Get away from it all
Fancy spending Christmas away? Whether you want to head off as a couple or in a big group, travel writer David Wickers has found 10 of the best festive foodie escapes.
From far and near, here they are…
Within the UK
Lakeside Haven: Stirling, Scotland
On the edge of Scotland’s only lake (or rather, the only such natural body of water not known as a loch), the Lake of Menteith Hotel, pictured, is a popular foodie haunt, on account of its kitchen led by chef Graham Campbell (the restaurant has a Michelin star) and the acclaimed Nick Nairn Cook School, which is just five minutes away. With its open fires and winter walks, Menteith will appeal if you want to experience the great outdoors in between convivial feastings. It costs from £320pp for a traditional three-night package – but if you arrive on the 21st or 22nd December you can sign up for a Christmas lunch demo class chez Nick Nairn.
Local hero: Hereforshire
A bountiful larder of an English county, Herefordshire’s rich soil nurtures a cornucopia of premium produce – which is probably why chef Claire Nicholls rarely ventures beyond its boundaries when shopping for the menu at Castle House Hotel. Beef comes from the owner’s pedigree herd (trips to the farm are available for guests), so it’s serious competition for the Christmas turkey. Converted from a pair of Georgian townhouses, CastleHouse has a full-board three-night Christmas stay from £570pp. As well as a series of stonking Christmassy meals (plus mulled wine and mince pies for those attending midnight mass), they throw in Boxing Day tickets to Aladdin at the local theatre.
Gourmet bolthole: Gwent, Wales
After a brilliant meal with lots of wine, it’s comforting to know that your bedroom for the night is just a few steps away. It was great news, then, when top chef Stephen Terry – ex Harvey’s, Le Gavroche, Cecconi’s and the Walnut Tree, and a star of TV’s The Great British Menu to boot – recently opened eight contemporary rooms at his much-lauded Welsh restaurant. The Hardwick in Abergavenny, overlooking the Brecon Beacons National Park, is modestly described as a country pub and serves honest local food in a relaxed, unstuffy atmosphere. It has been awarded a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide and was recently named AA Restaurant of the Year for Wales. The Hardwick is closed on Christmas Day but is our top recommendation for a gourmet one-nighter between Christmas and New Year. Rooms cost £135-£150pp B&B.
Wild and rugged: Northumberland
If you really want to get away from it all, the wide open spaces and windswept beaches of England’s border county are perfect for bracing winter walks. The Northumberland House, pictured, is close to the beach at Longhoughton, near Alnwick, sleeps 12 and has the requisite wood-burning stove, plump sofas – and a serious kitchen. Owners Jean and Mike Cockerill are proper foodies, and their website is an unrivalled source of information on all local culinary matters, with an eating-out guide, advice on hiring in-house chefs and the gen on the best local restaurants, cafés and farm shops. Best of all is the welcome hamper, which contains fine local stuff such as dry-cured bacon, excellent cheese and The Proof of the Pudding’s award-winning sticky toffee pudding. The house costs from £2,100 per week, with Christmas and New Year breaks from £2,700.
Culinary treats and chocotherapy: Berkshire
A notch up from a restaurant with rooms, The Vineyard at Stockcross was created around a 19th-century hunting lodge and styles itself as a ‘restaurant with luxury suites and spa’. The gourmet treats extend beyond the dining room to the spa, where you can indulge in some Chocotherapy – a white chocolate mousse body treatment and a facial that uses a combination of various chocolates and truffles. It’s almost good enough to eat… The three-night festive package starts on Christmas Eve with a range of gourmet experiences including wine masterclasses, afternoon tea, Champagne lunch and a California wine dinner, including some wines from owner Sir Peter Michael’s US vineyard. People trek from afar to experience chef Daniel Galmiche’s food, so his eight-course Christmas dinner is bound to be memorable. The essential accessory? A belt with extra notches. The special package costs from £715pp.
Outside of the UK
Apres-ski never tasted so good: French Alps
Mark Gibbins, co-founder of The Oxford Ski Company, worked under Rowley Leigh at Kensington Place. So it’s not surprising he’s chosen his Alpine chalets according to their culinary offerings as well as their ski potential. Among the festive selection is the four-bedroom Chalet Killy, pictured, in Val d’Isère, where an après-ski dinner from the in-chalet chef might feature scallops with cauliflower purée, roast duck breast with braised red cabbage, duck leg ravioli, then a coffee semifreddo cup with cinnamon doughnuts and a selection of local cheeses. Black run, anyone? A week over Christmas costs from £995pp with breakfast, afternoon tea, pre-dinner canapés, dinner on six nights with drinks, and chalet staff. Flights and transfers extra.
