Somehow it’s that time of year again: evenings are getting shorter, days are getting colder and before you know it, you find yourself digging out last years’ woolly gloves and bobble hat. Whether you’re welcoming the upcoming festive season with all the fervour of Buddy the Elf, or — like many of us — struggling a little with the seasonal adjustment (as let’s face it, the prospect of a rainy British winter is not a cheery one), we’ve rounded up five of the best short-haul breaks, whatever you’re looking for this season.
If you’re looking for a truly magical winter wonderland escape, look no further than Switzerland. Over in the Alps, the snow dusted mountains and quaint ski town of Gstaad make for an utterly romantic getaway. Spend your days exploring the resort’s 220km of slopes — by ski, snowboard or helicopter — before retreating to your base at Le Grand Bellevue for an evening of traditional Swiss fondue and indulgent hot chocolates, whilst tucked up within a cosy re-purposed sauna barrel in the hotel’s snow-dusted grounds. Skiing not your thing? Never fear: Le Grand Bellevue’s vast 3,000sqm spa offers 17 different thermal experience, from a hay sauna to a kneipp walk, offering hours on end of blissful pampering.
If the prospect of buckets of melted cheese and endless Alpine pampering hasn’t quite tempted you (in which case you might want to reassess your priorities…), head a few hours north to the wonderfully festive city of Zurich. Come December, the city is abuzz with twinkling lights and Christmas markets, and the smells of freshly roasted chestnuts and mulled wine fill the air. The Marktgasse Hotel is perfectly situated for a day of exploring the city’s bustling and atmospheric Old Town, before returning to buzzy Baltho bar for the best cocktails in town.
Don’t fancy heading overseas? This winter, the beautiful city of Edinburgh offers the ultimate festive staycation, with an array of seasonal celebrations. The city’s renowned Christmas markets will return, alongside an ice adventure on George Street and a Christmas Trail of Light at the Botanic Gardens. No visit to Edinburgh is complete without popping in to see the adorable Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo, which this winter will be aglow with the Giant Lanterns of China. After a day of city exploration, warm up with a hot toddy from the city’s largest whisky selection and tuck in for the night in the marshmallow-y beds of the Dunstane Houses, Edinburgh’s chicest boutique bolthole.
Think you need to hop over to the Indian Ocean for some winter sun? Think again – Portugal is right on our doorstep, and with its mild year-round climate, the Alentejo makes for the perfect destination to escape the winter blues. Recently restored 19th century farmstead hotel, winery and spa São Lourenço do Barrocal has plenty on offer for a weekend away, catering to wellness warriors and oenophiles alike. A host of outdoor pursuits await, from exploring the 800-hectare estate on horseback and cycling through the vineyards on traditional Portuguese bicycles to sailing the nearby lake and spotting the milky way with extraordinary night-time stargazing experiences. Lunch is served in the form of picnics of the highest standard – partridge escabeche, chickpeas with cod cheeks and fresh tortilla followed by plump figs and apple cake, washed down with the estate’s very own wines… and not a soggy cheese sandwich in sight.
Iceland’s unique offering of all things geothermal makes it the perfect wintry escape, whilst the stark and snow-dusted landscape has given rise to endless legends and myths (60% of the population believes in elves — yes, really); this is a country which really comes alive over the festive period. Defrost frozen fingers with a dip in the naturally heated aquamarine waters of the Blue Lagoon, brave the icy waters of Thingvellir, where you can snorkel between two tectonic plates, or visit the island’s many natural geothermal geysers and abundance of waterfalls. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, swirling through the night’s sky. Once you’ve had your countryside kick, head to Reykjavik to check out the cosy bars and incredibly foodie scene on a final night of city discovery.
Recently named in Lonely Planet’s 2018 hotlist, and with its capital Valletta crowned as the European Capital of Culture for 2018, it’s safe to say that Malta is having a moment. To celebrate, next year the archipelago will be hosting an array of film and music festivals, whilst culture buffs can explore the prehistoric fortresses, megalithic temples and labyrinth of underground chambers and tunnels. And with endless golden sand beaches and the turquoise expanse of the Mediterranean Sea on your doorstep, there’s something on offer for everyone, no matter what you want to do – even if that’s absolutely nothing at all.