December is almost upon us, and with it, the festive season and general frivolity. Embrace the time of togetherness with an exciting trip abroad – be it to a European winter wonderland on a luxe ski holiday, a laid-back beachy escape to Asia or an adventurous two-week to one of the most exciting – and fulfilling – cities in the world. Here’s where to travel in December from the UAE and GCC.
Weather: Highs of 1°C lows of -6°C
Flight time from UAE: 7 hours to Geneva, followed by 2 hours 30 minutes drive
When it comes to French ski resorts, Courchevel is as chi-chi as it gets, specifically Courchevel 1850 – the highest point in the Alpine resort. Elevated in altitude and stature, Courchevel 1850 is a favourite with celebrities and royals – including the Dubai Royal family, who frequent the resort – and welcomes guests into a charming snowglobe with rustic-chic chalets, fondue bars and chocolate box Gucci, Moncler, Fusalp and Dior stores to match – selling their chicest winter wares, of course. Gondola lifts are branded with Gucci, and keen skiers are able to traverse the entire Les Trois Vallées through the network of ski lifts and pistes – the largest ski area in the world. In December, the resort starts to wake up, with more of the luxury hotels opening around the 9th. Due to its high altitude, snow falls early, with the past few years seeing powdery pistes good enough for skiing by December. Weather can, of course, be hit and miss, so you’ll usually find great season-opening deals and a more peaceful ski resort – that is, until Christmas and New Year’s, where prices and population soar.
Where to stay
Aman Le Mélézin is a charming 31-room boutique hotel perched on the edges of the Bellecôte piste in Courchevel 1850 – just a short ski down, or toboggan, to the twinkling town itself. Worlds away from the tropical resorts Aman is known for, Le Mélézin evokes the feeling of an Alpine fortress, all rustic wood panelling, soft caramel and cream hues, plush soft furnishing, and, in keeping with Aman’s signature style, Japanese touches like orchids, screens and fruit bowls. Many rooms have terraces with hot tubs overlooking the snowy peaks, piste itself, town and pine forests and guests will also find an Oriental-inspired spa and elegant Japanese-French restaurant. New for this season, guests can ride enjoy a snowmobile-drawn sledge or horse-drawn carriage to Les Prés de la Croix, where a traditional Savoyard dinner of cheese fondue or hotpot awaits beside a roaring log fire in a picture postcard mountain chalet; a bespoke five-course menu created by a private chef and activities for children, like games on the chalet’s mezzanine, sledging and tabogganing.
Until 7 April, the hotel is also offering a Ski or Spa Escape – a five-night exclusive experience including daily breakfast, daily lunch or dinner and either a ski-lift pass for Les Trois Vallées, or spa benefits including a daily 30-minute yoga session, a 50-minute holistic massage and a 30-minute Iyashi Dôme treatment. December doubles from around AED10,115 a night (€2,575), aman.com
Weather: Highs of 12°C, lows of 7°C
Flight time from UAE: 6 hours 50 minutes
The UK capital is one of the most popular spots to travel in December from the UAE, as UK expats return for the festive season. But regardless of familiar connections, the city is a fantastic destination to travel to in December from the UAE. Firstly, its Christmas and festive decorations, lights, festivals and events are second to almost none, and travellers can enjoy the likes of the annual Winter Wonderland. London’s five-star hotels pull out all the stops for the festive season, and those travelling in December will be able to see Claridge’s newly announced Louis Vuitton Christmas Tree and enjoy sumptuous festive feasts and set menus across the city.
Where to stay
December is also a great chance to check into one of London’s slew of stunning new hotels. After years of anticipation, the capital has entered – arguably – its most exciting year for hotel openings in decades. The capital’s first two billion-pound hotel developments both opened their doors in September – the Peninsula London and Raffles London at The OWO (the latter on the historic sight of the former Palace of Whitehall, Old War Rooms, former HQ of MI5 and MI6 and inspiration for 007) and One Sloane – a 30-room boutique hotel in a 19th-century Chelsea townhouse, from the team behind Paris’ impossibly chic Hotel Costes. For a timeless and unforgettable festive trip steeped in old-world glamour, check into Claridge’s, The Savoy, The Ritz or The Dorchester – truly inimitable.
Bakuriani and Gudauri, Georgia
Weather: Highs of -2°C, lows of -11°C
Flight time from UAE: 3 hours 25 minutes, followed by 2 hours 30 minutes drive
Forgo the capital of Tbilisi (or just set aside one or two nights) and head to the winter resorts of Guaduari and Bakurini. Georgia has emerged as a leading holiday destination from the UAE, thanks to its proximity (just a three-hour flight) and affordable prices, not to mention an up-and-coming foodie and design scene, and these two winter resorts are ideal for a December getaway. Gudauri is the country’s largest ski resort, with plenty of mid-range hotels and lots of vibrant bars and restaurants, plus 360-degree views of the stunning Caucasus mountains – which, even if the town itself doesn’t see snow (which, in December, is often unlikely), are a sight to behold in themselves. Even without guaranteed snow, it’s still a wonderful and festive vibe.
