’s best winter getaways

Travel inspiration

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Looking for some top winter vacation ideas? Treat yourself — here are our picks

Winter can be a difficult time. The short days and the grim weather can take a toll on the body and the mind, which isn’t exactly ideal when you have so much to prepare for the festive season. Have you ever simply wanted some time to yourself instead? Just for one year, to be utterly self-indulgent? Yeah, we know that feeling. So, here are our best suggestions for destinations to get you away from it all.

A grand city break

Aerial view of Budapest in the eveningBudapest makes for a top winter holiday — Shutterstock

We’ll start with a fairly uncontroversial idea: the European city break. The twist is that it’s not just for the chocolate box Christmas markets, a whistle-stop tour of famous locations and then home. Instead, take a few days to actually relax in a place where everyone is running around like a mad thing except you. “I like work,” said Jerome K Jerome. “I can sit and look at it for hours.” That’ll be you.

Choose a grand city. A city with style, elegance and a formidable history. Somewhere that will have its severe edges softened by a light dusting of snow. Somewhere with hotels that have doormen. That sort of thing.

Budapest is one option. A city fit to lead an empire, it has enough grandeur to make you feel special as well as the ability to let itself party when the lights go down. A number of fine restaurants and cocktail bars abound, and it has a famous ruin bar scene.

Christmas lights in downtown SofiaChristmas lights in downtown Sofia — Shutterstock

Alternatively, what about Sofia? A mixture of boulevards and brutalism lends the capital of Bulgaria an air of adventure while still feeling comfortably European. A somewhat unique take on the winter city break, yet with all the seasonal conventionalities, such as a festive light display, a Christmas market, and ice skating rinks.

Whichever place you choose, you can spend your winter dividing your time between bracing walks through beautiful streets, stopping for coffee or hot chocolate here and there, and luxuriating in opulent dining rooms and restaurants when the mood takes you. What a wonderful use of bleak weather.

Winter warmers

Beach pier and hut on turquoise water in the MaldivesThe Maldives is an irresistible place to spend the winter break — Shutterstock

Of course, you could just refuse to deal with the cold weather altogether and jet off to somewhere warm and sunny instead. Often cited as places where the rich and famous choose to spend the winter, places like the Maldives and the Caribbean are now becoming more affordable, both to get to and to stay in.

The Maldives — basically a long atoll of coral in the middle of the Indian Ocean — seems to exist purely to supply luxury-seekers with a ready supply of Instagrammable photo opportunities, with its pristine white beaches, palm-thatched beach huts (although huts is too small of a word in this case!) and clear blue seas.

Lake view in Port AntonioJamaica’s Port Antonio is teeming with natural beauty, even in the winter — Shutterstock

Loads of Caribbean island resorts offer deals to get people there in what may seem like the off-season. For instance, Jamaica’s Port Antonio is an undiscovered beauty spot where you can spend your winter in 30C (86F) heat, relaxing in a hammock with just the sway from the breeze and sounds of the birds in the trees to distract you.

There are even places surrounding the Mediterranean that could serve your purpose. Think Turkey, southern Spain — without the tourists around this time of year of course — Tunisia, Greece or Egypt. In any which way, you’ll certainly be the envy of your friends as you send “wish you were here” messages from a beach in December.

The gastronomical getaway

Waiter serving white truffle at a dining tableThe Napa Truffle Festival takes place in January — Shutterstock

The holiday season is often a time to be self-indulgent when it comes to food and drink, so why not combine the chance to do that with a vacation? Some places that are warm in the winter months have foodie trails and tours based around things for a more sophisticated palate.

Take California, for example. Even the names of the regions — Napa, Sonoma and so forth — are famous to anyone with even a passing interest in the finer things in life: there are spas, world-class restaurants, even a truffle festival in January! Towns that you pass through are celebrating the festive season with you, so you can pull over for the night in a town full of twinkling fairy lights, before slipping into your quaint hotel and considering this to be the best winter of your life.

Classic winter wonderlands

Entrance to Hotel de Glace in Quebec CityThe entrance to a luxury suite at Quebec City’s Hotel de Glace — Shutterstock

Okay, so let’s say you want to spoil yourself, but you also want to retain a feeling of seasonal chilliness. It’s possible to combine the two for something both unusual and unforgettably wintry.

The ice hotel concept has been around for some years now, and hundreds are built and rebuilt every winter to house those travelers who’re looking for somewhere a bit alternative to stay. The difference now is that there are a number that can provide you with saunas, fireplaces, restaurants, or even a glass ceiling through which to watch the stars spin above you.

Quebec City’s Hotel de Glace actually has luxury suites in which to stay, where even the bed frames are made of ice. Don’t worry though, you’ll stay wrapped up in the warmest bedclothes on offer. Finland’s SnowCastle has been around since 1996 and is the largest (only?) snow fortress in the world, and includes medieval-style furniture as well as sculptures and beautiful ambient light effects.

Interior of Ice Hotel roomEach room of the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, is designed by a different artist every year — Shutterstock

Another with light effects is the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, which projects the Northern Lights above your bed, while each of the suites has been designed by different artists from around the world. Oh, and the deluxe suite has its own private sauna.

If you don’t want to head to the Arctic, you could try something a little less out there and head to the south of France. The foothills of the Alps offer hotels, chalets and lodges that can best be summed up with the phrase “rustic luxury”. You might even think about combining it with a spot of winter sport. Staying in Provence with time for the odd bit of skiing? Perfect. Coupled with a lot of apres-ski action, naturellement.

The lap of luxury

Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu DhabiThe Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi — Shutterstock

We’re going to finish with a present you can buy for yourself. This whole list is based on self-indulgence, so why not treat yourself to something horrendously decadent before you try to give up everything in the new year?

If you’re sunning yourself in Egypt during the winter, follow in the footsteps of Antony and Cleopatra and go all out and extravagant. Among the spas in the city of Alexandria, there are places where you can replicate Cleopatra’s famously over-the-top beauty routines, including being bathed in milk and honey.

Further east, the Dead Sea has been used as a place of healing for millennia, and today there are many resorts that take the minerals found in the waters and mud and use them in a wide range of treatments. They’re not cheap — and I suppose you could just go in the Dead Sea itself (which is still pretty warm in winter) — but hey, you’re supposed to be pampering yourself.

Finally, for the most ridiculously lavish treatment you could possibly give yourself, what about the spa at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi? The idea is to treat you like royalty, marrying ancient treatment methods with obscene ingredients such as gold, caviar and diamonds. If that’s not treating yourself this winter, I don’t know what is.

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