Christmas afloat: River Danbue
The luxury river ship Amalyra, operated by Amawaterways, has a two-week cruise along the Danube departing Budapest on the 19th December and sailing to Amsterdam via a rich mix of cities, including Vienna, Bratislava and Cologne, as well as such medieval gems as Melk (with its imposing Benedictine abbey) and the walled wine village of Dürnstein. You’ll also pass vineyards from where many of the ship’s wines are sourced. The trip costs from £3,733pp includes all meals on board (including elaborate dinners with wine), daily sightseeing tours, entertainment, bicycles for use in ports and in-cabin internet access so you can email friends and relatives with ‘bet you wish you were here’ seasonal greetings.
Bon appetit!: Chartene, France
L’Hôtel de Toiras on the Ile de Ré, on France’s Atlantic coast, is a splendid 17th-century former ship-owner’s residence on the water’s edge at Saint-Martin. Guests can dine in the Jardin d’Hiver or in the lounge with its beautiful fireplace. The chef will take you to the local market, where you can select ingredients and have them prepared for dinner. The hotel can also arrange visits to the local oyster farms and vineyards. Doubles start at £187.17 room only, up to and including Christmas Eve (£213.91, over Christmas) and the Christmas Eve menu starts from £115. Ryanair flies to La Rochelle on 23 December.
House party: Tuscany
In Val d’Orcia, Casellaccia is a converted farmhouse, pictured, sleeping up to 19 people. It’s perfect for a big house party, but the attraction for food-lovers is the prospect of having Marcella Libertini come to cook. She inspired chefs such as the late Rose Gray from the River Café, who stayed here at the farmhouse. Villages such as Montepulciano, Pienza and Montalcino are famous for red wine, olive oil and Pecorino, while in nearby Siena the food shops are festively decorated and stuffed with panforte and panettone. At £8,100 for a week, flying Christmas Day (extra days can be added to avoid this), Casellaccia ain’t cheap, but split 19 ways it’s do-able. Book via Global Artichoke. Try Skyscanner for flights to Rome, a two-hour drive. For car hire, go to Holiday Autos.
New foodie capital: Copenhagen
This sparkling winter wonderland of a city has always been a fine place to visit over the festive season, with the extravagantly twinkling Tivoli Gardens, complete with Christmas market. And now, having picked up Michelin stars galore, Copenhagen is a food-lover’s magnet too. As featured in the November 2010 issue of delicious., René Redzepi’s Noma has been named the world’s best restaurant and others, such as Herman, are snapping at Noma’s heels. Hole up at the central First Hotel Kong Frederik, which was refurbed in spring but retains its comfortable townhouse feel – doubles over Christmas cost from DKK1166 (£130) a night. The hotel has a funky new gastropub called Public House. Other new venues include Orangeriet in the King’s Garden, serving Danish classics with a modern twist, and the old Tuborg brewery, which now has an innovative, theatrical dining experience called Madeleine’s Madteater (food theatre). Don’t miss out on old favourites, too, such as smørrebrød (Danish open-sandwich) purveyor Told & Snaps in pretty waterfront Nyhavn. Try British Airways for flights.
And the best of the rest…
Large families and groups of friends should check out the 300-plus large properties featured at The Big Domain. You can even take over a pub, The Crewe and Harpur Arms near Buxton.
Guests at Whatley Manor in Wiltshire can relax in the hotel’s cinema while chef Martin Burge prepares fine food in the two-Michelin-starred restaurant. From £295pp per night
Henry VIII enjoyed the odd turkey leg or three at the 500-year-old Thornbury Castle. Guests this Christmas can join a Tudor-style quest for a missing jewel and enjoy a falconry display. From £340pp per night
The Grove in Hertfordshire has a Royal Russian-themed Christmas with a mini Moscow Olympics and a kids’ treasure hunt for a Russian nesting doll. From £239pp per night.
At the half-timbered Swan Hotel in the Suffolk town of Lavenham, the Christmas package includes mulled wine, midnight mass and a quiz. There’s outstanding food in the AA two-rosette restaurant. From £645pp
One of the Lake District’s most luxurious hotels, Linthwaite House has views over Lake Windermere, and the four-night package includes a lake cruise. From £199pp per night.