Right now in mid-November 2021, Europe is tightening its borders for the unvaccinated as yet another wave roils. New records are for daily infections are being set in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands. France is seeing their fifth wave, and parts of the USA are too. Austria is going back into a national shutdown as of Monday, November 22, 2021 and plans to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory. Here in the U.S., New England covid cases are on the rise due to delta.
What does this mean for travel? It means lots of care and consideration.
Trips for this festive season are doable. Last-minute opportunities still exist. Everyone has their own risk threshold. One thing is clear :: I strongly recommend financially protecting yourself with travel insurance in case anything changes, along with evacuation insurance in case you test positive while you’re away.
With that said, let’s dream a little.
For 2021 if you’re game; or if not, then for the festive season of 2022. If any of these sound interesting to you, reach out and let’s add one of these holiday adventures to your bucket list!
There are so many twinkling holiday lights to fire up your travel dreams.
1 || The Northern Lights in Finland
Finland is open to fully-vaccinated travelers, and exploring Lapland to see Santa and experience the Northern Lights is a fantastic way to encounter the magic of Christmas. Winter sports like husky-sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling are all possible or you can do a dog-sled tour above the Arctic Circle in the wild areas unmarred by city lights. And with the long nights, the odds of seeing the Northern Lights are very good!
I love the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel which offers cozy treehouse suites as well as glasshouses, each with its own private sauna. For an indulgence, you could splurge for one of their suites that sit in their own tranquil location on a slope in the woods. Panoramic windows ensure breathtaking views of the northern skies and midnight suns, right from the comfort of your bed. This boutique hotel is an extraordinary blend of luxurious comfort, Arctic nature, Lapland traditions, and chic Scandinavian design.
This destination is truly otherworldly.
2 || Apres-Ski in London
Nothing says Christmas quite like Charles Dickens’s London with much to relish! You could see Hogwarts in the Snow at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour (and also see the Forbidden Forest and Diagon Alley). See the Christmas lights and sparkling displays such as those on Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, and more. Ice skating on the Christmas rink at the Natural History Museum is becoming a tradition after 17 years. Or you can view Christopher Wren’s architectural marvel and attend a free concert of Christmas music at St. Pauls.
Shangri-La The Shard in London transforms itself into an apres-ski wonderland. Bar 31 transforms into Hütte 31. Outdoor drinking of glühwein, hot toddies, boozy hot chocolates, and botanical gin cocktails is a great way to stay warm! Guests can enjoy Austrian cheeses and other snacks inside cozy outdoor chalets decorated with twinkling white lights. Head over for a “sleighcation” where you’ll also see a magical Alpine gingerbread village. Or you can enjoy afternoon tea in TĪNG Lounge while enjoying the best views overlooking London where you can enjoy Austrian pastries such as Sachertorte or a Black Forest Gâteau. Or ring in the new year at the hotel’s 34 Sky Lounge. (Yes please!)
3 || Nativity Scenes in Rome
Rome is known for its beautiful nativity scenes. My half-Italian mother collected nativity scenes from all over the world, and there’s a fabulous exhibit called 100 Presepi which features creches from every corner of the globe. Outdoor ones include those at the Piazza di Spagna (near the Spanish Steps) and Piazza del Popolo. A visit to the Piazza San Pietro in front of St. Peter’s basilica where the annual Christmas crib is displayed is quite an experience. You can even celebrate Christmas Mass at the Vatican (not in 2021 but hopefully in 2022!) And you can visit the Christmas markets such as the one in Piazza Navona or Piazza Mazzini to pick up Italian candies or toys or to enjoy street musicians and artists.
I love La Posta Vecchi Hotel, 35 minutes outside of Rome, which overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea. This hotel was once a Renaissance villa for the noble Orsini family and then the seaside home of J. Paul Getty, and is one of the world’s most extraordinary hotels with exquisite Renaissance decor. You’ll enjoy jazz playlists while surrounded by Arezzo tapestries. You can also visit the Roman ruins of a villa built in the 2nd century BC or the Etruscan tombs of Cerveteri. Utterly Roman and utterly romantic, this hotel also offers delicious gourmet food and also a stunning indoor pool, spa, and beauty club. They describe the breadth of their destination as from pastures to the Palentine Hills. I love that!
4 || Celebrate Mass in Jerusalem
Imagine touring Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. That’s on *my* bucket list, too!
