Fancy a last-minute pre-Christmas break? Here are five ideas without an overpriced market in sight.
Let’s be honest – Christmas markets aren’t for everyone. Like picnics and the music of Coldplay, people assume everyone loves a Christmas market. But the harsh reality is that not all of us are clamouring to stand around on a freezing night drinking soupy mulled wine and marvelling at overpriced tree ornaments. So, if you want to take advantage of that last-minute budget airline deal that landed in your inbox for a pre-Christmas getaway minus the twee overkill, or you fancy a January change of scenery at a grown-up destination, here are five much better ideas for an alternative to a Christmas market.
Unlike Crete, where the capital Heraklion goes Christmas-mad, Rhodes is the Greek island that takes a more low-key approach to the festive season. Instead of markets, winter holidaymakers can enjoy the bars and restaurants within the mediaeval walls of Rhodes Town without being bothered by peddlers of Yuletide tat.
It’s a decent-sized island, so it’s worth hiring a car for a few days to check out the sights minus the peak season crowds in cooler conditions. The hike up the Lindos acropolis won’t be nearly as onerous with daytime temperatures around 16°C. Lairy nights out in Pefkos or Faliraki won’t leave you drenched in sweat, and watersports enthusiasts can still don a wetsuit if they fancy jumping in the Med. If sub-summer temperatures at the beach don’t appeal, but you don’t want to miss out on a swim, seek out a hotel with an indoor pool. There are about 30 to choose from in Rhodes and they’re mostly high-end resorts, so you might nab a good off-season deal.
If you’re serious about avoiding Christmas, a gorgeous coastal town with a great art scene, brilliant food and a relaxed attitude to partying in a Muslim-majority country might be the way forward. Forget about the crowds of Marrakech. Even without Christmas markets, the souq is no place for anyone who eschews hustle and bustle when they’re on holiday.
Fly into Marrakech or Agadir and jump on a bus to Essaouira or take a direct flight with easyJet. And you will be rewarded with a stunning beach, gorgeous galleries and eateries in the walled medina, the ancient port and ramparts that served as a location for Game of Thrones, a discreet LGBT scene, and great bars that serve Morocco’s vin gris. Which is literally “grey wine”, but it’s more of a pinky colour and way better than dodgy pub rosé.
Winter daytime temperatures average a pleasant 20°C, but bear in mind that it’s a town known for stiff breezes all year round. Avoid the Hotel Des Iles, unless you want a Moroccan Fawlty Towers experience. Better to push the boat out with a luxurious hotel or a charming tiled riad within the medina for an authentic experience.
The Bordeaux Christmas market is subdued compared to certain European cities that routinely look like Santa threw up over the main square for all of December. Instead, the 2023 market only runs from 24-27 December in the Allées de Tourny, located in the city centre. Avoid those dates and you can avoid excess jingle hell. If you are in town over those dates, there are plenty of places to escape in this beautiful city, especially if you love good food and wine.
Wineries in the region will be less busy than they are in the summer months, so it is a great opportunity to sample some stunning tipples among local experts who will have more time to offer personalised service in a relaxed setting. Some wineries operate limited hours in winter, so check before you set off. Away from the booze, winter is a wonderful time to check out Bordeaux’s museums or just wander around taking in the magnificent architecture. At around 10 or 11°C, it will probably be a few degrees warmer than most parts of the UK and, as it’s France, it’s a great excuse to wear a stylish coat and scarf.
Like Bordeaux, Lisbon takes a more low-key approach to Christmas markets. There’s no Santa, no big switching on of festive lights, no ice skating rink and it’s all pretty much contained to Parque Eduardo VII. As a bonus, winter temperatures in Lisbon tend to hover in the mid-teens and can creep up around 20°C, especially in January. It’s a notoriously hilly city, so these temperatures make it a bit easier to get your 10,000 steps in, although the trams are a great way to get around town when your feet start to ache.
The Bairro Alto neighbourhood is the go-to place for bars, restaurants and plenty of traditional Fado singers, while the castle is a bucket list destination that stays open in winter. The city views from the top are worth the admission price alone. Be sure to take a short train ride from the centre to beautiful Belem on the banks of the Tagus River. Here, you can immerse yourself in history and enjoy a scenic lunch. Being a Grinch doesn’t have to be grim.
Spain, as a predominantly Roman Catholic country, generally enjoys plenty of Christmas cheer. Across the mainland, as well as the islands, there is a growing tradition of Christmas markets that will probably rival Germany one day. But in the meantime, there’s La Gomera. It’s the smallest and least developed of the Canaries and it’s just the ticket if you fancy some Spanish food and culture and some much-needed peace and quiet, without too many in-your-face festivities.
While San Sebastián, the island’s tiny capital, has a small Christmas market, carol singers roaming the streets, and a nativity where local people sit in the stable as Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the three wise men, there are accommodation options across the island to truly get away from it all. Instead, you can enjoy La Gomera’s stunning scenery and amazing microclimates, along with delicious food and free-flowing poncha – yes, that is a potent Canarian punch – without going near a mulled wine or a gingerbread man. To get there, fly into Tenerife and take a ferry across to this underrated little piece of paradise.