Planning the Perfect Holiday Vacation

Pack away the hassles of hosting over the holidays by visiting one of these festive destinations.

Heidelberg, Germany (photo courtesy Tobias Schwerdt)

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A holiday trip is a gift to yourself or even the whole family. Sleigh rides, Christmas markets, and hotels sparkling with twinkling lights…the holiday season is full of festive ways to celebrate, near and far. Maybe you’ve tired of tradition and are looking to escape Old Man Winter. Or maybe you want to gather your far-off family somewhere special. Pack away the hassles of hosting over the holidays by ringing in the New Year at one of these festive destinations.

A German Weihnachten

Germany’s simply wunderbar over the holidays. Enjoy a hot cup of glühwein and roasted almonds while strolling the Christmas market stalls filled with handmade ornaments and toys. A tradition that began in German-speaking parts of Europe back in the Middle Ages, the markets run for the four weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas, and usually end December 22 or 23. Found all over Germany, some Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkts) seem to truly shine. Stuttgart has one of the oldest (dating back to the 1600s!) and has an over-the-top New Year’s Eve celebration, which Germans call Silvester. Stuttgart’s WaldHotel is a historic favorite near the city center.

The historic town of Heidelberg also turns up the gemütlichkeit over the holidays. Follow the cobblestone streets to Karlsplatz, where you can ice skate with a view of the 13th century castle illuminated high up on the hill. Stay at the Europaischer Hof. For more than 150 years it’s been the grande dame of Heidelberg. Indulge in finger sandwiches and scones at Sunday’s high tea.

Spirit of Santa Fe

“Red, green, or Christmas?” That’s what you’re asked each time you sit down for a meal in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Although it is the time of year for festive conversation, this question has nothing to do with holiday decor. It’s all about the chiles, the ubiquitous culinary symbol of this southwestern town.

The city’s unique blend of Indian and Hispanic culture is reflected in the seasonal traditions so different from the rest of the U.S. Farolitos, candles placed in paper bags, light up the night as they line the walkways and rooftops of the adobe homes and Spanish style churches, giving the city an even more spiritual quality than it normally has. New age is old school in this town, where generations have embraced everything from yoga and meditation to holistic medicine. But during the holidays, the spirit of Christmas takes over the town, where long-held Catholic traditions are still observed.

Lanterns in Santa Fe Farolitos
Santa Fe Farolitos (photo credit: Tourism Santa Fe)

Want to stay in the heart of Santa Fe, directly on the Plaza, surrounded by restaurants, museums and shops? Choose La Fonda, with its beautiful art, outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, and chic western and Native American themed furnishings. Want to start your day like a local? Head to Tia Sofia’s. Local leaders and politicians gather each morning at this iconic favorite, home of the breakfast burrito.

A snow covered front porch in Santa Fe
Winter in Santa Fe (photo credit: Tourism Santa Fe)

Consider the Caribbean

This isn’t your classic Christmas, but a great choice if you’d like to trade tradition (maybe even snow) for warm island breezes. There are 26 different island nations in the Caribbean, but many are off the radar for most tourists. Want to avoid hordes of cruise ship passengers? Set a course for one of the Caribbean’s best kept secrets… the tiny Southern Caribbean island nation of Grenada, in the Windward Islands. There are direct flights to Grenada from New York, Charlotte, and Miami.

Natural beauty abounds, from white sand beaches to lush mountains and tropical waterfalls. Called the Spice Island for its abundance of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, culinary traditions are influenced by the various cultures that have settled this British Commonwealth over the centuries. Mix with locals, enjoy live music and sample first-rate home cooking on Wednesday nights at the Dodgy Dock street food festival at the funky True Blue Bay Resort.

Christmas customs vary throughout the Caribbean. Every island has catchy Calypso versions of yuletide songs played on steel pans, but Grenada is proud of their unique musical tradition known as Parang— Grenadian carols sung in groups, accompanied by drums, maracas, tambourines, and more.

Some traditions are universal though. Santa shows up at the swanky Silversands Grenada, home to the longest pool in the Caribbean. No need for Santa? Consider the adults-only all-inclusive Sandals Resort. Activities like snorkeling, sailing, even scuba diving, are all complimentary.

Poolside at a Silversands Grenada hotel
Silversands Grenada (photo courtesy Silversands Grenada)

Classic Christmas in Montana

Dreaming of a white Christmas with breathtaking mountains? Big Sky Country has a blizzard of activities to get you in the holiday spirit. The casual college town of Missoula charms with cute shops and nearby downhill skiing. A half hour away, The Resort at Paws Up is western luxury at its finest. A holiday vacation here comes with all the trimmings… cookie decorating, a gingerbread house contest, and horse-drawn sleigh rides. They’ll even deliver a tree to your luxury cabin, set it up by the fireplace and have Santa show up with presents on Christmas morning. Hanukkah dinners and events are also available.

Horses drawing a carriage at the Paws Up resort
Paws Up (photo courtesy Stuart Thurlkill)

Paws Up sits on a working cattle ranch, offering plenty of outdoor adventures. Explore miles of snowy trails via dog sled, horseback, snowmobile, or cross-country skis. Even though it’s a ranch, don’t expect franks-n-beans. Atlanta James Beard Award winner and Top Chef finalist Kevin Gillespie comes to cook on December 26th and Chicago’s James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Mindy Segal is cooking New Year’s Day brunch.

Viva Mexico

Being a predominantly Catholic country, Christmas in Mexico is a big deal. One beloved holiday tradition is the posada— processions of Joseph and Mary’s arrival in Bethlehem aboard a donkey. Christmas is celebrated on December 24th with traditional foods like ponche, a Mexican version of a hot toddy, and a sweet bread called rosca de reyes. The bread contains small figurines of Jesus, and the person who discovers the figure in their portion is expected to hold a party on February 2nd. Mariachi bands playing Christmas carols add to the lively festivities.

The Spanish colonial town of San Miguel de Allende is a charming choice, but being three-and-a-half hours from the Mexico City Airport, it can be tough to get to. Staying at one of the beach towns just minutes from the Cancun Airport might be more manageable, especially if you’re gathering a large group. Affordable non-stop flights from throughout the U.S. add to the ease of Cancun.

Larger groups will love all-inclusives like the beachfront Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, with everything from standard rooms to three bedroom suites. There’s a complimentary kids club and free activities for adults as well, including cooking classes, tennis lessons, and bicycle tours to the nearby fishing village. Kids and grandkids will have proof Santa can find them anywhere when he arrives at the hotel on Christmas Day.

The resort at Grand Residences Rivera Cancun
Grand Residences Riviera Cancun (photo courtesy Grand Residences Riviera Cancun)


Featured image: Heidelberg, Germany (photo courtesy Tobias Schwerdt).

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