SNOW IT ALL: Wrap up and embrace the cold, with three deliciously snowy escapes for regal, elegant festivities
1. Arctic Exploring
Enjoy decadent living with a champagne and caviar fuelled New Year’s Eve celebration on board the Golden Eagle train as it departs from a festive St. Petersburg, then journey across to the Norwegian Arctic Circle in search of the Aurora Borealis before returning to Moscow for a Russian Christmas in early January. The 12-day Arctic Explorer trip mixes onboard stays in grand suites with gourmet meals and drinks included, with stopovers at luxury hotels in both Russian cities and en route. Activities include stop-offs at the Snowhotel Kirkenes (the first hotel completely made of snow and ice) on the border of Norway, fishing for king crabs through ice holes before relaxing by a cosy log fire to wait for your king crab meal, and, of course a trip to search for the Northern Lights. Onboard entertainment includes Russian language lessons, talks on the Northern Lights by the accompanying astronomer, elegant afternoon teas, vodka tasting sessions and spare hours to idly enjoy the epic passing landscape. For an additional cost there’s the opportunity to book snowmobile tours and husky-sledging too during stop offs.
To book: www.goldeneagleluxurytrains.com
2. Winter Waterworld
Take wonder to a new stratosphere with an Arctic journey that will have you heli-skiing, whale watching, snowmobiling, ice hiking and husky-sledging by day and sleeping on a super-yacht by night. This adventure cruise in Greenland is as lavish as a winter break could be, with options to book a suite aboard the Legend or charter the whole mega-yacht with 13 cabins for family and friends. Enjoy the onboard piano and whisky bar, the 14-seater cinema, an epic BBQ area with outdoor heating and a state-of-the-art gym and Balinese spa featuring a Jacuzzi, sauna and treatment room, as well as 16-person main deck Jacuzzi with a waterfall feature. But the fun really starts when you step inside the Legend helicopter and head for the snowy peaks for some world-class skiing. Descend steep, virgin slopes while taking in views of the sea and brilliant blue fjords. Take to the piste every day or swap in some time for hiking or jump aboard one of two Legend snowmobiles to explore the Arctic landscape. If icebergs and freezing waters beckon then the ice diving option is a must.
To book: www.y.co
3. The Land of Ice and Fire
Iceland is a geographical marvel, a land of stunning spectacles that will take your breath away. Get ready to experience a volcanic landscape that boasts glaciers, geysers, waterfalls and natural hot lagoons, all below a starry sky that is one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights. Start your trip in the achingly cool capital of Reykjavík, famous for being edgy and luxe in equal measure. With well-established design, fashion, music and culinary scenes (be sure to enjoy some Nordic fine dining at the Michelin-starred Dill whilst there) it’s easy to use the capital as a base to see the rest of the country. Stay at one of the stylish suites at the Ion City Hotel and book your excursions from there, or head out and stay at the Ion Adventure Hotel in Nesjavellir to be amongst the wilderness for trekking, fly fishing and dark-enough skies to see the Aurora Borealis. Or, splash out on one of the suites at The Retreat Hotel at The Blue Lagoon and have easy access to the geothermal waters of the lagoon. Wherever you decide to stay, essential activities not to miss include the Golden Circle tour to take in the country’s most dramatic scenery, including Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Geysir Geothermal area. For additional adventure, add a hike on the ice-covered Sólheimajökull Glacier and book a late-night Northern Lights trip.
PUTTING THE KIDS INTO CHRISTMAS: From Harry Potter wizards to Santa Claus and his helpers, let these holidays evoke the gift of Christmas
1. Winter Wizardry
A festive treat awaits Harry Potter fans of every age at the Warner Bros Studio Tour London with a special ‘Hogwarts in the Snow’ experience. The famous home of everyone’s favourite young wizard has undergone a wintery transformation that sees Christmas trees decorated with miniature witches on broomsticks lining the Great Hall, heavily-dressed long tables reminiscent of the special occasions at Hogwarts, this time adorned with Christmas puddings surrounded by real flames, and the stage decorated as it was for the Goblet of Fire’s Yule Ball scene with snow-covered Christmas trees, icicles and magical instruments.
Ever wondered how all that fake snow was made in the films? The guides will let you into the special effects secrets of the snow that never melts, as well as the flames without fire that fill the ‘lit’ fireplaces along the Studio Tour. Less than 40 minutes from Central London via train and shuttle bus means staying in the capital and adding some Christmas shopping or a visit to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is an accessible possibility too. But if palatial country living is more your style, then the Studio is a short drive from five-star hotel The Grove – the former Hertfordshire home of the Earls of Clarendon and Hunton Park, a grand Queen Ann mansion house set in 22 acres of wintery Hertfordshire parkland.
