alternative holidays

September 15th, 2009

Not looking forward to packing the beach gear or the skis this holiday season?

These unconventional end-of-year getaways will scratch the travel itch. Rounded up here are cozy and kid-friendly locales for families, unique spots for adventurers and enriching destinations for those craving cultural stimuli.  

Family Festivities

89 Church Lawn

WHAT:  Getaway to a Country Cottage

WHERE: National Trust Holiday Cottages – UK

WHY: Because a trip to the English countryside with a family membership in the Royal Oak Foundation to see old castles and gardens (for free!) could just be the best present for the Harry Potter-loving kids (or parents).

DETAILS, DETAILS: With over 360 cottages from which to choose, here are a few:

  • Emley Farmhouse in Surrey sleeps up to 10 and has a traditional country kitchen, perfect for that big Christmas dinner. A three night stay starts at $740.35, a seven night stay, $1416.75.
  • 89 Church Lawn in Wiltshire sleeps up to seven and has exclusive access to the National Trust’s stunning winter gardens. You can even go fishing in the beautiful lake. A three night stay starts at $590, a seven night stay, $1065.50.
  • Abermydyr in Wales sits on the banks of the River Aeron and sleeps up to six. Brings the kids here for the Christmas food and craft fair at Llanerchaeron, a Trust protected gentry estate. A three night stay starts at $493.50, a seven night stay, $957.30.

Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa

WHAT: Swiss Family Reunion

WHERE: The Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa – Interlaken, Switzerland

WHY: Christmas dinners, a Children’s Party for New Year’s Eve, and Dad treating Mom to a Festive Foam Bath with winter aromas and champagne all conspire for festive fun.

DETAILS, DETAILS: Splash Hour at the pool, the Zurich Zoo and the St. Beatus caves will thrill the kids, and fitness classes, Turkish baths, and professional childcare will restore their parents’ sanity. Rates start at $877 per night for double occupancy.


Adventurers Only

Extraordinary Animal Encounters at Anantara Desert Islands

WHAT:  Arabian Eco-experience

WHERE: Anantara Desert Islands Resort & Spa – Sir Bani Yas Island, UAE

WHY: It feeds the craving for sun while heeding the call of the wild.

DETAILS, DETAILS: Home to one of Abu Dhabi’s largest Arabian wildlife conservancies, guests can go hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, take a game drive, or learn archery. Double occupancy rates start at $537 per night; book at least 30 days in advance to receive a 15% discount.

Uma Paro, Bhutan

 WHAT: Modern Day Pilgrimage

WHERE: Uma Paro – Bhutan  

WHY: Because hiking to a Buddhist monastery sure beats waiting in line at a department store with frantic holiday shoppers.

DETAILS, DETAILS: One of its many active adventures includes a trek to Tiger’s Nest monastery, located in the sheer cliffs 2,700 feet above Paro Valley and a peaceful orchard picnic with spectacular views. For the month of December, double occupancy rates start at $330 per night.

 Crystal Cruise's Symphony in Antarctica

WHAT: Chance to Step Foot on Antarctica

WHERE: Crystal Cruise’s Symphony departs from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile.   

WHY: Due to an upcoming ban on cruise ships in the Antarctic Ocean, this will be Crystal’s final voyage to the area.

DETAILS, DETAILS: In addition to visiting amazing locales in South America, six thrill-seekers will take the rare overland trip to Antarctica to see remote villages, a petrified forest, and a penguin breeding ground. Rates start at $8,995, double occupancy.

Cultural Cravings

 The Royal Mansour, Marrakech

WHAT: Revelation in the Red City 

WHERE: Royal Mansour Marrakech – Morocco 

WHY: It will be impossible to miss the carolers when exploring Djemma El-fna, a square in the historical district of town known for having the best musicians, dancers and storytellers.

DETAILS, DETAILS:  When in this city of cultural fusions be sure to visit the Koutoubia Mosque, the Saadian Tombs, and the largest souk (traditional market) in Morocco to bargain for spices or clothing or tea pots. Riads start at €1,500 a night.     

      Uma Ubud Terrace Room

WHAT: Balinese New Beginning

WHERE: Uma Ubud – Bali  

WHY: What better way to start the year then with the New Year package’s complimentary massage on the first day of 2010.   

DETAILS, DETAILS: Guests will see the village decorated with traditional bamboo poles and banana leaves and enjoy a Balinese-inspired New Year’s Eve dinner, followed by a cocktail party with DJ at the pool bar. Rates start at $260 per night, double occupancy.

Mahout Training at Elephant Camp 

WHAT: A Resolution Well-Kept

WHERE: Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa, Chiang Rai, Thailand 

WHY: Utilizing those new Thai cooking skills back home will keep the post-holiday gloom at bay.

DETAILS, DETAILS: The cooking lessons are just the beginning of the cultural immersion; at the Elephant Camp (part of the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre), a 30-minute lesson will teach adventurers to drive an elephant. Rates start at $520, double occupancy.

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