Get away from it all with our fun and festive ideas
Try something new in Gleneagles, Scotland
When temperatures plummet and daylight hours are scant, it’s tempting to retreat indoors and stay under the duvet. But winter needn’t mean going into hibernation mode. The iconic Gleneagles Hotel, affectionately known as the ‘Riviera in the Highlands’, is the ideal winter retreat combining abundant outdoor pursuits with heavenly creature comforts. The five-star hotel, which underwent a multi-million-pound renovation earlier this year, presides over 850 acres of prime Perthshire countryside. Under a blanket of snow the estate is simply breathtaking, and while there’s nothing wrong with snuggling beside the fire in the whisky and cigar bar or enjoying a spa day, missing out on the myriad country pursuits Gleneagles offers would be a crime. There’s a frankly dizzying array of things to do, from tennis, golf, swimming (choose between two indoor pools and one heated outdoor pool), archery and bicycle hire, to more unique exploits such as off-road driving, fly-fishing, gundog training, wildlife photography classes and falconry. The only problem will be trying to squeeze it all in in a single visit. gleneagles.com
Shop ’til you drop in New York City
Let’s face it, there’s never a bad time to visit the Big Apple, but New York really comes into its own in winter. Manhattan’s urban streets look simply magical dusted with snow, and there’s nothing more festive than ice skating at the Rockefeller Center in the shade of the famous Christmas tree. The festive season officially begins the day after Thanksgiving (Thursday 23 November), which also coincides with the bargain-hunting extravaganza known as Black Friday. While madcap crowds fighting over half-price toasters may be a bit much, Christmas shopping in New York is the stuff of legends. Department stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Barneys and Macy’s are worth a visit just to look at the lavish window displays. Bargain hunters should head to trendy downtown SoHo and for some vintage treasures, while the scenic on the southwest corner of Central Park is great for traditional Christmas crafts.
Where to stay: The Lowell
If you’re going to be maxing out your credit card over a long weekend then you need to choose the right kind of base. The Lowell is one of the city’s most prestigious boutique hotels and handily located in one of its best addresses, nestled between Park and Madison Avenues. There’s a feeling of old-world glamour in the former 1920s townhouse, with elegant furnishings, a cosy Club Room and individually designed suites. Renowned for its discretion and above-and-beyond approach to customer service, it’s little surprise that a host of A-listers have chosen to stay in The Lowell, with Madonna booking in for an incredible nine months. lowellhotel.com
Discover the new Christmas market capital – Zagreb, Croatia
Think Christmas markets and chances are you’ll think of places like Berlin, Dresden and Cologne. While the Germans may have cornered the Christmas market, there’s a surprising newcomer hot on its heels. Zagreb first introduced its official Advent celebrations back in 2010 and it's been steadily growing in popularity ever since. Lonely Planet voted Zagreb’s Christmas Markets the Best in Europe and they also won the title of Europe’s Best Christmas Market from travel website European Best Destinations two years running. The markets are a pretty traditional affair with wooden stalls selling handmade crafts and food, while the pretty capital city itself is festooned in twinkling lights and offers an array of activities including ice skating, live DJ sets and dance displays.
Photos courtesy of Zagreb Tourism Board; infozagreb.hr
Where to stay: Esplanade Zagreb
The five-star Esplanade Zagreb is one of Croatia’s most iconic heritage hotels and has hosted a slew of Hollywood royalty, from Josephine Baker to Elizabeth Taylor. It originally opened in 1925 as a refuge for passengers of the Orient Express, so you know you’re in for a luxurious experience. esplanade.hr
Sleep under the stars in Iceland
Here’s one for the bucket list: a night snuggled in a cosy double bed inside a heated bubble with nothing but nature and – hopefully – glimpses of the Aurora Borealis for company. Dubbed the ‘five-million-star hotel’, Buubble Iceland is a collection of eight inflated bubble rooms located in rural farmland roughly two hours outside Reykjavík. Although technically you’re in the middle of nowhere, the on-site service station with shower, toilet, cooking facilities and – yes – WiFi, means you’re not exactly 'roughing' it. The Buuble Iceland experience also includes a Golden Circle tour with stops at the famous Thingvellir National Park, Geysir hot springs and a dip in the Secret Lagoon at Fludir.
Avoid the crowds with a ski break in Slovenia
If you’ve had your fill of overpriced rentals, jam-packed slopes and the boisterous Après Ski crowds of La Folie Douce, maybe this year it’s time to give the French Alps a miss and try somewhere a little different. The Julian Alps, which stretch from northeast Italy through Slovenia, offer a more tranquil and affordable alternative. Located in the unspoiled landscape of Triglav National Park, the ski resorts of Vogel, Kranjska Gora and Krvavec are the most popular in the region, offering a range of pistes suitable for beginners and experienced skiers alike. Slovenia is a nature lover’s paradise, with its lush forests, mystical green lakes and fairytale architecture. So, even if you’re not planning to get your skis on, there’s plenty to keep you and your Instagram feed satisfied.
Photos courtesy of Slovenia Tourism Board; slovenia.info