December is the end of the year and you are likely going to be tired, very tired. It has been a long two years (or is it twenty, we forget).
Enjoy Sunshine & Warmth in...Harbour Island, The Bahamas
There’s an island in the Bahamas that was once a hiding place for pirate treasure and liquor in prohibition times. It’s this colourful history that sets the tone on Harbour Island where every day and night the local people openly celebrate their life on this beautiful island. Their enthusiasm and sense of humour is so truly infectious that you can’t help but be swept up in it.
But back to what makes this a great getaway for winter sun; with pink sand and turquoise water, the setting is just about as perfect as it gets. You can snorkel among green sea turtles and orange starfish, you can watch horses frollicking about in the surf on Pink Sands beach, or you can take a wander around Dunmore Town, two streets of kooky shops, restaurants and cafés. What you can’t do is stay in a big international chain hotel here – Harbour Island is fiercely proud of its boutique, independent properties and getting out of your hotel and mixing with the local community is what a stay here is all about.
Harbour Island days are long and they’re lazy. So if you’re looking for a December break that transports you away from the freneticism of the festive season, this might well do the trick.
Experience the History & Culture of...Cape Town
In this part of South Africa, December is a verb, not a noun. To ‘December’ in Cape Town and the Winelands is to get properly stuck into the hedonistic celebrations of the festive season that last well into the new year, or as the locals call it ‘42 of December.’
It helps that December is the peak of summer in South Africa, expect warm temperatures and glorious sunshine day in, day out as you explore this stunning part of the world and celebrate the end of what’s been a difficult year for all of us. The warmth of the people matches the temperature on the thermometer, so expect huge smiles, genuine delight and to feel like you have arrived home.
Definitely spend a few days in Cape Town to soak up the festive atmosphere, enjoy the city’s brilliant cultural vibe including excellent art galleries, turbulent history and enjoy world-class dining for ridiculously reasonable prices at restaurants like La Colombe, FYN, Chef’s Warehouse and Kloof Street House.
But then head inland to the Winelands and the picturesque town of Franschhoek for a complete change of pace. We are biased but it in our opinion, this is one of the most beautiful towns in the world. It’s a big claim, but once you have visited you will agree with us. South Africa is considered as one, if not the best value wine region in the world right now and there’s no better place to drink in the sunny ripeness that comes through in its crisp, golden whites and ripe, quaffable reds than the vineyards themselves. But it’s the setting that is the real showstopper. Dominated by sheer mountains, you’ll find historic towns, little villages and Cape Dutch farmsteads whose owners will welcome you with open arms to enjoy some of the best wines you’ve ever tasted. It’s heaven in a wine glass. Salut!
Reconnect with Family in...Finnish Lapland
If the mere thought of Father Christmas sends your kids into a frenzy of excitement, what we are about to suggest will take that to a whole new level.
Christmas 2020 was a bit of a non-event. So make up for it and then some by taking your kids to see Santa Claus in Finnish Lapland this year. The fabled land of Lapland lies in the very north of Finland and is exactly how you would picture it. You will be forgiven for half thinking Santa may appear just around the corner. Yes, it will be freezing cold, but this does mean you’re guaranteed lots of snow, which everyone knows is essential for Santa Claus to run his sleigh.
Head for Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland to get into the festive spirit. Take your kids to meet Santa in his cosy, snow covered home. Then take them outside to experience the full majesty of the Northern Lights, deep in the forest. You’ll eat well too – as Rovaniemi is making quite the name for itself as a gastronomic hotspot, serving up rustic feasts of (ahem) reindeer, lingonberries and leipäjuusto (a delightfully gooey ‘bread cheese’ dessert).
Warning…you won’t be very popular with other parents at the school gates when your kids get home and tell all their friends about their trip. But it will be truly worth it. And let’s be honest, you are never too old to meet Santa.
Get off the Beaten Path in...Uganda
It may have to compete with some pretty illustrious neighbours, but this relatively small country punches well above it’s weight. Packed full of adventure and of course the unique opportunity to get close to some of the world’s most incredible creatures.
The Virunga mountains may be most synonymous Rwanda and DRC and have made quite a name for themselves with regards to gorilla tracking over recent years. We are going to let you in on a little secret – the Virunga mountains extend into Uganda too. And as gorillas don’t care much for political borders you’re just as likely, if not more, to get close to these majestic giants in Uganda. What’s more, unlike Rwanda, Uganda hasn’t increased the price of its Gorilla permits, so you can trek twice in Uganda for the price of just one trek in Rwanda! Just don’t tell too many people…
Gorillas do live in a rainforest, which does mean there can be a lot of water. However December is a brilliant time to head for Uganda as it’s one of the driest months of the year.
Top tip? Pair your rainforest adventure with a foray into the urban jungle of Kampala’s capital, which is surprisingly charming and offers the chance to eat two-hour-roasted crocodile tail at barbecue restaurant The Lawns, and enjoy contemporary shows at Afriart Gallery.
Take a Quick City Break in...Milan
Milan rightly has a reputation for being a trendy and fashionable city, but no-one is too cool for Christmas. And Milan is no exception. The city throws itself into the festive spirit almost as much as fashion and is actually one of the most Christmassy cities in Europe.
If you visit Milan in early December, you will be able to experience a unique Milanese tradition, the feast of its patron saint, Sant’Ambrogio. To mark the occasion, an irresistibly twinkly market pops up in the grounds of the Castello Sforzesco, an imposing fortress built in the Middle Ages and one of Milan’s most famous landmarks. There you’ll find the usual mix of artisan-made gifts and foodie treats at this Christmas market, but the Italian twist somehow makes it richer and more unique than you’ve probably experienced at the more familiar German-style markets.
As you stroll around the market make sure to enjoy the Italian take on mulled wine (no Christmas market would be complete without that) and castagnaccio (chestnut and pine-kernel cake). When (or if) the festivities become too much, remind yourself that you’re in Milan and that there is so much more to experience here. Pop over to the famous fashion quarter to treat yourself or head to the Zona Tortona; the city’s newest hotspot where you can lose hours in contemporary galleries and design studios.
The wonderful thing about Milan is that it’s doable from both the UK and the US with regular flights from both every week. Just remember to take an empty suitcase.