9 best Christmas holidays abroad: luxury breaks to escape the festive frazzle

Fancy escaping the from the UK and spending the Christmas holidays abroad this year? Take your pick of our favourite luxe destinations to unwrap your presents in - and no washing-up in sight...

1. Gstaad Palace Hotel, Switzerland

Best for: luxurious indulgence

Christmas holidays abroad: Gstaad Palace

Picture yourself snuggled under a blanket on a horse-drawn carriage, clip-clopping through the snow. It beats running yourself ragged trying to prepare dinner for your extended family, doesn’t it? This is just one of the delightful festive experiences you can enjoy when you stay at the Gstaad Palace Hotel, in Switzerland’s breathtaking Bernese Oberland region.

With designer boutiques and snowy beauty, Gstaad is just made for family or romantic indulgence. If you’re not a skier, you can ice-skate, try tobogganing or take a ride in a husky-sleigh. And when dusk falls and all the twinkling lights illuminate the valley, you’ll feel like you’re on the cover of a Christmas card.

There are 104 beautifully designed rooms, four restaurants and a modern spa, pool and gym. The staff can arrange anything from helicopter expeditions around the Matterhorn, complete with Champagne and lunch on Glacier 3000.

Book it: Double rooms start from £395 per night half-board.

2. Arctic Light Hotel, Finnish Lapland

Best for: seeing the northern lights

Christmas holidays abroad: Arctic Light Hotel

What could be more Christmassy than being pulled by reindeer in a sleigh on your way to see Santa Claus’s workshop? A trip to Rovaniemi in the Arctic Circle has Christmas written all over it. Stay at the cosy Arctic Light Hotel, where the opportunities for winter pursuits are endless – visit an outdoor Jacuzzi, try ice-swimming or take a husky-sled safari.

One of the most magical experiences has to be a snowmobile ride in search of the northern lights, the incredible natural phenomenon that lights up the sky with flickering colours of green, violet, blue and yellow. This is a trip that will create unbeatable Christmas memories.

Christmas holidays abroad: Arctic Light Hotel, Finland

Book it: Double rooms start from around £171 per night

3. Inn On The Beach, Florida, USA

Best for: a sunny Christmas escape

Christmas holidays abroad: Inn on the Beach, Florida

Escaping the freezing British winter weather has to be the ultimate dream, and Florida, with temperatures of around 24°C and near-constant sunshine, fits the bill. St Pete and Clearwater, just two hours from Orlando, sits on beautiful Tampa Bay, with 35 miles of pristine white sand to choose from.

The region pulls out all the stops during the festive season; there’s an annual Christmas market and Santa parade on St Pete’s Beach, while the Holiday Lights in the Gardens is a twinkly wonderland of illuminations at the Florida Botanical Gardens. Or catch a Christmas movie screening at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach (perfect for watching the sunset too).

Christmas holidays abroad: Inn on the Beach Florida

Of course, you might just want to head straight for the beach, and with dozens to choose from, you can also go boating, jet-skiing, snorkelling and more. Base yourself at Inn on the Beach, a newly renovated boutique hotel right by the sea at the tip of St Pete’s Beach. Its 14 rooms are brightly decorated with a stylish, retro marine theme, and it’s right next to the historic beach community of Pass-a-grille. There’s no better place to spend a sandy Christmas!

Book it: Double rooms start from around £150 per night

4. Drei Zinnen, Dolomites, Italy

Best for: a chilly mountain wonderland

Christmas holidays abroad: Drei Zinnen Hotel

Tucked in the northeastern corner of Italy, the Sesto Dolomites rise up to over 3,000m, and are perfect for skiers, from pros to beginners.

The tiny town of Moso sits at the base of the mountains and is well-placed for a host of winter activities. The nearest slopes are a short walk away, but Moso really comes into its own with opportunities for cross-country skiing over 120 miles of trails. Hikers and walkers are well served too, with plenty of paths cutting through the spectacular scenery and thick pine forests.

Christmas holidays abroad: Drei Zinnen Hotel

Base yourself in the Drei Zinnen Hotel, an impressive, chalet-style building designed by Austrian architect Clemens Holzmeister (whose works include Salzburg’s iconic Festival Hall). The country-house style interior has 35 comfortable rooms, some facing the mountains. There’s a day lounge and a spa, with Turkish bath and sauna, perfect for unwinding after a day out in the snow.

Book it: Seven nights half-board at Drei Zinnen, including flights, costs from £1,545pp; visit inntravel.co.uk or call 01653 617001.

5. Les Airelles, Courchevel, France

Best for: snowy adventures

Christmas holidays abroad: Les Airelles Hotel

In Les Trois Vallées, the largest ski area in the world, you really need it to snow. And thankfully it does so regularly, carpeting this collection of picture-perfect ski-resort villages in a fluffy white blanket every winter. Courchevel, established in 1946, is one of the oldest resorts, and from here, you have access to 370 miles of slopes, and with a single pass you can ski all three valleys.

