NOW THE embers of Bonfire Night have fizzled out, the nation can get on with the serious business of preparing for Christmas. But what about afterwards? Once the pudding has been gobbled up and the fairy lights have been put away, all that remains is frost, a terrifying credit card bill, and indigestion.
Our winter months in the UK are foul in comparison to those enjoyed in other countries so it’s time we paid them a visit.
Here are five destinations to help you escape the dark and gloomy nights.
1 Bask in winter sun in the Canaries
The Canary Islands are a classic summer destination for Brits – but why not treat yourself to their golden beaches and volcanic valleys during the winter? A mere four hours’ flight away, they offer warm temperatures and sunshine throughout the season. Top up your vitamin D levels with a day at the beach, enjoy a bit of shopping in the islands’ duty-free boutiques and indulge in some top-notch restaurants such as the Michelin-starred Restaurant Los Roques in Santa Cruz – famed for its alfresco dining. For added adventure, rent a car, which costs around £40 a day, and explore the national park and Mount Teide.
2 Hit the slopes in France
Rope in a group of friends and experience one of the most picturesque winter getaways – a skiing holiday in the French Alps. Breathe in the clean, crisp air and enjoy the stunning Alpine landscape as you race down the black run or attempt the cross-country routes. There are a range of resorts to choose from for all skiing abilities. Opt for one of the resorts in Les Portes du Soleil for good facilities for beginners, or place yourself right at the foot of Mont Blanc in Chamonix if you’re up to the challenge.
And even if you’re not a sporty-type, there is always the Après-ski; rent a traditional chalet and snuggle up in front of an open fire. The Zara at Chamonix is a classic wooden chalet in a peaceful hamlet only five minutes away by foot from the Brévent ski area (montblancretreats.com). At the other end of the spectrum, the beautiful 17th century barn-turned-chalet of Ferme de Moudon is a more luxurious offer with interiors by designer owner Nicky Dobree. (fermedemoudon.com).
3 Cosy up in Copenhagen
The Scandinavians are brilliant at beating the winter blues. Head to Copenhagen for a weekend and master the Danish art of “hygge”. The word has no direct equivalent in English, but it basically boils down to “cosiness” – exactly what you need to get through the dark and gloomy months ahead.
A proper hygge most definitely includes warm cups of mulled wine (gløgg in Danish), and generous servings of sugar-dusted waffles at the Christmas markets at Torvehallerne. Warm up with a glass of herb-infused Scandinavian spirit (snaps, not to be confused with German schnapps) after a session at one of the central ice skating rinks. Go shopping for a couple of Nordic designer items at the brightly lit main shopping street, Strøget. For the foodies, a pilgrimage to Noma (noma.dk) – the restaurant which frequently features in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – is definitely in order.
Go all in with the hygge by staying at the Admiral Hotel in Toldbodgade (admiralhotel.dk). Rich in history and beautifully decorated, it is located right on the waterfront, so you can enjoy watching the boats from your room.
4 Master camel-back riding in Marrakech
Ditch your crowded, stressful commute for a leisurely ride on a camel. The popularity of Marrakech as a holiday destination has soared in the past few years so virtually every major travel company now offers guided tours into the desert or the Atlas Mountains by camel or mule.
The city itself is famous for its historic buildings, beautiful gardens, and a vibrant and colourful network of markets, or souks. The souks are divided into sections, each of which has a speciality, from carpets and textiles to spices and even cooked snails.
A more tranquil alternative to the hustle and bustle of the souks are the foundouks – centuries-old courtyard workshops run by Berber artisans. Be sure to check out those in Rue dar el Bacha.
For a slice of serenity, consider staying at the Dar Ayniwen in Palmeraie (dar-ayniwen.com), a family-run boutique hotel located in the palm groves of Marrakech.
5 Explore the Netherlands on a canal boat
If you’re tired of the same old holiday routine of airport, cab, hotel, then why not try a more traditional form of transport? Cruise the waterways of Europe on a canal boat as a quirkier way to explore the continent. And why not bring your friends along for extra warmth?
The Netherlands is a great country to get to know by boat: the Heart of Holland is a triangle of waterways connecting three snow-topped cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. If you’re worried about getting lost and eaten by a troll (and why wouldn’t you be?) then worry not – the trip is usually in a confined waterway and your boat hire company should be able to give detailed information on navigation, mooring, shopping, restaurants and sightseeing on the way.
Visit companies such as leboat.co.uk, charterboat24.com, or cruiseholland.com for winter deals.
Alternatively, you can rent a house boat and stay put in the famously beautiful canals of old Amsterdam. Take a look at Danfluvial (danfluvial.com), which offers a wide range of boats for all seasons.