With 2019 quickly drawing to a close, there’s just enough time to squeeze in one final getaway before the New Year. From magical Christmas markets to extraordinary spots of natural beauty, here are the Luxury Editor’s best destinations for December:
Best for: feeling festive
Although it is a popular destination all year round, there is something truly magical about Christmas in Bruges. Wandering around the city centre during December is like walking into a scene from a traditional Christmas card. The main square’s brightly coloured buildings, bedecked with ornate decorations and lights, resemble gingerbread houses, whilst the huge ice rink full of happy skaters completes the enchanting festive scene. The square also plays host to a bustling Christmas market, with stalls housed in charming wooden chalets. Expect to be enticed by the rich aroma of warm waffles and mulled wine that pervades the market, and keep your eyes peeled for artisanal decorations featuring the lace that Bruges is famed for. The best way to explore the city is by taking a luxury horse-drawn carriage trip, enabling you to admire Bruges’ beautiful canals and architecture whilst being whisked along its cobbled streets in comfort. As you make your way through the city expect to see an abundance of chocolate shops – Belgian chocolate is world-famous and, with over 50 shops, Bruges is the perfect place to sample it and stock up on last-minute Christmas presents.
Read our guide to the best luxury hotels in Bruges
Hotel Van Cleef
Hotel de Orangerie
Best for: Georgian charm and the ultimate chill-out
Founded by the Romans as a thermal spa in the first century AD, the city of Bath remains a luxury spa destination to this day. Unwind from the stresses of life this winter by visiting the magnificent Thermae Bath Spa, the only place in the UK where you can bathe in natural hot springs, just as the Romans did all those years ago. The Spa also features an open-air rooftop pool with stunning views of the city centre’s impressive Georgian architecture that earned Bath UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1987. Explore the city’s Roman heritage in style at the original Roman Baths, where you can enjoy a magical torchlit visit before sitting down for a delicious three-course meal in the Georgian pump room. We also recommend taking in a show at one of the city’s award-winning theatres – the exquisite Theatre Royal is our favourite. Sporting fans amongst you should head to the Recreation Ground in the heart of city, where you can watch one of Europe’s top rugby teams, Bath Rugby, in action.
Read our guide to the Best Luxury Hotels in Bath
Gainsborough Bath Spa
Francis Hotel Bath – MGallery by Sofitel
The Bath Priory
Best for: souks, seafood and natural beauty
If you want to soak up some culture with your winter sunshine, the Middle Eastern country of Oman is the place for you. Situated at the foot of the Arabian Peninsula, this traditional trading nation has resisted the lavish modernisation carried out by many of its neighbours, allowing visitors to enjoy an authentic Arabian experience. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the country’s internationally acclaimed souks. The best example is the Mutrah Souk in the nation’s capital, Muscat, where you can weave your way through a maze of stalls and find beautiful handcrafted jewellery, as well as the world’s highest quality frankincense. Muscat, a harbour city, is the ideal place from which to explore the country’s unspoiled coastline – exclusive dhow trips allow tourists to admire its innate beauty, whilst wildlife enthusiasts can expect to see dolphins and a variety of whales. Inland, Oman is renowned for its mesmeric mountainous terrain, but the highlight is the abandoned village of Wadi Ghul, found within the Hajar mountain range. Its spectacular rocky cliffs and remarkable depth have rightly earned it the nickname of ‘Arabia’s Grand Canyon’ and it is a must-visit.
Read our guide to the best luxury hotels in Oman
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort
The Chedi Muscat
Six Senses Zighy Bay
Best for: wildlife adventures and wine lovers
Though it may not be an obvious destination for a December getaway, South Africa is the ideal location to bring the year to a close in style. As home to all of the ‘Big Five’ game animals (lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffaloes), South Africa has long enjoyed the reputation of being one of Africa’s leading safari destinations. Although there is a plethora of reserves to choose from, we recommend visiting the iconic Kruger National Park, in the north east of the country. One of the continent’s most extensive game reserves, its luxury accommodation, combined with first-class dining and hospitality, guarantee a truly unique wildlife-viewing experience. Since being introduced for the first time by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century, South Africa has also blossomed into one of the world’s leading wine exporters. A dynamic producer of wines, the country cultivates an impressive variety of high quality bottles, ranging from Pinotage to Sauvignon Blanc. Any oenophiles amongst you should head to Stellenbosch, which is undoubtedly the heart of the South African wine industry, and follow the impressive Wine Route.
Read our guide to the best luxury hotels in Cape Town
One and Only Cape Town
Belmond Mount Nelson
Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg
Best for: a magical experience
Given the mystical beauty of the aurora borealis, it is not surprising that witnessing it up close features on many people’s bucket list – you can tick it off yours this December by heading to the remote Swedish village of Abisko. Located within the Arctic Circle, the village’s STF Aurora Sky Station is considered one of the best places on earth to view this natural phenomenon and December is the perfect time to go due to the dark skies that envelop the region then. Enjoy an exclusive four-course dinner under the stars, featuring the best of Swedish cuisine, before settling into the station’s lookout tower, which provides the best vantage point to marvel at the Northern Lights. However, this is by no means Abisko’s only attraction – its national park is home to an abundance of wildlife, including moose and arctic foxes. If you’re lucky, you can also spot reindeer, ensuring a magical Christmas experience for all the family.