Festive Escapes: Five Ways to Enjoy an Alternative Xmas

Let’s be honest – Christmas isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. It’s the most stressful, expensive, noisy time of the year, and it’s cold, too. While there are some people who love nothing more than carol singing, gift giving and wearing festive jumpers – for the rest of us, getting into the Christmas spirit means opening up a bottle of gin.

If you’re already dreading the manic shopping, the office parties and the tense family dinners, you are not alone. Thousands of Brits head for sunnier climes over the Christmas break, choosing to shun tradition and do Christmas their way. But you don’t need to spend a small fortune and travel hundreds of miles just to escape the hustle and hype of the run up to December 25th. Instead, why not give yourself a little breather by taking a couple of days to just chill out and enjoy the holiday season your way.

1. Retreat to the country

St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides: a scenic Xmas escape

It’s not that people don’t celebrate Christmas in the countryside – it’s just that you don’t have to deal with the glaring lights and tacky store window displays when you leave the city centre. Find somewhere nice and remote that’s well away from the lights of the city, and treat yourself to a bit of good old fashioned peace and quiet.

To guarantee tranquillity, choose an area which boasts dark skies, for instance the South Downs or the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. In the far north of Scotland, you can even see the Northern Lights at this time of year.

At night, you can sit outside your rural cottage and drink in the silence while you gaze up at the stars and contemplate the vast emptiness of space and time. Not a sleigh bell or reindeer in sight.

2. Hit the water

Lose yourself in the Lakes

When you really need to get away from it all, there’s no better cure than a night or two at sea. If you can sail, hire a yacht or a boat and head out to sea until you can no longer see the twinkling of the Christmas lights along the coast.

If you can’t sail, simply enjoy the tranquillity of the water from the comfort of the shores. Find a nice big lake or a quiet bay – the sort of place where you can’t see an end to the horizon. That’s better, isn’t it? Treat yourself to a nice fish supper and your seaside retreat is complete.

3. Just stay in

Enjoy a holiday hideaway

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. If you hate Christmas, and Christmas seems to be everywhere, just stay inside. No one’s forcing you to put on the Christmas telly, and you don’t have to have mince pies with every meal. Your house, your rules.

Except sometimes it isn’t quite that simple – whether it’s the bulb-tastic display on the house across the street glaring through your bedroom window and keeping you up at night; or the festive fervour of your flatmates or family – sometimes you need to take a break in a home away from home. Hire a holiday cottage or house so you can simply bed in, veg out and luxuriate in your indoor haven.

4. Catch up on your culture

Soak up some culture

While everyone else is off at the school nativity or carol singing in the town square, you could be off getting some real culture in your life. It’s the start of the Hollywood award season, so all the best movies of the year are being released at the moment. Treat yourself to a double bill at the local cinema; for extra Scrooge points, choose a horror flick or a psychological thriller.

Or you could spend the long dark evenings getting stuck into a good book – Wolf Hall should see you through December, and it’s a decidedly non-festive read.

There isn’t much on at the theatre at this time of year – aside from the local panto of course – but you could catch an experimental student production at a local college or uni as the end of term approaches. Oh yes you could.

5. Reach new heights

Put some perspective on Christmas

Take a tip from the Grinch: he moved to a cave on top of a mountain just to get away from the Christmas obsessed residents of Whoville.

There is nothing better than a mountaintop when you just need to be alone. The climb up is reassuringly tough, the air is clean and fresh, and the view from the top puts everything into perspective. Where better to indulge in a picnic, take in your surroundings and scream into the wind? Go on, scream away – it’s just you and the mountain – anything goes. You can even belt out a few verses of your favourite/least-hated Christmas carol if you like… we won’t tell.

Find a host of holiday hideaways with cottages4you

9 Perfect Ways to Unwind this Winter

The summer months may be behind us, but there’s a whole host of exciting activities and events for you to enjoy this winter. Whether you’re holidaying in a favourite corner of the UK or looking for new and exciting events nearer home, our fair isle has plenty on offer to keep you and the family busy over the winter months, whatever the weather. Click on the first image to start the tour.

 

Cottages of the Week – Sanlucchese 1-4, Poggibonsi, Tuscany

These four stunning properties are set on a grand hilltop farmhouse complex with breath-taking views of the Tuscan countryside. Properties sleep 2, 3, 4 and 8 holidaymakers, and each one accepts 1 pet. Find individual property listings on the photo captions.

8 Unique Christmas Shopping Experiences

Edinburgh at Xmas: a vibrant yet traditional festive experience

Christmas shopping – those who love it will tell you nothing could spoil the feeling of finding the perfect gift for someone you love. Hate it and you’ll no doubt be put off by the bustling crowds and stress. Whatever your feelings towards it, we’ve come up with some shopping destination alternatives to the multitude of high streets and malls that’ll leave even the biggest shopping Grinch feeling merry and in the festive spirit.

