It may seem a little early to start thinking about Christmas plans, but if, like us, you’d prefer to leave town for the holidays, then you’ll need to book now to get the best prices. If you’re staring at this post with a blank expression, you’re probably a first-timer, but for many of our customers, Christmas is just not complete without a passport, a suitcase and a warm, relaxing sunbed that’s as far away from home as Timbuktu.
A Christmas abroad brings with it a variety of factors – whether good, bad or just plain ugly. Local customs such as the 13 Santa Clauses of Iceland, a black St Nick in Holland and the masked musicians of the Caribbean can be a pleasant cultural awakening, while unexpected seasonal closings and minimal flight availability can be an irritating addition to the holiday – bear in mind, if that twenty-strong family of obese Americans are all competing for the last seats on a flight to sweet potato pie at Big Momma’s House, you’re probably going to lose out.
Yet the real challenge it seems, comes in deciding where exactly is the best place to celebrate this supposedly joyous, but often stressful time of year. Fares skyrocket, offending recession-strapped budgets and deciding between a white Christmas and a golden one can be a pretty tough call.
Rather than worrying your little, paper-hat clad head, why not just book a trip to one of these five destinations that we think are perfect for the Christmas season?
1) New York, USA
Why: Elaborate store windows, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree (illuminated by three miles of lights), FAO Schwartz, outdoor ice-skating in Central Park… the list is endless.
Where: The New York Palace Hotel for a lavish Christmas of award-winning dining and first-class service.
Eat: A traditional stuffed turkey from Murals at The Warwick Hotel.
Do: Post-Christmas shop at Macy’s – a New York sale beats anywhere else in the world.
2) Munich, Germany
Why: If you’re looking to mooch around Germany’s famous Christmas craft markets, then Munich is arguably the Godfather of them all. Dating from 1642, the Christkindl Markt is located on the city’s central square, in the heart of the Old Town. The 100 foot Christmas tree isn’t half bad either…
Where: The Kempinski Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten – the perfect location for some last-minute shopping on the stylish Maximilianstrasse, followed up by a piece of Stollen bread in front of the hotel’s golden tree.
Eat: Everything! From mulled wine and gingerbread to some excellent Bratwurst, nowhere beats Munich on festive grub.
Do: Or should we say don’t – as in don’t miss the traditional Christmas concerts held every day at 5:30pm on the balcony of Munich’s Town Hall.
3) Prague, Czech Republic
Why: Because Christmas in Prague officially kicks off four Saturdays before Christmas Eve with Mikulas Night – why shouldn’t Christmas last for a month?
Where: The Old Town Square Hotel, which channels the noblesse of original baroque interiors with a modern design, all right in the heart of Prague’s Christmas festivities. But for that matter, anywhere in Old Town will make your Christmas special.
Eat: Traditional foods from the market: sample some local specialties such as sweet pastries and spicy sausages, then warm up with a glass of mulled wine while walking the winter streets.
Do: Visit the Christmas Craft market, the centerpiece to Prague’s beautifully bejeweled city.
4) Trømso, Norway
Why: Because the closer you are to the North Pole, the quicker Santa will be able to find you.
Where: Most hotels shut down for the holiday, but the Clarion Hotel Bryggen – with great views of Trømso Sound that are best seen from the roof’s steamy jacuzzi – will welcome you with open arms.
Eat: Traditional Norwegian Christmas dinner at the Clarion’s restaurant, Astro. Enjoy plates of pinnekjøtt, lamb ribs with puréed rutabaga and boiled potatoes and ribbe, a crispy version of spareribs, accompanied by Christmas sausage, apples, prunes, and red cabbage. Delish.
Do: Marvel at the Northern Lights and perhaps enjoy a spot of dog-sledding.
5) Paraty, Brazil
Why: For an anti-Christmas. It doesn’t really look like Christmas in Paraty (unlike nearby Rio), but with a vibrant scene and access to both rainforests and beaches, it’s a festive treat with a difference.
Where: Bambu Bamboo, a 20-minute walk from the centre. A green retreat, complete with pool, spa, gardens, two saunas and breakfast at the river. What more could you want?
Eat: At Voila Bristrot, a French restaurant serving up a Christmas dinner of fava beans with foie gras, cod strudel with tomato chutney, shoulder of lamb with herbs and some delicious chocolate macaroons for afters.
Do: Shop for wood carvings, headdresses, musical instruments and other objects made by the local tribes, then get back home and revamp the living room into an Amazonian paradise.