But there’s a whole world of après-ski. As a French resort, Courchevel prides itself on its cuisine, with a range of options from reasonably priced to blow the budget. Gourmet restaurant La Table des Airelles serves up French cuisine with a southern accent and comes complete with an oyster bar, whilst Piero TT pays homage to neighbouring Italy’s culinary heritage – both to be found in the glamorous Les Airelles hotel (at 1,850m).

Christmas holidays abroad: Les Airelles Hotel

Staying here is the ultimate festive treat – it’s rumoured to be where Kate and William spent their first ski holiday. A beautiful, candy-pink confection of a building, it has all the trimmings of a traditional but luxurious chalet inside. There are 48 rooms and suites, an indulgent Crème de la Mer spa, an outdoor terrace with Jacuzzi, an ice rink, and the hotel’s own horse-drawn carriage to whisk you around the village.

Book it: Double rooms on a half-board basis at Les Airelles start from around £1,070 per night.

6. Dolomite Camp, Namibia

Best for: seeing wildlife up-close and personal

Christmas holidays abroad: Etosha National Park, Namibia

Regularly topping lists of Africa’s safest countries, Namibia is the perfect place for your first safari, and travel in December to enjoy the height of summer here.

You’ll spot all manner of wildlife in Namibia’s national parks – the best is Etosha – from lions to leopards and elephant to giraffe. It’s an easy self-drive destination, with good roads and little traffic, and the joys of a road trip here include stopping off at roadside shacks to buy snacks and interact with local tribespeople.

Closer to your home from home, at the luxurious Dolomite Camp, right in the national park, leopards are known to roam by night. Don’t worry, the camp’s rangers will keep you safe!

Don’t miss a trip into the desert – the Namib is one of the oldest and driest in the world – to see the striking petrified trees of Dead Vlei set against the giant, burnt orange dunes. You can climb the world’s highest dune if you’re feeling adventurous, or from the coastal city of Swakopmund, you can see it all from above in a small plane.

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Dolomite Camp – Namibia

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The sunsets here are divine, so make sure you spend some time by the ocean to see the last light of the day twinkle on the sea.

Book it: Deluxe Chalets at Dolomite Camp start from around £110 per person per night.

7. Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah, Dubai

Best for: a balmy break

With temperatures much cooler – though not too cool, the average is still 26°C – in December, Dubai is a balmy break. Be sure to save your money on Christmas shopping so you can have a little splurge for yourself here – it’s a prime shopping destination with enormous, glitzy malls and bustling spice and silk souks.

There’s culture to be had here too, as the historic district of Al Fahidi shows what Emirati architecture once looked like before this desert town became the skyscraper city it is today. Get out into the desert with Platinum Heritage, who’ll drive you across the dunes in 1950s Land Rovers to a Bedouin camp, where dinner and dancing awaits and a sunrise hot air balloon trip the next day makes for an epic adventure.

Book it: Stay at the Waldorf Astoria for ultimate luxury and Christmas indulgence right on one of the famous Palm Islands.

8. Hotel Belmar, Costa Rica

Best for: a tropical retreat

Christmas holidays abroad: Costa Rica

The lush jungles of Costa Rica couldn’t be further from your Christmas nightmares. The verdant forests that cloak much of the country are alive with some of the world’s most exciting wildlife, and the country has beaches lapped by both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

See sloths and hummingbirds out on a jungle walk before retiring to an eco-lodge where you can while away afternoons in a hammock with your favourite book, or spent days lounging on the gorgeous beaches backed by the verdant Manuel Antonio National Park.

A trip to Monteverde Cloudforest is essential: suspended bridges and walkways allow hiking through the treetops, and for the thrill-seeker in you there’s an option to try a zipline circuit.

And after all that adventure, the luxury Hotel Belmar has views over the surrounding forests and an on-site brewery so you can enjoy a Christmas Day sundowner.

Book it: Rooms at Hotel Belmar start from around £130 a night.

9. SALA Samui Resort & Spa, Ko Samui, Thailand

Best for: a far-flung island escape

For an idyllic island escape, a million miles away from the chilly Christmas vibes at home, Ko Samui is glorious in December. It’s dry season in December, so you’re guaranteed warm, sunny days for beach bumming and snorkelling. There are all manner of resorts, from back-to-nature beach huts to luxurious spa hotels along the coast.

Ko Samui has plenty to entertain beyond the beach, too. Try hiking to one of the many waterfalls inland, or treat yourself to a little spree at one of the outlet malls on the island.

Boat trips to the nearby islands offer the opportunity to get away from the coastline and swim in deeper waters, where you’re likely to see plenty more marine life. To get an even better view of the underwater world, though, try training for your PADI diving license at one of the schools on the island.

Stand-up paddleboards and kayaks are free to rent and there’s a kids pool and an adults-only pool – making it perfect for families and couples alike.

Book it: Sala Samui Resort and Spa

Words: Laura Millar, Lottie Gross

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