2. Luxury in Lapland
The region known for being the home of Santa Claus edges into the Arctic circle and spreads across the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Its rugged and mountainous landscape makes for the perfect place for skiing, hiking and dog sledding. The most popular holiday destination for kids would be Swedish or Finnish Lapland – dependent on what age your little ones are and the sort of holiday they’re after. Sweden is the best for those who want to ski, hike the road to Ritsem through World Heritage Laponia, discover the local Sami culture, go dog sledding, see the Northern Lights, visit the world famous Icehotel and come up close and personal with wild reindeer.
The excellent luxury accommodation makes it a favourite with adults too. Choose from the spectacular Tree Hotel, with futuristic and fun chalets built amongst the trees; pick from the MirrorCube, Bird’s Nest or The Cabin for the ultimate secluded stay. Or book in early for the Arctic Bath hotel that opens in February 2020. The new floating hotel and cold bath is anchored on the Lule River and during the summer it is a free-floating timber structure and during winter is frozen into the ice.
For younger kids that are all about meeting Father Christmas, head straight for the urban oasis of Rovaniemi in Finland – the official home of Santa Claus. A short bus ride and you’ll be at Santa Claus Village, where the big man sees visitors in his official office all-year-round. Meet his famous reindeer and book a snow ride in one of his sleighs. Walk through the Christmas Exhibition and visit The House of Mrs. Claus, where you can join the elves and help Mrs. Claus make delicious Christmas porridge and traditional gingerbread cookies. Head to SantaPark, just two kilometres from Santa Village, to take part in the Elf school, taste gingerbread cookies in Mrs. Gingerbread’s Kitchen, and send greetings from the Post Office. Stay within the village area in either glass igloos, the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel or wilderness lodges, all available on the Santa Claus Village website.
3. Big Fun in the Big Apple
The city that never sleeps comes more alive than ever during the festive period, especially when it comes to keeping the kids entertained. Don’t miss the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with its larger-than-life helium balloons (SpongeBob SquarePants, Astronaut Snoopy, Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues & You!, and many more), fantasy floats, clowns, performance groups and Broadway celebrities. Join the crowds for the Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center with famous faces and performances of classic Christmas songs, watch the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, or head to the iconic New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Prospect Park for an alternative to the frenzy of Times Square. Back for 2019 is the light display at the Bronx Zoo, the kids’ favourite will cover several acres in a walk-through experience with wildlife-themed LED displays, custom lanterns and animated light shows. For more fancy lights check out the inaugural LuminoCity Festival at Randall’s Island Park in Manhattan, sixteen acres of lights will illuminate themed worlds, creating an immersive journey that includes a castle, skating unicorn and enchanted forest.
Another new child-friendly festival is the Hello Panda Festival in Flushing, Queens. Expect lanterns, 60 global cuisine vendors, arts experiences, live performances and a holiday market. If there‘s still time, visit Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science, which does exactly what it says on the tin with a vast collection of gingerbread structures embellished with candy canes, chocolate and frosting; book tickets for one of three versions of the Nutcracker at theatres around New York; and no trip is complete without jumping onto a horse drawn carriage around a snowy Central Park. For a hotel stay that’s in the mix of all the action, opt for the five-star luxury of The Peninsula hotel on Fifth Avenue. A short walk to Central Park, and sitting amongst some of the best shopping the Big Apple has to offer, this historic building with thoroughly modern interiors is a charming respite from the snowy outdoors. The Peninsula Spa, one of the most luxurious in Manhattan, with it’s three-storey curving staircase leading to treatment rooms, a hair salon, indoor pool, outdoor terraces and a hi-tech fitness centre makes the stay even more inviting for the adults in the group.
IT’S YULETIDE MARKET DAY: The best bazaars, markets and stalls for seasonal shopping
1. Historical Prague
This is a city that knows how to embrace Christmas, so much so that the markets are open every day (through to January 6) including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The main markets are in Old Town Square and an easy walk away at Wenceslas Square, once you’ve exhausted these you can find smaller markets at Prague Castle and Havel’s Market on Kampa Island. Expect brightly lit wooden huts offering jewellery, decorations, souvenirs, wooden toys, candles, ornaments, ceramics and clothing – including traditional costume. Break up the Christmas shopping and indulge at the numerous food stalls offering everything from traditional roasted spits and sausages to langos (cheesy garlic breads) and delicious desserts such as pancakes, spicy gingerbread and traditional trdelnik – a hot pastry coated in sugar.