To experience Georgia’s burgeoning trendy design and homegrown boutique hotel scene, head to Bakuriani, where Georgia’s Winter Olympians have long frequented to hone their skills. While it might be too early for skiing, the resort is home to one of the coolest new design hotels in the country by uber-trendy homegrown Rooms brand – sitting at the foothills of the 2,200-metre Kokhta Gora peak Brutalist Rooms Hotel Kokhta is powerfully juxtaposed against the carpeted green, and guests can expect industrial-chic interiors, rustic and organic shapes and colours schemes and a beautiful indoor spa and pool with views of the mountains. Read more on Rooms Hotel Kokhta here.
Weather: Highs of 30°C, lows of 25°C
Flight time from UAE: 3 hours 25 minutes, followed by 2 hours 30 minutes drive
Ananda in the Himalayas is one of the world’s most fabled wellness escapes – located in the foothills of the majestic mountain range and offering guests complete zen and healing, including tailored wellness and Ayurveda programmes. King Charles and Queen Camilla, Kate Winslet, Uma Thurman and Oprah Winfrey have all visited. This December, the resort is bringing its healing practices to the Maldives – a favourite UAE holiday destination coming out of its rainy season and into its prime. The partnership is taking place at The Nautilus Maldives, a five-star ultra-luxury private island hideaway in the UNESCO biosphere Baa Atoll, and guests are invited to enjoy a six-day tailored ‘Energy Harmony Retreat’, taking place between 1 and 7 December 2023.
The retreat combined Ananda’s specialist knowledge from the birthplace of Ayurveda, Yoga and meditation with therapy and oriental medicine, based on the award-winning hospitality offering at The Nautilus (home of the ‘anytime, anywhere’ concept not bound by timings). An expert team from Ananda will take residence to support guests with a daily programme of therapeutic Ayurvedic and Tibetan massages, yogic asanas, ancient meditation techniques, visualisation, and breathwork. A curated gourmet menu from Ananda’s Executive Chef, Arun Kala, will also be on offer, incorporating anti-inflammatory Ayurvedic philosophy and carefully combined macronutrients for a well-rounded wellness experience. Places on the retreat are limited, with just 26 26 beach and oceanside houses and residences available for stays at The Nautilus.
From 1 to 7 December 2023, rates from USD 33,260 (about AED122,162) for two guests, 20% discount on Full Board, all scheduled activities, accommodation in an Ocean or Beach house and return shared seaplane transfers; thenautilusmaldives.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Weather: Highs of 5°C, lows of -2°C
Flight time from UAE: 6-hour 50-minute flight to Geneva, followed by 2-hour 10-minute drive
Few Ski resorts conjure images of head-spinning hedonism and aristo glam like Gstaad. Sophia Loren, Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were all famous patrons, and other frequenters include the Ecclestones and a host of blue-blooded Europeans. The upscale resort lies in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland, fringed by lofty snowy peaks and plenty of renowned international boarding schools. Gstaad is the capital of Swiss chalet fun, from the bevvy of restaurants serving fabulous, and pricy, fondue and raclette to swish art galleries and European super brand boutiques. Skiing is also superlative, with hundreds of cable cars connecting the main ski areas and preened pistes for all levels. Glacier 3000, owned by former Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone, offers near year-round skiing.
Where to stay: Gstaad Palace
Channel the uber-luxe Gstaad spirit by bedding down at Gstaad Palace, a fairytale-like castle at the top of the town. The hotel has been a stalwart of the jet-set circle since it opened in 1913, hosting guests like Louis Armstrong, Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly and Marc Chagall. Rooms are Apline-esque with views on the town below, and the historic bunker space (used by the Swiss government during World War II) now houses rustic La Fromagerie and the terrace of the swish Lobby Bar. Another popular spot, with a more modern, low-key luxe vibe, is Ultima Gstaad. Unlike Ultima’s other ski properties, guests can rent individual rooms instead of the entire chalet and enjoy amenities like a subterranean spa and pool.
