Starting to plan for the next holiday season? Consider having yourself a merry little getaway.
For many, heading “home” for the holidays is a tradition difficult to break, even if you find the annual pilgrimage somewhat less appealing than portrayed in sentimental holiday films. You could break with tradition and have yourself a merry little getaway instead. Even invite the family along, if you like.
As this year’s season approaches, consider something new. A present to yourself. A new tradition. Why not end the year with a memorable merry-making experience? Where could you go? What should you do? The answers center on your idea of the ideal holiday. New experiences await, check the list for adventures both close to home and a little farther away.
Not So Far (la la la la) Away
Durango, Colorado, may not leap to mind as an end-of-the-year holiday adventure base, yet it has a broad appeal beyond its spectacular southern Rockies location. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers special family train rides modeled after the movie “The Polar Express” from mid-November through New Year’s weekend. Nearby, the extraordinary, yet decidedly un-decked halls of the pueblo dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park await your inspection. In town, there is an unending supply of holiday cheer available in the western saloons.
Quebec, perhaps the most European-like city in North America, transforms its inner city into a brilliantly lit magical holiday village. Stroll the cobblestone streets in the shadow of the famous Chateau Frontenac, sampling gingerbread cookies, bratwursts and roasted chestnuts from the kiosks at the Christmas Market. In this French-accented city (if your French is rusty, it won’t matter – English works) of outdoor enthusiasts, there seems to be something for everyone. Sit for a candlelit evening of Charles Dickens readings recalling Christmas traditions past, or watch cyclists peddling purposefully to produce power to light this ecofriendly city’s recycled sheet metal Christmas tree.
San Miguel de Allende, first colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, draws holiday visitors from around the world for its month-long Christmas frenzy featuring posadas (depicting the nine-day trek of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem) and pastorelas (passion plays) along with fireworks and dancing in Plaza El Jardin, the city’s main square. This UNESCO World Heritage Site in central Mexico boasts an arts community whose wares are on display in the old city’s picturesque colonial shops. If you fancy a special meal, try one of the many foodie restaurants with rooftop dining. This is a city of springtime weather, so dine al fresco under the fading light as the sun sets behind the Sierra Madre.
A Sleigh Ride Away
If your time off stretches beyond just a few days, consider hopping the Atlantic in search of just the right holiday experience.
Several European cities are known for their light-drenched Christmas markets, bursting with handmade crafts, holiday treats and mulled drinks. Copenhagen’s lights are astonishing. Four miles of draped, dazzling twinklers blanket Tivoli Gardens. Add another 1,800 strands hanging over the lakeside willows, and you begin to understand how special Jul (“yuletide”) is to the city and its visitors. It may be cold, but you can warm up sipping a hot cup of gløgg (mulled red wine with raisins, almonds, cinnamon sticks and cloves, plus, for good measure, a little aquavit or schnapps). In Germany, Dresden’s Yuletide has since 1434 centered on an 8,000-pound fruitcake which, accompanied by a Stollenmädchen (“Fruitcake Maiden”), is paraded through the city’s medieval streets before it is divvyed up among market-goers. In Munich, holiday revelers, having examined the 85-foot Christmas tree on the Marienplatz, are likely to be eating wursts and potato pancakes before reaching for the gingerbread. You won’t be lonely if you visit Nuremberg’s well-regarded Christmas Market – 2 million others will have had the same idea.
Prefer a little more space? Investigate the holiday offerings in a much smaller locale, such as Norway’s snowy island city Tromsø. At this time of year, a “day” is just a few hours of twilight blue. You may be as close to the North Pole as you care to get, but the Northern Lights are fabulous and traditional Norwegian holiday dinners (think fish) are something to text home about.
Far, Far Away
If your holiday time off allows you to wander the globe for something completely different, consider the Kaikoura Peninsula on New Zealand’s South Island. You can’t help encountering whales, fur seals, dolphins and albatross if you take a kayak into Kaikoura Bay, known as one of the world’s most diverse marine environments. You won’t have to go too far to find people hiking in the rainforest, soaking up the sun or celebrating the main holiday meals next to the barbecue.