For some people frosty mornings, snow-covered hills and cozy afternoons around the fire are a pleasant novelty for all of about a month, at which point sunnier climes beckon, bags are packed and the gloomy cold is but a distant memory for 2 glorious weeks over the festive period. If that sounds like you and holiday plans are yet to be finalised, read on for some suggestions on where to go and what to do for warm winter vacations this season.
WINTER SUNSHINE GETAWAYS
Diving in Belize
Natural world bible The National Geographic claims ‘English-speaking Belize is a diver’s paradise’. Given that it’s home to the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere, the thousand-foot-wide Great Blue Hole, this statement would appear to have some truth to it. If you prefer land-based activities there’s also Mayan Ruins, incredible wildlife (rare tropical birds, monkeys and manatees), verdant rainforests, stunning beaches, caves, hiking and a host of small islands - or cayes - to explore.
Hiking in Death Valley
Straddling the border between Nevada and California, Death Valley National Park boasts more than 3 million acres of wilderness. Its seemingly infinite, otherworldly landscapes of sand dunes, canyons and desert oases make it a world-class winter hiking destination. So if you prefer solitude and quiet contemplation to the frenzied socialising and consumption that traditionally define the holidays, then grab your hiking boots and jump on a plane to Las Vegas.
Yoga in Thailand
The magical, Neverland-esque beauty of Thailand is always a major drawer for winter sun-seekers. But if you’re looking for a more spiritual experience than simply lazing on the beach, perhaps a yoga retreat is something to consider. Yoga and luxury surroundings with creature comforts need not be mutually exclusive, as resorts like the Kamalaya Koh Samui go to show with their wide array of wellness programs, set against a backdrop of stunning beach front villas and sea view suites.
Eco Spa Hotel Maldives
If soaking up the sun and swimming in the sea are top of your winter vacation priority list - and why shouldn’t they be - then you might as well book yourself a spa holiday in one of the most luxurious places on earth: the Maldives. You know the drill, white sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, decadent fruit smoothies on ice delivered to your dreamy hammock swaying in the warm breeze over the ocean. For those who want to ensure paradise is preserved, try an eco resort like the Gili Lankanfushi which is committed to sustainability with an emphasis on maintaining the natural environment and protecting the marine ecosystem.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A WARM GETAWAY
SNOWY WINTER GETAWAYS
For Cozy Capital Cities
Nowhere does Christmas quite like Austria so if you’re looking for a festive capital city extraordinaire then head to Vienna. Twinkling lights, a warming glass of Weihnachtspunsch (mulled wine), roast chestnut stalls, cream-filled pastries, pretzels as well as specialty hams and sausages are all for the taking. If the biggest market at Rathausplatz is too much for you there are tons of smaller ones which are also worth a visit including Schönbrunn or Karlsplatz.
It’s unusual for London to get a white Christmas, but when the sparkly stuff does fall over the city’s world-famous landmarks, its snow globe charm is hard to beat. With some of the best shops (Liberty, Selfridges, Harrods etc.) and the finest hotels (Claridges, The Dorchester, The Ritz) in the world all vying to outdo each other on display and hospitality you’re spoilt for choice if you decide to make London your festive destination.
Not traditionally considered a winter destination, Japan is becoming more popular with festive vacationers seeking something a little different. Head to Unesco World Heritage site Shirakawago, a traditional village with thatched roofs that wouldn’t look out of place in an alpine ski resort, see the snow monkeys in Jigokudani Park, or indulge in the curative powers of the ‘onsen’ - a Japanese tradition dating from the 8th century which involves bathing in open-air natural hot springs.
For the winter adventurer Norway has just about everything you could ask for: reindeers, husky safaris, christmas markets and snow-capped mountains. As a nation, Norwegians are so at one with winter that most feel more at home on skis than they do in shoes, and are world-class cross-country skiers by the time they’re knee-high. A crisp sunny morning spent gliding across pristinely groomed tracks on cross country skis is not only a superb workout for the thighs, it’s good for the soul. Afterwards head home to a cozy, candle lit cabin and enjoy some ‘Pinnekjøtt’ (stick meat) a festive lamb dish traditional to north and western Norway, washed down with a glass of Aquavit.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A WINTER GETAWAY