Schloss Elmau, Bavaria, Germany
This privately owned, 100-year-old fairy-tale castle in the Bavarian Alps, with snow falling on the silent, remote valley surrounded by forests, could have been dreamt up for Christmas. Cross-country ski trails lead from the front door past frozen skating lakes up through the pines to Hansel-and-Gretel-style wooden huts, where glühwein is served in tankards and warming stews are dished up beside a roaring fire. But the great outdoors aside, Schloss Elmau itself is all about culture, offered in such an unstuffy way as to make this a favorite family destination, too, with children’s dance and art classes among the winter activities. There are visits by authors and artists, such as Ian McEwan and Edmund de Waal, and live jazz and classical music in the impressive concert auditorium. Come for a truly sybaritic break and indulge in one of the many award-winning restaurants, or treat this as a health retreat and take advantage of the six different spa areas (and spa menus), including an immense hammam and a rooftop heated pool that steams invitingly under the star-spangled winter skies.
1 Hotel South Beach, Miami
This eco-resort on the edge of South Beach’s Art Deco district remains, nearly five years after its launch, one of the quintessential Miami experiences. A huge hotel of more than 400 rooms and suites the size of small apartments, 1 Hotel South Beach still manages to feel intimate, with relaxation pods and four poolside areas, including screened-off private cabanas. There are daily yoga classes on the (adults-only) roof deck, which morphs, on certain nights in the festive season, into party central, with smoked martinis, foraged berry sake, sushi and dancing til dawn. While there are blow-out Christmas and holiday menus on offer, you can also detox in the spa, join aerobics or volleyball on the legendary beachfront or just relax in a hammock under a sea grape tree.
Le Massif, Courmayeur, Italy
A short walk from the ski lifts, Le Massif gives you access with one pass to the entire Aosta Valley ski area, which has some of the highest-altitude skiing in Europe, as well as brilliant trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Just a 90-minute drive from Geneva, this new 80-room hotel is situated in the heart of Courmayeur, a chic Italian Alpine town with cobbled streets, designer stores and excellent food. It is a sophisticated, minimalist retreat for all the family. There are three restaurants and a luxurious spa with outdoor pool, but the trump card is the brilliant clubhouse on the slopes of Plan Chécrouit, La Loge du Massif, where you can pick up your skis, deposit the kids and hang out on the terrace in full glorious view of Mont Blanc. It’s like stepping into a real-life Christmas card. Book your stay with Momentum Ski.
Dwarika’s Hotel, Kathmandu, Nepal
In December, the Himalayan mountain views around Kathmandu are astonishingly clear, and the trekking crowds have thinned out. The weather is dry with sunny days, but come nightfall, you need to wrap up or sit beside the burning hearths in your bedroom in this, the best heritage hotel in Nepal’s capital city. Dwarika’s ancient salvaged buildings are built around jasmine-scented gardens dotted with shrines, where locals come for private puja, or blessings. Globes of water hang from jacarandas and rhododendron trees like earrings to ward off bugs. Part of a long-standing conservation project designed to resuscitate the forgotten crafts of stonemasonry and wood-carving for which the indigenous Newari were famous, the hotel also sets high ecological standards, with zero waste and recycled water. It also uses organic linens, and organic food farmed in its sister hotel outside the city, the ideal next stop on your Himalayan journey.
Le Farnatchi, Marrakech, Morocco
One of the most established riads in Marrakech, Le Farnatchi is owned by an Englishman, formerly an events organizer, with an attendant vivid sense of theater. It’s the perfect lovers’ cocoon (all duck-down four-posters, fireplaces in the bedrooms and rose-scented private terraces), transporting you into another time and space. Only 15 minutes’ walk from the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, the 10 suites across five connecting riads reach into the most ancient part of the Medina. Thoughtful touches include the djellabas and fez hats, which are free to take home, while breakfast on the terrace in view of the city’s minarets and the petal-strewn seven-meter pool are photographic nirvana. You can book your stay at Le Farnatchi with Wix Squared.