HO, HO, HOL­I­DAYS

It’s not too late to book a great Christ­mas break and es­cape the silly sea­son, ad­vises Toni Eatts

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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

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