Where to stay: Amanjena
Weather: Highs of 20°C, lows of 7°C
Flight time from UAE: 8 hours 15 minutes (to Casablanca)
As one of Marrakech’s most enchantingly beautiful hotels, Amanjena is a palatial resort on the outskirts of the UNESCO-protected city. Surrounded by palm and olive trees, the terracotta pink hotel is absolutely dreamy, and this month, it unveiled its newly-refreshed Pavilion Piscine – adding to its collection of private pool Pavilions and Maisons. The property has also introduced a host of new experiences to bring guests closer to the Moroccan people and its rich hospitality and traditions. Guests can experience the warm hospitality of the Brahim family in their Moroccan home over a homecooked Berber meal. The experience begins with a walking tour through L’Arbaa Tighdouine, a hidden village in the Atlas Mountains surrounded by lush landscapes, before guests are invited into their traditional Berber home. All proceeds from the experience go directly to the Brahim family, helping to support their loved ones and neighbours who the recent earthquake has impacted.
What’s more, Amanjena is luring guests with the promise of more time, with a complimentary night’s stay for all bookings over three nights or more from 31 March 2024. The property is also offering a three-night wellness retreat with traditional holistic treatments, including Moroccan hammams and a three-night golf retreat. Backing onto Amelkis Golf Course with the Royal and the Assoufid nearby, keen golfers will be able to have a daily green fee waived, and enjoy return transfers to the golf courses and spa treatments.
Temperature: 32ºC high, 27ºC low
Flight time from UAE: 3 hours 40 minutes
December is wonderful in Kerala – Southern India’s luscious, tropical state – with the monsoon season far behind and dry days of sunshine. Kerala often lives in the shadows of neighbouring Goa, but while Goa is more developed, well-known and better for partygoers, Kerala is more peaceful, stripped back, rustic and raw. This beautiful, chilled-out state is carpeted in jungles and lush tea plantations, has wild, untrammelled beaches, charming colonial towns and backwaters perfect for exploring by boat – in fact, this is one of the most popular and best ways to explore Kerala.
Where to stay
Truly immerse yourself in Kerala life by booking onto a houseboat and exploring its enchanting backwaters – OG boutique hotel Malabar House offers a rental on Lake Vembanad – or book into one of the state’s many stunning, and extremely affordable, Airbnbs. Those after the comfort blanket of a luxury hotel should book into Taj Bekal Resort & Spa, Kerala – a five-star offering with houseboat-style rooms, a beach location and traditional Ayurvedic treatments.
Weather: Highs of 35°C, lows of 20°C
Flight time from UAE: 6 hours 35 minutes
Cast adrift off the east coast of Madagascar lies one of the most scenically beautiful and culturally Indian Ocean islands – Mauritius. The archipelago is best known for its stunning natural landscapes – mountainous interiors with national parks, rainforests and waterfalls and wildlife like flying foxes. Steeped in colourful history, beginning with Arabs and Malays and followed by Europeans – notably Netherlands, France and Great Britain – Mautiruis is a true melting pot of cultures, with a fascinating capital Port Louis – home to sights like the Champs de Mars horse track, Eureka plantation house and 18th-century Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens. Head north or west to get the warmest, driest weather – thanks to shelter from the mountains – and enjoy this true idyllic island paradise.
Where to stay
From Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita and The Oberoi Beach Resort to Shangri-La Le Toussrok and One&Only Le Saint Geran – Mauritius has no shortage of world-class ultra-luxury hotels from the world’s biggest names. The much-loved and iconic island resort LUX* Belle Mare has also just re-opened following a devastating fire. The complete refurbishment has seen a striking new design – think tropical modernism. LUX also operates a handful of properties on the island: the popular LUX* Grand Gaube and LUX Le Morne.
Temperature: 24°C high to 9°C low
Flight time from UAE: 3 hours 5 minutes
India’s Pink City is one of the most enchanting places on earth: flamboyant, historical and mesmerising, it’s the gateway to the country’s royal Rajasthan state, and as a result, known for its palaces and majestic past. Wandering Jaipur’s cacophonic streets to find beautiful sites like the pastel-pink Hawa Mahaal and the terracotta City Palace – the home of the former maharajah and royal family and a fascinating and beautiful museum. These streets hide world-class restaurants and bars – like The Johri and Baradari – (just be sure to dodge the cows, swarms of motorbikes and cycle rickshaws on the way in) while the surrounding hills and lakes are home to treasures like the Jah Mahal and the fairytale Amber Fort.
Where to stay
A peaceful hotel is essential to recharge between sightseeing in Jaipur – and luckily, the city is home to a plethora of stunning and serene properties. The grandest is the Rambagh Palace – operated by Taj Hotels and the former palace of the Maharajas of Jaipur – where you’ll find the Rajasthan Polo Club, ornate rooms and spacious lawns. Other top stays include the Rajmahal Palace – a pale-pink, Roaring Twenties-inspired royal retreat with manicured lawns and ornate suites named after illustrious guests from the hotel’s past, like Queen Elizabeth II and The Kennedy suite. For an intimate retreat in the heart of the Johri Bazaar, the five-suite The Johri is a design-led boutique hotel with one of the best restaurants in town.