  1. The Shambles, York

Take a step back in time this year and visit the historic city of York for a Christmas shopping experience coupled with culture and sightseeing. While the city has plenty of fantastic places to grab your gifts, the highlight has to be The Shambles, a road so old that it was mentioned in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086. Strolling down the narrow, charming cobbled road beneath beautiful, timber-framed buildings, you’ll find vintage boutiques, delicious chocolatiers and unique gifts. Voted ‘Britain’s Most Picturesque Street’ in 2010; it’s possible in some places to touch both sides of the streets with your arms outstretched.

  1. Llandeilo, Wales

While Cardiff and Swansea might be your usual destinations of choice for Christmas shopping in Wales, head out of the cities for more relaxing shopping. With a multitude of market towns in Wales you’re spoilt for choice. One of our favourites is the colourful town of Llandeilo, a chic Christmas shopping destination without a high-street shop in sight. Winding streets host many one off items from designer fashion, bespoke home furnishings and furniture, local crafts, produce and antiques. Right on the edge of the magnificent Brecon Beacons National Park, this is the perfect place to do a spot of Christmas shopping and get away from it all. Who said Christmas shopping had to be stressful?

  1. Carnaby Street, London
Christmas Decoration in London

Carnaby Street: An out of this world experience for festive shoppers

With such an array of diverse and fantastic shopping in the country’s capital, it can be difficult to know where to start. Stumble into a winter shopping wonderland and visit Harrods for a Christmas experience you’ll never forget or try the hip markets in Shoreditch and haggle with aspiring designers for one off fashion finds. Our top tip for London though is Carnaby Street in Soho, a shopping haven with independent boutiques and fashion retailers as well as bigger global brands and fantastic restaurants. You can get all of your festive shopping done here and have plenty of fun doing it!

  1. Northern Quarter, Manchester

If you like your Christmas shopping to come with a quirky twist then a trip to Manchester’s Northern Quarter certainly delivers. A hotbed of creative talents, independent retailers, record shops, cafes, restaurants and bars ensures the Northern Quarter has a charm that echoes Manchester’s illustrious musical and artistic history. A must see is the famous Affleck’s Palace with fashion retailers and outlets over four floors. If the chill of winter is getting too much then grab a drink or a bite to eat in one of the Northern Quarter’s fantastic bars or restaurants. If the shopping hasn’t tired you out then stick around a little longer to enjoy the vibrant nightlife on offer.

  1. Salisbury, Wiltshire

Recently voted by Lonely Planet as ‘One of the World’s Top 10 Cities to visit in 2015′, get there early for a quintessentially English Christmas shopping experience. There are hundreds of shops and, while Salisbury is famous for its local and independent traders, there are plenty of high street offerings as well. This medieval city is easy to get around making shopping a delight rather than a chore. Also included in the top 10 were Vienna, Toronto and Milan, so Salisbury is rubbing shoulders with some truly stunning places. A visit to Stonehenge is a must for any Salisbury trip (but don’t expect to find any shops there!)

  1. The Grassmarket, Edinburgh

Only a short walk from the popular Royal Mile, soak up the vibrant and medieval atmosphere at Edinburgh’s Grassmarket for a specialist shopping experience. Over 90% of the shops here are independent and locally run, and there’s year round entertainment and events to brighten up the day for even the most reluctant Christmas shopper. Eat and drink traditional Scottish and locally sourced produce whilst you enjoy spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle that towers above.

  1. The Lanes, Brighton

Enjoy another side of Brighton in the winter

You might want to leave your bathing gear behind for this seaside trip, but there are plenty of other reasons to visit this beautiful seaside town in winter. The Lanes are packed full of wonderful antique and jewellery shops nestled alongside contemporary and designer boutique fashion retailers, restaurants and eccentric cafes. If you have a sweet-tooth then pop into the famous Choccywoccydoodah and grab some deliciously indulgent stocking fillers. If you’ve still got some energy left at the end of the day then head to Brighton Pier for a fun-filled way to round off the day with rides, arcades and attractions.

  1. Christmas Markets

We’re cheating here but we can’t single out just one Christmas market. Combining food, drink and shopping, we think they create a fantastic festive experience that’ll get you in a marvellously merry mood. View our countdown of the 11 Best Christmas Markets in the UK for inspiration.

