64 Icelandair Stopover BY ANDREA SCHULTE-PEEVERS. PHOTOS COURTESY OF SIMPLY MUNICH. Few German cities exude the contagious energy bubbling away on Munich’s streets and in its famous beer halls and beer gardens. Thrust into the global spotlight for 16 days during Oktoberfest, it’s actually a fabulous place to explore year-round; graceful, green and blessed with a rich cultural tapestry from art to opera. I’d been to Munich in sunny summertime, for Oktoberfest, and during the Christmas season and cherished every visit. But it was on a brisk blue-sky day in January when I truly fell in love with the Bavarian capital. Cupid struck while I was crisscrossing the English Garden, Munich’s mega-sized central park. My boots crunched through a crystalline dusting of snow, the urban noise a distant hum when, suddenly, tendrils of laughter permeated the otherwise nearly silent scene. Soon they came into view: Leagues of tots and teens on toboggans, screaming with glee while careening down a hillock crowned by a Greek-style pavilion called Monopteros. Simple, innocent joy in the digital age. What a delight! There may only be six or seven hours of daylight, but winters are indeed a sparkling time to visit Munich. Gone are the insane tourist crowds, giving you ample space to connect more deeply with the blockbuster sights—lavish palaces to art museums and ancient churches, even the iconic Hofbräu- haus. Better still, there are plenty of activities that can only be experienced when tempera- tures call for heavy coats and long underwear. Fun on Ice A favorite local pastime is outdoor curling, a kind of shuffleboard on ice and best played on the frozen canals fronting the gloriously frilly Nymphenburg Palace. Alternatively, channel your inner ice prince or princess while twirling around an ice rink. The city’s largest, the Münchner Eiszauber, sets up on the Karlsplatz (locally known as “Stachus”) and has nightly dance parties, including the charming “Tracht on Ice,” where locals perform their pirouettes in lederhosen and dirndls. Warming Up in Style If outdoor exercise isn’t your cup of mulled wine, beat the cold at the Müller’sches Volksbad, a gorgeous Art Nouveau bathing temple and Munich’s first public pool back in 1901. Start with some laps in the lofty hall adorned with Art Nouveau lamps, water- spitting gargoyles and a zodiac clock. Then bliss out in the comforting Roman-Irish steam bath where you gradually warm up your body in rooms heated at various levels. Drinking “Liquid Bread” But wait! Munich wouldn’t be Munich without beer, and wintertime brings its own excuse to get buzzed: The Starkbierfest (Strong Beer Festival). Bookended by Carnival and Easter, the festival has crowds half the size and beer twice as strong as Oktoberfest. It was local monks who first whipped up these potent suds back in the 17th century to soothe stomach grumbles without breaking the fast during Lent (liquids were allowed!). Every pub and beer hall in town serves the full-bodied brew, but I’m partial to the Paulaner am Nockherberg, where the Starkbier was invented. Up on a hill, it’s a Munich cult stop and slings killer schnitzel alongside modern and traditional Bavarian Schmankerln (“treats”) to keep your brain in balance for another round of Munich explorations. Prost! Icelandair flies to Munich daily, year-round. Traveling from North America, you have the opportunity to add a Stopover in Iceland at no additional airfare. OUR DESTINATIONS: BRRR, BREWS AND BATHS Heading for the Slopes With nearly as many Alpine ski slopes as days of the year within easy reach, Munich is a great base for a wintry day trip. The most famous resort is Garmisch- Partenkirchen, which hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics and is lorded over by Germany’s tallest mountain, the 9,718 ft (2,962 m) Zugspitze. Other epic play- grounds include Mittenwald, home to Dammkar, at 4.35 mi (7 km) the country’s longest downhill run, and the family- friendly Brauneck ski area near Lenggries. The joys of Munich in winter.