Get packing: 10 easy trips this December

Getting itchy feet but don't have a trip planned? Lonely Planet magazine looks at 10 easy trips for December from Christmas shopping in Oman to ice-skating with the choir boys of Winchester.

Get packing those bags!

1. Walk in the snow at Corvara, Trentino-Alto Adige

Why go now?
Graceful is not the first word that springs to mind when you first try snowshoes. But once you’ve nailed it, these giant webbed feet allow you to roam through snowy lands that even the best skiers are unable to reach. As winter closes in, the Italian village of Corvara in the Dolomites becomes a walker’s dream, with trails winding beneath rocky massifs along frozen rivers. There’s plenty of chilled wildlife around these parts, too. Join in with the walking itineraries organised by the hosted chalets here and you could spot silver foxes, golden eagles and the original snowshoer, the big-footed snow hare.

2. Learn about the past at Strawberry Hill, London

Why go now?
Following a long campaign to save it, including an appearance on the BBC’s Restoration series, Horace Walpole’s summer villa, Strawberry Hill in London, is being returned to its former glory after years of neglect. Built in the 18th century at Walpole’s whim, the house is one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival Strawberry Hill in the world, kick-starting an architectural trend that spawned the Houses of Parliament and St Pancras. Walpole was a prodigious chronicler of his home, and the restoration team is using his records to bring the building back to life. Take a sneak peak at some of its rooms now before the house closes for further restoration. (Strawberry Hill is open until 22 December and then shuts for restoration until April 2011).

3. Drink in your surrounding in Hania, Crete

Image by Bryce Edwards

Why go now?
It’s said that Crete is Greece distilled, which means that Hania must be the super-vintage collector’s release. This evocative Venetian port town quite possibly ranks as the most beautiful in the entire Hellenic region. Come winter, the tourist crowds have gone and Hania’s covered market is full of locals. Each stallholder selling fish, cheese, thyme honey and mountain tea sings out like a Cretan Pavarotti, and stands are piled high with the fresh December olive harvest. The 17th century Venetian estate of Metohi Kindelis, which sits midway between the snowy peaks of Crete’s Lefka Ori – also known as the White Mountains – and its silvery green coastal olive groves, used to supply the entire western region with its fruit and vegetables.

4. Sleep in the skies in Luleå, Sweden

Why go now?
If the novelty of shivering in an ice hotel has worn off slightly, it’s time to set your sights a little higher, with Sweden’s new Treehotel. Located 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Harads, a village near Luleå, the Treehotel is a cluster of six architect-designed tree houses floating four metres above the ground of Harad’s boreal forest. The mind-bending Mirrorcube reflects back every detail of the forest, sky and snow until it has you rubbing your eyes, while the Bird’s Nest is built from branches foraged in the fir copse. From November, direct flights from Heathrow, will mean you can enjoy the magic of the forest in winter. It might be your only chance to go skijoring (skiing behind a horse) or husky-sledging before relaxing in a treetop sauna.

5. Dream about spring at Harlow Carr, North Yorkshire

Why go now?
Whether the sight of a garden in winter – monochrome, frozen, silhouetted – brings on a bout of SAD or makes you glad to be alive, a stroll through the RHS garden at Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire is a surefire way to get some seasonal planting inspiration for your own back garden. The land was originally leased by the Northern Horticultural Society to trial plants suitable for the unfriendly conditions of the northern moors and the walks let you in on some of their secrets. Expert gardeners lead you along the Winter Walk with its bronze leafed Viburnum Charles Lamont and the cheerful, red-berried Skimmia japonica, which blooms into fragrant flowers come spring.  When it gets too cold, warm up with a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine in Betty’s Tearooms.

6. Ice-skate into Christmas in Winchester, Hampshire

Why go now?
Despite what the reality shows might tell you, you don’t have to be an ex-cricket or rugby player to pull some shapes on the ice. So there’s no excuse to delay donning your hat and gloves and taking to Winchester’s open-air Christmas ice rink. There you can swoop and twirl with red-robed choristers beneath the Gothic architecture of the 11th-century cathedral. Mulled wine and roasted chestnuts are served around the rink, while tours of the cathedral tower give you heavenly views over the skaters below. The choir will provide a sweet-voiced soundtrack.

7. Escape the everyday at Hamilton Lodge, Switzerland

Why go now?
At pretty Belalp, perched on the Aletsch glacier in Switzerland, it’s easy to see how the merits of mountain isolation lured the grandfather of Heidi, literature’s most famous milkmaid, away from village life. Accessible only by aerial gondola, Belalp is a pristine Alpine getaway where you can ski, toboggan, and wake to clanking cow bells. Or choose to do nothing at all at Hamilton Lodge, which has plenty of indoor pleasures to match the outdoor thrills. Breakfast on the terrace is supplied by local farmers, a hot tub sits amid snowdrifts and the antler-clad fireplaces will keep you firmly rooted to the very deep sofas.

8. Shop for a treat in Vilnius, Lithuania

Why go now?
Before there were supermarket specials on mince pies and puddings, the local Christmas market was where medieval man went to fill his stockings. Usually, they were set up in the town square in front of the church in the hope of tempting churchgoers with a glass of mulled wine into buying something. Church attendance may have declined since then, but Christmas markets are still popping up all over the place – like the one in Vilnius, which launched last year. Enter the World Heritage-listed old town through the Gates of Dawn, where you may have to step over weeping pilgrims worshipping the sacred icon of the Mother of Mercy, and admire the Christmas tree in Cathedral Square. Snow coated stalls laden with local handicrafts and festive food and drink fill the air with the scents of cinnamon and glühwein.

9. Celebrate winter food at The Walnut Tree, Wales

Why go now?
Autumn and winter are the seasons when British food really hits its stride. Look out for fresh nuts, especially sweet creamy walnuts, cobnuts and chestnuts. Apples and pears start to drop, and game is hung to mature. At the Walnut Tree in Wales, the arrival of the winter larder is certainly cause for celebration. The restaurant goes crazy for rich partridge puddings, plump mallards with celeriac purée and wild mushrooms and slow–braised leg and saddle of Welsh hare. After dinner, amble over to one of the cottages and take a nap on the king-size beds, happily designed to welcome the postprandial physique.

10. Leave your winter woollies at home when you visit Muscat, Oman

Why go now?
Next time you’re fighting it out for the last Buzz Lightyear in the northern hemisphere, remember to thank Oman. Omani myrrh and frankincense were the world’s first Christmas gifts, and are still sold in the alleyways of Muscat’s Mutrah Souq. Once your shopping is in the bag here, join the promenade of Omanis for a stroll along the corniche to the Mutrah fishing port. Beyond the city, explore the magnificent khors (fjords) of Yitti and Seifa, where biblical forces of nature have carved craggy inlets into Muscat’s mountains. Just don’t pack your hat and gloves – temperatures are in the mid-20s during December.

This article is reproduced from Lonely Planet magazine, on sale now across the UK priced £3.60. Make sure you never miss an issue with a monthly subscription (available only to UK residents).

Words: Paula Hardy and Matt Bolton