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The great escape: six of the best places to spend Christmas
7:00am Saturday 1st December 2012 in Travel stories
BRITISH COLOMBIA, CANADA
If you’re after a guaranteed white Christmas, why not pack the family off to British Columbia in Canada?
The ski haven of Big White is a little-known gem of a family resort with plenty of snow all season.
With an annual dump of more than 24ft of light, fluffy, champagne powder skiers can comfortably tackle the network of tree-lined groomed green and blue slopes to the village centre.
There are plenty of highlights for kids, too, including the Mega Snow Coaster – Canada’s largest resort tubing park where you can zoom down specially built lanes in big inflatable rings!
There’s also a mini skidoo track, and bigger snowmobiles for grown-ups – fantastic if you want to feel like James Bond for an hour. Other activities include ice skating and a climbing ice tower. More sedate is a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the peaceful, tree-lined terrain.
For indoor family fun you can head to Happy Valley Day Lodge, a short gondola ride from the village centre, where activities range from Wii competitions to carnival nights, and the restaurants serve up everything from burgers and fries to top class Alberta steak and fine wines.
Key facts – Big White and Silver Star resorts
Best for: Champagne powder, quiet pistes and family entertainment.
Time to go: Any time in winter, even the school holidays.
Don’t miss: The eerie ‘snow ghosts’ at Big White.
Need to know: In Canada, tips are not usually included in the bill. The normal amount to tip is around 15 per cent.
Don’t forget: Your lip protection, to keep blisters and dryness at bay.
LAS VEGAS, USA
Whatever you choose to do in Las Vegas, you’ll be sure to feel as if you’ve hit the jackpot.
From pool parties to Ferrari racing, it really is a hedonistic paradise.
Sin City is home to some of the world’s most exclusive restaurants including The Old Homestead Steakhouse at Caesar’s Palace and the Eiffel Tower restaurant at the Paris hotel, which dishes up authentic French cuisine.
The ‘Gambling Capital’ of the world made $100 billion last year in gaming alone so, of course, those partial to a round of blackjack, poker, craps, roulette or even just the odd buck here or there on the slots, will be right at home.
Entertainment-wise you’ll be spoilt for choice with everything from topless showgirls – all in good taste of course – to stand-up comedy and the spectacular Absinthe show at Caesar’s, a mix of circus-inspired stunts, dance and song.
Each of the big hotel/casinos house at least one nightclub and, for those without a hangover to recover from, there are activities from Ferrari racing, shooting and golf at which to try your hand.
And of course no trip to Vegas would be complete without a visit to one of the natural wonders of the world – the Grand Canyon.
Key facts - Las Vegas
Best for: Splashing out and living the life of an emperor.
Time to go: All year round, but best to avoid the busy American public holidays.
Don’t miss: Dream Racing at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Need to know: Many of the waiters and other hospitality staff rely on tips to make a living, so dig deep if you can!
Don’t forget: Sunblock and layers. Yes, Vegas is in a desert, but it can also get chilly, especially on a Canyon trip.
WITH its long, palm-tree lined, white sandy beaches and picture-postcard emerald waters Phuket in Thailand is the perfect place for an exotic Christmas.
A tropical paradise, every bit as stunning as the pictures you see in brochures and magazines, the destination also offers wildlife and jungle adventures for holidaymakers.
Thailand is much more than just a beach holiday. Yes there is plenty of opportunity to work on a suntan, but anyone seeking action-packed adventure can find it quite easily here too. Take a quad bike ride through mud and rubber plantations or try the flying fox zip wire – both activities suitable for both adults and children.
Phuket is an increasingly family friendly destination, with many hotels now actively catering to younger guests.
Local wildlife is in abundance, and you don’t have to go far to find it – monkeys can regularly be found taking an early morning dip in hotel swimming pools.
By day, enjoy novelty street shows such as harmonica playing elephants and spend evenings exploring the nearby night markets, or make the journey to Patong, where most of Phuket’s infamous beach parties take place.
Key facts - Phuket
Time to go: December to March for the best weather for tourists.
Don’t miss: The John Gray Sea Canoe Experience which offers a variety of trips to a number of islands. For more information visit johngray-seacanoe.com.
Need to know: Shoulders and knees should be covered and shoes removed before entering temples.
Don’t forget: Beachwear and lots of sun lotion!