A tour of Bethlehem and Jerusalem can culminate in a celebratory dinner and midnight mass outside the Church of the Nativity. On Christmas Day you can celebrate mass at the Manger Grotto. The city of Nazareth hosts an annual Christmas market and parade. And Christmas in Jerusalem would not be complete without visiting the Christain quarter of the Old City where you can see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — and enjoy some carol singing too!
In Jerusalem, I love the Waldorf Astoria designed by award-winning Turkish architect Sinan Kafadar. This stunning hotel is ideally situated for urban explorations in this ancient and holy city. The Jaffe Gate, the main entry to Jerusalem’s Old City, is just a 10 minute walk from Jaffe Gate and the Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulchre are 20 minutes away on foot. The Guerlain Spa, with a beautiful indoor pool, is the perfect retreat after a long day of sightseeing.
5 || Music in Vienna
When I think of the holidays in Vienna, I think of classical concerts. Perhaps because of the annual tradition of PBS’ broadcast of Great Performances “From Vienna: The New Year’s Celebration.” The Musikverein ranks as probably the world’s most prestigious and best classical music venue. And they are presenting a concert of Christmas songs in 9 languages this year, among many other performances.
Vienna also hosts a variety of Christmas markets that specialize in unusual gifts or unique art or great food. The aroma of roasted almonds or caramel apples mingles with fragrant candles and soaps. Don’t miss a taste of lebkuchen (similar to gingerbread) or a stollen. My favorite cookie is the spekulatius because they are similar to the Polish ones my mom used to make. Finally, although not available this year, usually Christkindlmarkt offers a romantic ice skating trail through a park too.
Among the last great palaces to be built in Vienna, the Palais Coburg Residenz now is a sophisticated hotel in the city center. Set just behind the Parkring with views of Stadtpark, the hotel is an era-bending blend of medieval brick walls, starkly modern elements, and antique furnishings. With only 34 suites, you know you’ll be treated like royalty. Oenophiles will appreciate their barrel-vaulted cellars that house over 60,000 bottles and enjoy tasting some extraordinarily-prized labels in the red-leather wine bar. This hotel is also home to a two-Michelin star restaurant by chef Silvio Nickol. This stunning retreat is chic and very cool!
6 || Winter Sport in the Alps
A white Christmas in the Austrian Alps is a special treat. The magnificent alpine scenery is always in view and awe-inspiring. There is no better place to go for a skiing holiday than Lech Zürs am Arlberg ski region which has been a favored destination for nearly a century. With many awards for skiing, snowboarding, and heli-skiing, this cosmopolitan destination is a top favorite among winter sports enthusiasts. You can also enjoy 27 kilometres of cross-country skiing trails and winter paths for snowshoe walkers and winter hikers.
Thurnhers Alepenhof is a winter fairytale retreat. This five-star hotel offers ski-in/ski-out access along with complimentary ski instruction and excursions. You can take a day or afternoon off and indulge in some rejuvenation at their spa. Their indoor pool with a counter-current system offers great outdoor views, and they also offer a variety of saunas and steams. Enjoy some ski gymnastics or ski stretching too. Enjoy some cocktails in their Coco’s Lounge or share some delicious fondue for Christmas Eve. Incidentally, this year, their traditional Gala Dinner is a complimentary gift for guests to welcome them back after all that we’ve been through.
7 || Tequila Tasting in Mexico
The blue and golds of the landscape along the Baja peninsula in Mexico is a glittering backdrop to see in the new year. One&Only Palmilla offers glamor and delights as well as sunshine and fun over the festive season, and yes, there is still space available for 2021. You can enjoy one of their many immersive culinary classes to learn how to recreate authentic Mexican dishes. Sample some tequila in a masterclass and discover the history and traditions of tequila while your teacher guides you through the various styles and flavors.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas day, slide some oysters down and enjoy the festivities with live entertainments, carollers, and sketch artists. You can paint ornaments or enjoy a movie night. Go whale-watching on your own chartered yacht. Retreat to a private beach cove where you can float on a bed suspended above the soft white sands or swing in an ocean hammock. Gaze out on the serene beauty of the Sea of Cortez and its dramatic rocky cliffs with a personal waiter on hand to cater to your every need. And on New Year’s Eve, see in 2022 on the beach with fireworks and music.