By Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Europe is always a good idea. This winter, several reasons stand out for a journey across the pond. Staying active and fit while traveling is a trend identified by industry experts for 2018, and Monaco nails it. Vienna and Budapest are amazing for Christmas markets best visited by river boat; Prague is the perfect place to celebrate New Year’s. And during low season, visitors with US dollars in their pockets benefit from Britain’s favorable sterling exchange rates and low winter airfares.
Centuries ago, Greeks and Romans regarded the Mediterranean Sea as ideal for therapeutic treatments. During the 18th century, the Côte d’Azur attracted aristocrats; in the 1960s, the international jet set. Today, in the Principality of Monaco, travelers mix luxury with health at temples of wellness that have high tech touches. The fairytale-like background of the Côte d’Azur complements the famous spa, Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo, with its bird’s-eye ocean view from atop the Rock. Founded in 1908, ancient know-how is combined with treatments such as cryotherapy, favored by top athletes.
And there are more: the new Spa Metropole by Givenchy in the sumptuous Hotel Metropole, Fairmont Spa, Le Cinq Mondes Spa at Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, and Odeon Sisley Spa in Odeon Tower. Dining with an accent on healthy is the Mediterranean way, and a good number of fine restaurants are focused on local, sustainable, vegan, organic, and/or gluten free menus. Walk everywhere in Monaco—remember it’s smaller than Central Park—but with far more appealing weather right through the winter months. Go to VisitMonaco.com for even more temptations.
Eastern Festive Trek
Travel House, 33 Kern Road
Toronto, M3B 1S9
If Eastern Europe highlights like Vienna, Prague, and Budapest are on your bucket list, why not tick them off with jingles and bells over Christmas and New Year’s? Spend 11 days exploring these great cities as well as Krakow, Zakopane (for skiing, snow boarding, ice skating, snowmobiling, or sleigh rides on Christmas Day) and Cesky Krumlov for the castle and outstanding Czech beer. For New Year’s Eve, there’s nowhere better for seeing a fireworks spectacular than from a perch on Charles Bridge in the heart of pretty Prague.
But, wait…escorted group tours are not your thing? With a Hop-on, Hop-off Busabout itinerary you get the benefits of independence (like a rail pass would provide) but with door-to-door service to your inclusive hostel accommodations. And if you’re traveling solo, find like-minded backpacker companionship for when you’re feeling sociable. If you’re hooked on the Busabout touring style, there’s also an Alpine Festive Trek tour departing from Paris to celebrate Christmas in the Austrian Alps and an Edinburgh Hogmanay trip to include the Scottish Highlands over the holidays.
London West End Shows
Society of London Theatre
32 Rose St.
London WC2E 9ET
Sterling is weak, so London is more affordable now. Coupled with competitive airfares, you’ve got a deal. Take advantage of the winter months to see West End shows that sell out faster during busy tourist seasons. With the largest concentration of theaters, besides Broadway in New York City, London’s theater district is spread across Central London. Musicals are traditionally most popular with visitors. The current 2017/18 season features “Phantom of the Opera” in its 31st year, as well as favorites such as “Hamilton,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Wicked,” and “Kinky Boots.” Musical revivals are “42nd Street,” “An American in Paris,” “Dreamgirls,” and more. If you’re taking the kids, “Aladdin,” “Annie,” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” will catch their eye.
London Theatre’s New Year Sale operated by the Society of London Theatres offers discounted tickets from £10 to £40 (no booking fee) for over 45 of London’s best and brightest shows between January 1 and February 9, 2018. Join their mailing list to get updates on what tickets are available. Alternatively, visit in person at the TKTS Booth in Leicester Square, open seven days a week, for half-price and discounted tickets for same day, next day, and the following day only throughout the year.
River Cruises on the Danube
Various itineraries from river cruise operators on the Danube feature onshore excursion into Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary during the six week period while the Christmas markets are open. AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Crystal Cruises, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection are among the luxury river cruise operators that will get to these enchanting locations.
The capital of Austria is known for its six impressive Christmas markets. The main one is in the Rathausplatz, or city hall square. Christkindlmarkt attracts millions of visitors each year from mid-November until it closes on the day after Christmas. Browse the stalls for ornaments; enjoy lively music; eat roast chestnuts, pretzels, and sausages; and drink Weinachtspunsch, a traditional spiced (and spiked) Christmas punch. Visit another market or two in front of Schönbrunn Palce and The Belvedere Palace.
Budapest: The most famous Budapest Christmas fairs on Voromarty Square in the heart of the city on the Danube. From mid-November through New Year’s Eve, visitors can browse stalls of glass blowing, knitting, wood carving, candle making, pottery, handmade leather goods, traditional Hungarian embroidery and lace work. Try Hungarian sausages and pastries with mulled wine. The market’s centerpiece attraction is a twinkling streetcar. A second Budapest Christmas market is at St. Stephen’s Square by Basilica through New Year’s Day.