Insight /

Italy, Portugal, Morocco

Closer-to-home Christmas Top 5 places to visit

You don’t have to fly long-haul to find interesting culture, sunshine and family time this Christmas.

Here are five different and rejuvenating ways to spend Christmas this year.

There’s something invigorating about breaking with usual conventions at Christmas and seeking an alternative way to celebrate the festive season, without the pressure of long-haul travel, airport stress and jetlag. How about taking your Christmas to a new and nearby location, stuffed with local culture and festive customs to really supercharge your yuletide?

    Dolomites, Italy

    Transport yourself and your family to a traditional mountain-side Christmas, care of family-run hotel Ciasa Salares. Skiers can shoot straight out onto the UNESCO protected slopes of the Dolomites via the chairlift, located a convenient 100-metres from the hotel. Non-skiers will be well-catered for with boutique shopping and Christmas markets, plus snowcats are always on-hand to whizz you up the mountain for family lunches. Back at Caisa Salares, the hotel glints with decorations, a steamy spa awaits and wholesome Italian cuisine comes beautifully presented. Brimming cheese and chocolate rooms offer the perfect end to a day in the mountains.

    Lisbon, Portugal

    If you’re a fan of Christmas sparkle, you’ll find festivities aplenty in Lisbon. Skyscraper Christmas trees festooned in lights dominate every square and you can hardly move for the offer of steaming hot wine and roasted chestnuts. Wander the Christmas markets and you’ll get a feel for how Lisboans do Christmas, you’ll spot stalls selling bolo-rei – a cake stuffed with dried fruit. Make time for a skate on the ice rink before Christmas dinner in a cosy restaurant. Stay at Heritage Avenida Liberdade which is centrally located and perfectly merges clean-lined contemporary design with heritage pieces and also has a sleek lap pool to work off the Christmas excess.

    Sicily, Italy

    Taking a villa in Europe shouldn’t be confined to summer months. In fact, there are many reasons why heading to Sicily this Christmas could bring some festive flair to your holiday. Think of it as transporting your chilly UK Christmas to a sunnier Sicily, and a spacious villa on the slopes of Mount Etna will be big enough to bring family and friends with you. We’ll arrange Christmas decorations, festive food or a chef, and the villa’s facilities, including a fireplace, jacuzzi and sauna, bodes well for a cosy Christmas. There’s even a piano for Christmas sing-alongs. Nearby Taormina is at its best off-season and Christmas sees the town come to life with lively parades, orchestral concerts and the symbolic lighting of the Christmas bonfire outside the Duomo di Taormina.

    Madeira, Portugal

    If you’re after warmth, then Madeira is a good bet for Christmas in the sunshine. Even better, Madeira takes Christmas very seriously. Cobbled squares are filled with the sound of celestial choirs, churches are furnished with elaborate nativity scenes and streets twinkle with thousands of Christmas lights. Spend your days wandering Christmas markets, stopping to try the Sopa de Trigo, a traditional soup of wheat and pumpkin. We recommend staying at Belmond Reid’s Palace, a classic and timelessly elegant hotel, set up on the hillside with an incredible ocean panorama and Michelin-star dining. Extend your Christmas getaway into New Year to experience Madeira’s famous firework display, rivalling Rio for its colour-popping exuberance. These are best seen from the sub-tropical gardens of Reid’s, or aboard a boat in Funchal Bay where the champagne flows.

    Marrakech, Morocco

    Blue skies and sunshine make Morocco and alluring option for December. In Marrakech, you can swerve Christmas altogether and lose yourself among a myriad of spices, shimmering copper and intricate woodwork in the medina. Come back to chic and homely Riad El Fenn to luxuriate in the earthy tones, painted tiles and deep bathtubs that make this riad so welcoming in winter. Curl up by huge fires, swim in the heated pool or be buffed and polished in the hotel’s own hammam. For an exhilarating day trip, take to the Atlas Mountains, where snow-swirled peaks, Berber culture and clean mountain air will set you up for the New Year.