HO, HO, HOLIDAYS
It’s not too late to book a great Christmas break and escape the silly season, advises Toni Eatts
HERE are 10 excellent getaways for the festive season, all with vacancies at the time of writing. Island idylls: A Great Barrier Reef island escape? There are still resort rooms available, but they won’t last. Voyages Lizard Island (no children under 12) and its stablemate, the slightly more family-friendly Brampton, have vacancies. Guests fly to Cairns and then take a light plane to luxurious Lizard with its powdery white beaches and easy access to coral reefs. But it is stinger season, so either struggle into a wetsuit or view marine life from a glass-bottom boat and make a permanent claim on a sun lounger by the pool. Lizard has a reputation for fine food and also offers the award-winning Azure Spa and all five-star resort essentials.
Beautiful Brampton lies further south, in the Whitsundays off the coast of Mackay, where stingers are less likely to be a problem, so you should be able to snorkel all day. There are no children’s facilities: just a whole lot of watersports and some great nature walks. www.voyages.com.au.
So near, so spa: If you yearn for a Christmas break with extreme spoiling, look no further than Peppers Springs Retreat and Spa in the historic village of Hepburn Springs. Surrounded by tranquil gardens, this art deco hotel is located in so-called spa country, about a 90-minute drive from Melbourne. But there’s no need to leave the resort to take the waters. At the bottom of the garden is the chic Mineral Spa, two-time winner at The Australian ’ s Travel & Tourism Awards for best destination spa. It offers a range of enticing massages and three open-air mineral water plunge pools. The spa is open every day except Christmas Day, which is just as well, because after demolishing the seafood and turkey Christmas buffet at the hotel’s acclaimed Deco restaurant, you may feel in need of restoration on Boxing Day. www.peppers.com.au.
Green Christmas: Nestled among vineyards in the NSW Hunter Valley, Cypress Lakes Resort at Pokolbin boasts an 18-hole championship course, Golden Door Spa, kids’ club for three to 13-year-olds and a swimming pool. The spa isn’t open on Christmas Day but you’ll be able to have a round of golf before or after Christmas lunch.
There’s an impressive seafood and carvery buffet being served in the Brokenback Ballroom, or four festive courses in the more intimate Pipette Restaurant.
Cypress Lakes offers a range of fully serviced villas from one to four bedrooms and is about a two-hour drive north of Sydney. www.cypresslakes.com.au.
Dine and wine: Be fast as Cape Lodge in the West Australian Margaret River region only has a few rooms left. But if you’re lucky enough to spend Christmas here, you’ll be so glad you did. This luxurious boutique hotel has made Conde Nast Traveler ’ s Gold List 2007 as one of the world’s best 100 hotels. It has also won awards for its food and is offering a lavish three-course a la carte Christmas lunch menu at its lakeside restaurant. For dinner there are gourmet platters of home-smoked salmon, char-grilled marron, roast Harvey Beef and other festive trimmings available in your suite, on your private terrace or picnic-style by the lake. It’s about three hours south of Perth; nearby wineries include Vasse Felix, Moss Wood and Cullen, and one of the features of Cape Lodge is its cellar stocked with 14,000 bottles of vintage Margaret River wines. www.capelodge.com.au.
Drop and flop in Fiji: If you love swish resorts and want to get off the plane and check into your beachside room less than a half hour later, the Westin Fiji Resort and Spa on the Denarau estate, an easy cab ride from Nadi airport, is for you. There’s a children’s club, babysitters for the evenings, a choice of restaurants (including Japanese and a steakhouse), the beach at your doorstep and a pool. You could play tennis or golf but, given the season, perhaps a visit to the Heavenly Spa, with its 12 therapy suites and rooms dotted through lush gardens, would be just the ticket. www.westinfiji.com.
Run away to sea: Consider a 16-day flycruise package of the Mexican Riviera aboard the luxurious 1000-passenger Crystal Symphony departing San Pedro (Los Angeles) on December 20.
The ship heads to San Diego and on to Cabo San Lucas. You’ll spend Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve cruising the Pacific with the prospect of abundant festive food, swimming pool and a range of entertainment (including lavish production shows), wellstocked library, spa and casino. On Boxing Day, wake up in Acapulco and have a full day to explore this city before Crystal Symphony heads north again, stopping along the Mexican Riviera before returning to Los Angeles. Wiltrans Australia: 1800 251 174.
Out to Africa: A five-star impeccably catered safari? High-end travel expert Abercrombie & Kent offers an eight-day African adventure that starts on December 20 in Nairobi, Kenya. Fly north to the private reserve of Loisaba for two days, then to Olonana Lodge beside the wide plains of the Masai Mara. In this wildlife haven there is an excellent chance of seeing Africa’s big five: elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo. Each of Olonana’s 12 tented bush pavilions overlooks the Mara River and comes with its own butler.
Sundowner cocktail in the wild, anyone? www.abercrombiekent.com.au.
Unforgettable Paris: The French capital’s designer shops, all decked out in Christmas baubles, the Eiffel Tower swathed in festive lights: all on offer in Trafalgar’s relaxing eight-day tour from December 23. A guide will meet you at your hotel — either the Campanile Tour Eiffel or the Marriot Rive Gauche, depending on the standard you select — and tour highlights include a cruise along the Seine, a visit to the Fragonard perfume factory and an excursion to the Palace of Versailles. www.trafalgar.com
Best of both worlds: Want to share a white Christmas with the kids, do a little skiing but not be stuck in a resort town with rowdy powderhounds chugging beer and vodka chasers? The solution is Vancouver, British Columbia, a stunning Canadian city with spectacular harbour, movie theatres, restaurants and great shopping. Vancouver rarely gets snow but a mere 15 minutes away are the exhilarating snow fields of Grouse Mountain. Take the Skyride to the summit and choose from 25 runs or enjoy a sleigh ride, try ice skating or just inhale that winter wonderland feeling. Keep the mood going back at the Four Seasons Vancouver, host of the annual charity fundraiser, the Festival of Trees, involving more than 50 lavishly decorated Christmas trees. Enough to make you realise too much Christmas is never enough. www.fourseasons.com/vancouver/.
Chez Santa: Think of the bragging rights the whole family would gain from spending Christmas in the blue twilight of the Arctic Circle. My Planet Australia’s popular tour is centred around Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi, a short drive from Santa’s home. Included is the opportunity to have dinner at an igloo restaurant, visit a husky farm, spend Christmas Eve in Santa’s secret hideaway, ride snowmobiles on Christmas Day and enjoy a festive feast at your four-star hotel (book as soon as possible to score a suite). www.myplanetaustralia.com.
Christmas cracker: Treat yourself to the view across the Barrier Reef from Lizard Island