Wash it all down with mulled or honey wine, hot chocolate, a Czech beer or traditional grog (rum, water, lemon and sugar). Check out the animal stables at Old Town Square to pet a sheep or donkey and take a selfie with one of the world’s most striking Christmas trees – lights are switched on at 4.30pm every day to add even more magic. Prague is a city of stunning architecture so wrap up warm to wander the streets and take in the history of the Czech capital. It’s also home to some wonderful classical concerts, opera and ballet at an array of venues including St. George’s Basicala at Prague Castle. Be sure to catch The Nutcracker at either the National Theatre or the Hybernia Theatre. All that activity will require the utmost comfort when choosing a hotel and the Augustine, a Luxury Collection Hotel, will do nicely. The hotel, a short walk from Prague Castle, is a renovation of the St. Thomas Church and Monastery, and is a perfect blend of the building’s history, through religious statues, ceiling frescoes and ornamental iron fixtures, all married beautifully with modernity via its furnishings and artworks.
2. Musical Salzburg
As the birthplace of Mozart and the setting of The Sound of Music, there’s no shortage of attractions in the Austrian city of Salzburg. While the film tours and concerts continue through December, the true highlight is the Christmas markets. The Salzburger Christkindlmarkt on Cathedral and Residenzplatz Squares is the heart of Advent in the city, with the market having existed in its current form since 1974, though its roots extend all the way back to the late 15th century. Around 100 stands offer everything from snow globes and ornaments to teddy bears in lederhosen and gifts including Mozart and The Sound of Music-inspired Christmas decorations and souvenirs. Culinary delights come in the form of the gooey chocolate, cake-like Sachertorte and the famous ‘Mozart balls’ – smooth chocolate spheres with a marzipan centre.
Over 250 illuminated Christmas trees, and 3,000-metres of hanging lights frame the market place, while daily choir concerts in front of the cathedral, music concerts every Thursday and Saturday, and weekly parades keep visitors more than entertained. Don’t miss the tent city of Winterfest, one of the most important festivals for contemporary circus performance, spanning dance, acrobatics, acting, puppet theatre and the visual arts. If watching all those acrobatics has made you hungry, be sure to stop off at Europe’s oldest restaurant, St. Peter for a gourmet dinner. The beautifully festive space offers exquisite Austrian cooking with an Italian twist. Rest your head at the five-star Hotel Goldener Hirsch, a Luxury Collection Hotel that dates back to 1407. Located in Salzburg’s Old Town it’s walking distance to the markets and close to the Salzburg Festival Hall. Expect an elegant country house-style space with antique and original features.
3. Fairy-tale Nuremberg
This Bavarian city is Christmas personified. It’s also the birthplace of the Christmas tree and home to one of the oldest markets in the world, which was started back in 1628. Make it part of a Christmas market tour of Germany or spend a few days surrounded by Nuremberg’s medieval castles, busy squares and fairy-tale fountains, taking in its rich history, including its part in the Second World War. The markets are dotted around the city and all open for business from December 1st. The main market, which welcomes over two million visitors every year, is Christkindlesmarkt on the Hauptmarkt square in the old quarter. Red and white cloths decorate around 200 wooden stalls, that sell everything from spicy gingerbread, sweets and fruit loaves to souvenirs, ornaments, candles, toys, arts and craft items, and an unrivalled array of Christmas baubles and decorations; plastic toys and modern tat are strictly, and thankfully, forbidden.
The Kinderweihnacht is the children’s market and has an old-fashioned carousel, ferris wheel and steam train, with a nativity scene trail running between the two markets. Alongside these main areas, smaller markets sell handmade crafts from around the world including everything from Scottish kilts to French marmalades. Head to the outskirts of the city to stay at the family-run Gasthaus Rottner (also known as Rottner Hotel). Choose from the traditional timber farmhouse rooms that are steeped in character or the modern rooms in the new building – both offer quaint Bavarian touches in décor that run throughout the excellent restaurant, inn and cooking school on the property. For something closer to the action with all the mod cons opt for a suite at Le Méridien Grand Hotel. Bored of the bratwurst? Book a table at Zwei Sinn for some Michelin-starred, modern French-Mediterranean fine dining.