FOR the ultimate adventure holiday, follow in the footsteps of explorers and head to Tanzania. Attempting to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, may not be everyone’s idea of an idyllic Christmas, but there can be nothing more exhilarating than reaching the summit. Rising 5,895m above sea level, Kilimanjaro has deservedly earned its name as the ‘roof of Africa’, being the highest mountain on the African continent and the tallest free-standing mountain on Earth.
One of the most accessible high summits in the world, this dormant volcano in Tanzania attracts intrepid explorers, fundraising celebrities and tourists in search of a challenge.
There are several trails open to visitors, but the beauty of Kilimanjaro is that no technical climbing skills are necessary.
From the farmland and lush rainforest at the bottom, to the barren moon-like wasteland nearing the top, the climb also offers amazing scenery and views to take in as you go.
Key facts – climbing Kilimanjaro
Best for: Those with a sense of adventure who like a challenge.
Time to go: Although possible to climb all year round, the best times are January, February and September.
Don’t miss: Make sure you are up in time for the beautiful sunrise.
Don’t forget: A good pair of well-fitting walking boots is absolutely essential.
Need to know: You will need to take malaria tablets in Tanzania, so visit your GP well in advance.
STONEFIELD CASTLE, ARGYLL, SCOTLAND
Be inspired by the characters of Downton Abbey with an aristocratic festive season.
For the filming of this year’s Christmas Special the Downton clan headed north to Argyll in Scotland and the shores of Loch Fyne.
Castles abound here, making it the ideal option for an aristocratic break. But for a taste of the high life without the high spend, a stay at the welcoming Stonefield Castle hotel will propel you into the same league as the Crawley family.
A fine example of Scottish Baronial architecture, the hotel was originally built in 1837, and once belonged to the Campbell family. Its fairytale turrets are reflected in the still waters of the vast Loch Fyne. A focal point of the hotel is its excellent AA Rosette Loch Fyne restaurant. Commanding a panoramic view of the loch, a seasonal menu serves seafood caught by fishermen in the nearby village of Tarbert.
Granite-peaked Arran is within easy reach for a day trip, with highlights including windswept walking trails, sightings of red squirrels and a visit to the eccentric Brodick Castle.
Key facts – Stonefield Castle
Best for: Those who’ve wondered how the other half live.
Time to go: Anytime – marble fireplaces are lit all year round.
Don’t miss: Wildlife – a big draw for visitors to Argyll there is a chance to see seals, dolphins, golden eagles and otters.
Don’t forget: Warm clothes – on a cold day hands and toes will be numb to the bone.
Need to know: A two-night stay for two, including breakfast, three-course dinner and a cream tea, starts from £236. To book, visit stonefieldcastlehotel.com or call 08444 146 600 and mention CASTLE or enter it as a promotional code online.
SANDERSON HOTEL, LONDON
If you want to get away for a Christmas break, but don’t want to stray too far from home, why not try the Sanderson Hotel in London?
The achingly cool hotel, built in 1959, used to be a fabric showroom. It is grade II listed, so when it became a hotel, the owners were not allowed to install new internal walls.
Instead, the 170-room five star boutique hotel, fashioned as an “urban spa” has been turned into a calming fluid space, saved from any suggestion of blandness by French designer Philippe Starck’s eccentric decor, such as the dog portraits, the sofas, and the off-centre beds.
With the shops practically on the doorstep, it’s the perfect place for that last-minute Christmas shopping.
But you can escape from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street and enjoy a meal at the hotel’s Suka restaurant, featuring ‘pop-up’ Malaysian street food and drinks at the Long Bar, with its striking 80ft long onyx rectangular bar.
For the ultimate in relaxation, a visit to the Agua, the hotel’s health, beauty, fitness and wellness centre is a must.
Key facts – Sanderson Hotel
Best for: A relaxing retreat for style-conscious shopaholics.
Time to go: Anytime.
Don’t miss: Mad Hatter’s Tea – a magical Alice in Wonderland-themed afternoon tea.
Don’t forget: Plan ahead, receive 30 per cent off your booking if you book more than 14 days prior to arrival.
Need to know: The Sanderson is in Berners Street (nearest tube Oxford Circus). Rooms from £229 to £1,300 for the penthouse suite. Dishes at Suka from £8. See sandersonlondon.com.