Thanks to travel bloggers, often snapped breakfasting with backdrops of balloon filled skies, the strange moonscape of Cappadocia is a rising star among other Instagram-able destinations. Only a short hop away from Istanbul by plane, the region promises an otherworldly experience without the backpacker inconveniences. The honeycomb rocks have been carved out over the centuries into a network of tunnels and caves, some of which now function as hotels. The Cappadocia Cave Suites in Goreme offer all the amenities of Turkish hospitality, including Turkish baths, massages and saunas (and of course, the famous coffee), with elevated views of the desert city. You’d be forgiven for writing the country off as a summer destination, but winter offers a peaceful solitude, away from the hordes of tourists, and breath-taking sky views of Cappadocia under a blanket of snow. Just don’t underestimate the cold temperatures of the desert at this time of year.
For some sheer decadence and Christmas excess, live out your James Bond fantasies with a stay in ultra-extravagant Monte-Carlo. Missing out just slightly on the ‘world’s smallest country’ title (that goes to the Vatican City), what Monaco lacks in size it certainly makes up for in lavish hotels, swish cars and famous residents. Winter in Monaco is rarely cold, with temperatures hovering around the low teens throughout December, and visitors are still afforded 6 hours of sun. You may also want to factor in the lower hotel prices for staying in winter, although this is still Monte-Carlo we’re talking about here. If your budget doesn’t stretch to the ritz and glitz of the gleaming white Hotel Hermitage (if it does, this is the place to be) then a day trip from Nice allows plenty of time to soak up the sights.
Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France (if not the world), an acclaimed title across the channel that is not as well established over here. For all that steak-frites, croissants and macarons have done for France’s culinary reputation, they don’t hold a candle to quenelles, hot-pink praline patisseries and the banquet of delicious winter foods served up in this north-easterly city. Even its humble salad, or salade Lyonnaise, is a comforting mix of soft poached eggs, crispy croutons, bacon and duck confit. Lyon is a food lover’s paradise, and there’s no better time of year to visit than when the dark nights have closed in and the streets are cold. Make your way to a bouchon, a no-frills restaurant unique to Lyon that dishes up big doses of hearty meals and welcoming atmospheres. December also brings with it the spectacular Fête des Lumières, a 3-day festival of lights and illuminations. In fact, Lyon has all the attractions of a big city, without the Paris prices.
Ibiza’s reputation as the all-night party island of the Balearics may be unshakable, but ask anyone who’s spent any real time there and they’ll tell you how deceptive that image can be. The island has a surprisingly peaceful side, all secluded coves and fruit groves, and a general atmosphere of free-spirited fun. During the winter months, when the superclubs have closed their doors and the ravers have retired back home, expect your own private beaches and the tumble of hotel prices. The modest population of a mere 150,000 is evident, the weather is mild, even warm, and the air feels fresh as January brings with it carpets of wildflowers. The perfect antidote to the crowds and unrelenting consumerism of the season.
The Canary Islands
If the thought of Christmas markets and frosty mornings leaves you cold, guarantee yourself a break in the sun with a trip to the Canary Islands. Firm favourites for reliable warmth during the dark and gloomy winter months, both Tenerife and Gran Canaria promise British summertime temperatures, minus the high chance of rain. If you’re wary at the thought of package holidays and bland resorts, be reassured that the less frequented areas of the islands are a world away from the lobster-red, tourist-laden beaches. Home to sleepy colonial towns, dramatic volcanic landscapes and plenty of carnival spirit, the Canaries are the perfect alternative to a white Christmas.
The arrival of winter casts a spell on the already beautiful Austrian city of Innsbruck. Framed on either side by the Alps, its pastel-coloured medieval houses provide the perfect setting for a fairytale festive getaway. The city is a maze of cobbled lanes, Gothic and Baroque architecture and traditional coffee shops (where coffee is served best with a shot of brandy), looking for all the world like a Christmas card picture. Pop out for the afternoon to any one of the surrounding ski resorts, or enjoy the markets with their carol-playing trumpets.
Chamonix may be a busy ski resort, having first became famous in 1924 for hosting the Winter Olympics, but its setting beneath the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif is idyllic. The town has kept a lot of its old world, Belle Epoque charm and a wealth of interesting, independent boutiques and shops make it a wonderful place to walk around and browse. The key draw to the alpine town is, of course, its snow sport facilities and if you’re looking to test out your ski legs or practice your skills on the slopes then Chamonix is a beautiful place to do it and its an easy trip from Geneva airport.
Barcelona is hardly the destination that springs to mind when thinking about the festive season, somehow not quite fitting in with the chocolate-box Christmas image offered by Vienna, Bruges or even Budapest. However, few places get into the Christmas spirit in quite the way that this Spanish city does. Everywhere from the narrowest of streets to the smallest church is bathed in the glow of colourful lights, while huge nativity scenes dominate the squares and its famous markets offer up a local selection of treats instead of the usual staples of glühwein and gingerbread.