The Best Places to Travel in December
Welcome to the festive season, friends. We trust your holidays already come with an ample cast of characters. But in the spirit of giving, we’ve got a few suggested additions: a roving band of jesters on the shores of Lake Geneva, for example. Or hey, why not make merry with the whirling dervishes of Konya? Then again, if literal sloth is more your speed at year’s end, well, we’ve got a trip for that, too. Read on for six of the best places to celebrate (or lie low) this December.
Lord Byron was so taken with Lake Geneva’s Château de Chillon that he turned one of its most notorious residents—the 16th-century prior François Bonivard—into the hero of an epic poem. Nowadays, the castle houses no ecclesiastical libertine activists (that we know of), but instead, the ultimate #throwback Christmas market (Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14 & 15). This one isn’t as much about the tchotchkes (though there will be plenty of those on offer at the neighboring Montreux Marché de Noël) as the medieval cooking workshops, beeswax candle-making sessions and jesters and dancers in period costume. Once you've wandered the chateau’s gorgeous grounds, start making your way around the lake (known locally as Lac Léman). Be sure to stop in Lausanne, whose grande dame Beau-Rivage Palace hosts a stellar seasonal lounge. Emphasis on stellar: Clear nights come with views of starry skies and snowy Alps through the ceiling of the see-through Bubble Bar (Weds-Sun through Feb. 29), where you’ll also find bubbly from the oldest Champagne house on earth—Ruinart—and perfectly paired treats. Try to reach Geneva, at the other end of the lake from Montreux, by the first weekend of the month (Dec. 6-8) so you can catch the Escalade Festival. Commemorating a 1602 victory over the Duke of Savoy, this celebration includes musketeers and swordsmen, mulled wine and waffles and—perhaps most important of all—chocolate cauldrons filled with um…more chocolate.
Of course, there's no one way to get in the spirit this season. But one of the most bucket-listy, hands down—and robes up—is the Mevlana Whirling Dervishes Festival (Dec. 10-17). Devotees of the 13th-century Persian poet Mevlana (aka Rumi), these Sufi mystics twirl themselves into a trancelike state—and their skirts into a levitational state. To experience the thoroughly mesmerizing effect in person, join roughly a million festivalgoers in the city of Konya, the poet’s final resting place and (clearly) a major pilgrimage site. Catch performances at the Mevlana Museum, visit the poet's exquisitely-painted mausoleum and hop across the street to the centuries-old Hich Hotel Konya. The garden patio at this last stop pairs fabulous Turkish coffee with views of the Mevlana Museum’s eye-popping turquoise dome.
Sure, the ski conditions in Tahoe are edging towards their prime by December. But that’s just one reason to visit now. Another? Tahoe Adventure Film Festival (Dec. 7) at MontBleu Resort and Casino, where the stars of the big screen are skiers, boarders, surfers, rock-climbers and BASE jumpers. If the g-force is with you, you may even win a Tahoe season ski pass or an Alaskan heli-ski trip in the raffle. But however the raffle goes, look around. You've scored by just being here. Visit at the end of the month instead, and you'll catch MTV’s Snowglobe Music Festival (Dec. 29-31), whose headliners include the Grammy-nominated deep house artist, ZHU. Between sets, order a spiked cider or hot toddy at the MTV Lodge, then check out the pro ski and snowboarding demos. If your tastes lean a bit more posh, spend the 31st at Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe, where you'll ring in 2020 fireside with caviar and champagne pairings.
The Costa Rican Rainforest
If you’re looking to flee winter rather than lean into it, Costa Rica says Bienvenido to the jungle. December kicks off the local dry season, when the weather tends to be blissful, the foliage lush—and the wildlife (think jaguars, scarlet macaws, and red-eyed tree frogs) increasingly visible. See for yourself at the buzz-generating new Nayara Tented Camp in Arenal Volcano National Park (opens Dec. 20). Perhaps the glampiest spot you’ve ever stayed, your digs come with a natural hot spring-fed private plunge pool, a volcano-view patio, a daily yoga or meditation class and—our favorite—a tour the onsite sloth sanctuary.
Do you want to build a snowman? Even if the thought hadn't occurred to you since the millionth time the kids watched Frozen on demand, Frozen II fever is about to kick in—so start stockpiling those corn cob pipes and carrot noses. Better yet, start planning a pilgrimage to the land that inspired Arendelle: Norway. Word is, Bergen is the most direct inspiration for the scenery of Anna and Elsa's home turf. So true Frozen devotees will want to check out the town's cobbled medieval streets and stunning neighborhood fjords. Bonus: Bergen is home to the world’s largest gingerbread town, so assuming you've got the kids in tow (no judgment if not), we're handing you double parenting points for this trip. In the movie's sequel, the royal sisters and their sidekicks wander north into Sami territory—where, in fact, the filmmakers are reported to have collaborated with the local community on various aspects of the story (trivia alert: Frozen II marks the first time there will be a Sami language version of an international Disney movie). To follow in the movie's footsteps and likely catch at least one Northern Lights show along the way, head to Norwegian Lapland, where you can explore Sami culture firsthand. And yes, that could easily include reindeer sledding (though sadly, we can't guarantee Sven will be on the job when you're there).
If 2019 feels like the sort of year that should go out with a bang, there's arguably one place to honor that in the biggest possible way. The Sydney Opera House pyrotechnics are watched planetwide for good reason and worth experiencing at least once in your life. But you’ll need to plan your evening carefully to avoid the crowds. One solution? Splurge on a New Year’s Eve cruise of Sydney Harbour. You’ll have unmatched views of the 9pm and midnight displays as you tuck into caviar, Sydney rock oysters and vintage bubbly. Another worthy splurge: New Year’s Eve at Sydney Opera House. There are a few different options on offer, but the most indulgent (and you're already here, so why not) includes a pre-show, harborview dinner, a performance of La Bohème—and an afterparty with a wild perspective on the fireworks.