particles in the air like Arctic fireflies. I still fall over, but often to avoid hitting other skiers. That is my form of altruism.
I’ve decided I like cross-country skiing. You hurt only your pride, enjoy the forest and make a lot of friends. And without the expense of lift passes, I’ve managed a budget weekend skiing in one of the world’s most expensive countries.
com), which flies to Oslo from Heathrow, Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen from £39. Accommodation was provided by Airbnb (airbnb.co.uk) and the Norwegian Trekking Association DNT (english.dnt. no), membership (£60) provides discounts and is required if staying at unstaffed accommodation. Ski equipment was supplied by Winter Park Oslo (visitoslo. com). More information at visitnorway.com
We did the latter, at sunset. A modern space of slate-coloured floors and stripped pine, the refuge offers a peaceful, offgrid experience with no wifi or internet. Accommodation is in dorms, and healthy, hearty food such as crozets de Savoie (small pasta squares) with mushroom sauce is served in the dining room, where white huskies lounge by the wood-burner.
Next morning we enjoy the run down in silence, before the lifts open – a fitting end to a low-key Trois Vallées holiday.
• The trip was provided by Trois Vallées
(les3vallees.com). A dorm bed at Ho36 (ho36hostels.com) starts at €22; Refuge Lac du Lou (en.lesmenuires.com) from €59pp half-board/€47 under-13s. An adult sixday ski pass for the Trois Vallées costs from €244 (€306 in high season), Saturday-only passes from €39-49 bought online (skipassmeribel.com). Intersport in Les Menuires (intersport-rent.fr) hires ski equipment. EasyJet flies from several UK airports to Geneva, from £50 return
just next to Plaza de la Universidad. Head up the stone steps, through a deceptively understated doorway, and you’ll find yourself in the university’s law building, still used for its original purpose. It’s a grand and wonderful maze of marble corridors and interior courtyards, all dating back to its foundation by Carlos V in the 1500s. If you’re lucky you might be able to peep into one of the traditional lecture halls, which retain their original wooden-pew seating and parquet flooring.
• botanica.ugr.es, open weekdays 8am-10pm
5 Coﬀee and croissants
Traditional cafe sólo or cafe con leche has been given a reboot in Granada. Minuit (on Facebook) is one of the key innovators, and what began as a takeaway coffee shop and bakery in the Albaicín has expanded: there’s now a bigger, more central venue with full seating just off Plaza Nueva. Coffee beans are roasted in Seville and, at around €1.50 a coffee, it is a small price to pay for a great cup. While you’re there, either tuck into a delicious croissant, a tostada (toasted homemade bread with various toppings), or a slice of great carrot cake. Or just take home an artisanal loaf, all baked using traditional French methods.
6 View of the Alhambra
Trekking to see this mighty structure from above may not be for the faint-hearted, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views. Head to the Ermita de San Miguel church, atop the Sacromonte hill – go up the steps from the Albaicín’s Calle Cruz de la Rauda or walk from the Carril de San Miguel. Watch the sun set across the hills below, the Alhambra opposite and, beyond that, the Sierra Nevada mountains. At weekends the tower ruins of La Silla del Moro (the seat of the Moors) present a different view again, from directly above the eastern side of the Alhambra. Trek from Camino Fuente del Avellano by the River Darro and you’ll see the palace and gardens open out below, as well as the city and plains and peaks to its west.
• Both viewpoints free; La Silla del Moro opening times at alhambra-patronato.es
Top form Les Menuires is well-located and welcoming