The UK’s Best Christmas Events

A selection of the Britain’s finest festive attractions to get you in the Christmas spirit. Enjoy Edinburgh’s mix of stunning seasonal events, take a walk on the wild side in Chester, marvel at gorgeous garlands in Cornwall and get fit and raise money for charity…

A pre-Christmas treat

thursford

Thursford: putting the spectacle in spectacular

If you’d like a break to get yourself ready for the festivities, then Norfolk can be a great choice. There’s the chance for head-clearing walks on stunning beaches, cosy lunches in country pubs and much more. This would also give you the chance to enjoy the legendary Christmas Spectacular at Thursford. It’s the biggest Christmas show across the country, with 130 singers, dancers and musicians, offering three hours of stunning entertainment. It’s set in an amazingly created atmosphere full of fairground carousels and mechanical organs, and folk travel from all across the UK to enjoy a happy and memorable festive experience.

A night with the animals

lantern company

Monkey business by The Lantern Company

Many folk have been recently charmed by the BBC drama series Our Zoo – telling the story of Chester Zoo. This Christmas, there’s a chance to visit the place itself and enjoy one of their festive season lantern workshops. Youngsters can design their own lantern, and then everyone sets off on a night-time journey, listening to sounds of animals as they prowl the darkness. There’s an illuminated trail created by The Lantern Company, leading to a display of stunning animal themed lanterns. Hang your Christmas wishes on the Giant Wishing Tree before you visit Fruit Bat Forest and the Elephant House. There are 14 pre-Christmas dates, but many are selling out fast so do check now.

A day at the races

There has been a long tradition of festive season race meetings across the country gathering large holiday crowds. If you’ve never been, it could be a great time to pay a fist visit. Among the many meetings, there will be plenty of atmosphere on Saturday 27th December at Chepstow for the famous Welsh National. On Boxing Day itself, you’ll be able to choose from eight locations, including Huntingdon and Kempton Park, Wetherby or Towcester.

The power of flowers

Photo by Adrian Platt

Photo by Adrian Platt

At Cotehele, a magical National Trust Tudor property in gorgeous Cornwall, the garden staff spend most of November creating a truly amazing sixty-foot long Christmas garland. It contains more than forty thousand flowers, and right through December, you have the chance to visit the hall and admire its unique beauty. If you’re on a pre-Christmas break, you’ll also find musical events under it most days.

A walk in the park

Unless you have small children and buggies, then there’s a great way to clear the head on Boxing Day morning if you are enjoying a break in the wilds of Kent. You could join a group of like-minded souls at Ightham Mote to tuck into a full English breakfast to prepare you for a bracing and informal guided walk around this magnificent estate, just a few miles south of Sevenoaks. After your trek, you might choose to look round this romantic moated manor house itself. Noted historian Dr David Starkey has described it as “one of the most beautiful and interesting of English country houses”.

Your capital choice

edinburgh xmas

Edinburgh has Christmas covered

Staying in many beautiful countryside locations in central Scotland would give you the chance of a visit or two to Edinburgh, where there’s a huge choice of festive things to do. You and the family might visit the superb Santa Land in East Princes Street Gardens. There’s a grotto and train, tree maze, and terrific rides such as the North Pole Slide, Swan Lake and Race-a-Rama. There’s also a roller coaster! You might also book sixty minutes of circus acts and mischief makers in a youngsters’ treat at the Brat Kids Carnival in St Andrew Square. There’s also an ice rink there, and another in Princes Street Gardens – if you are brave enough!

An adventurous time

A Yorkshire break would give the whole family an excuse to enjoy great fun times at Stockeld Park, located between Harrogate and Leeds. Their packed Christmas Adventure can include either a stroll, or you could try Nordic Skiing, through the amazing Illuminated Enchanted Forest; a mix of theatre, fantasy and great lighting effects. Who knows who you might meet? Then you can lose yourself in the amazing Snowflake Maze. If you have a youngster who wants to try ice skating, but is a bit unsteady, they can even gain the support of their very own supportive penguin!

Lights at the borderlands

alnwick

Alnwick Garden’s stunning Sparkle show

As the festive season draws to a close, the magnificent Alnwick Garden in Northumberland is lit up with a truly stunning Sparkle lighting display. The whole family can celebrate the New Year in a traditional way with street entertainment, giggle-inducing party games, much music and a traditional Hog Roast Carvery, plus a DJ party or a quieter and more relaxing option in the Pavilion. There’s also an awesome landscape of windswept coastlines and castles, sweeping moorlands and charming towns to investigate as you make your way into another great year!

Run, Santa, Run

Ted tried it last year

Even Ted’s tried it

If you tend to over-indulge in the festivities over the Christmas period then our next choice is the perfect preparation for a New Year Resolution to get fit – and raise money for charity in the process! The annual Santa Fun Run, in aid of Bosom Friends, takes place in Barnoldswick every year. This year’s event takes place on December 7th near to our office and the emphasis is on the fun, so whether you try to beat your ‘PB’ or are happier completing the 5k as a strolling Santa, we’re sure you’ll have a good time whilst raising funds for a very worthy cause.

Find fantastic festive accommodation with cottages4you