Melanie Drury - freelance writer
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Christmas Escapes
Christmas Travel Feature

'Tis the season to be jolly... or is it? Some of us (secretly) cringe at the idea of Christmas. The stress of buying gifts for members of the family we see only once a year and organising Christmas lunch for twenty-seven, in between keeping up with invitations to innumerable parties we would rather not attend (they all carry on past our usual bed-time), can be overwhelming!

Even if we do revel in the binging, boozing and general over-indulgence associated with the festive season, it might still excite us to do something entirely different, for a change, during the much-awaited holiday period. About what may we dream? How about....

An outdoors music and arts festival in Australia

It is difficult to get further away than this – geographically and from the traditional snowy images we are used to! Picture this:

It is a hots Summer's day. Our perfect, selected company enjoys a sumptuous Christmas barbecue on one of the secluded beaches dotting the east coast of Australia, somewhere between northern New South Wales and the Gold Coast of Queensland. Our belly full, we sit back and relax gazing at the dolphins playing in the surf wildly approaching the shore. The sea-gulls make the only other sound to be heard.

This idyllic scene is followed by six days and nights of entertainment with over 2000 international performers and 400 special events at the Woodford Folk Festival, near Brisbane. On-site camping hardly means that we need to spend much time looking after ourselves – there are adequate numbers of clean toilet and bathing facilities and we can choose from any cuisine from around the world to satisfy our taste-buds.
Thus we can make the most of the gigs and concerts of a wide range of music genres; participate in workshops of all kinds – dance, music, crafts, yoga and so on; watch the street theatre, film or cabaret; laugh at the comedy or join the discussion forums, and there is more! We can choose from a programme or simply wander over an area of 340 acres and see what we happen to stumble across. 20,000 people visit the site daily yet everybody is so friendly we barely feel lost in a crowd, more like part of a family!

Getting lost in an exotic island in Asia

If down-under is too distant, maybe we can make it as far as Asia? India's Andaman and Nicobar islands, situated closer to Thailand in the Andaman Sea, are of the few as yet unspoilt spots on earth. Picture this:

Tourism to this area is restricted but we easily obtain a special permit. A three-day sun-drenched cruise on a local ferry from the subcontinent across the Bay of Bengal brings us to a place full of smiling, healthy people. It looks like South India but here is no pollution, no poverty, no chaos, no stress. Furthermore, just out of Port Blaire more or less everywhere is off the beaten track.

War-painted tribes-men in Nike shorts attempt to hijack the local bus, unsuccessfully (the doors and windows are firmly shut), but the tribes-women wearing only grass-skirts at the ferry-crossing between two of the numerous islands forming the archipelago seem much more gentle. Thankfully, most tribes-people tend to keep to themselves.

The final reward is dense rain-forest meeting pristine, exclusive white beaches which lead into crystal-clear waters offering a delightful underwater world of coral and tropical sea-life. We simply forget what day it is.

Meditating in the Himalayas

If this seems too adventurous, why not consider a peaceful retreat in the Himalayas? It is also a little more in line with our snowy images. Picture this:

Snow. Lots of it. We are in India again, but about 2,500 kilometres away from our exotic island, in the north-western state of Himachel Pradesh, and there are only Tibetan people about. McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, is where the Dalai Lama, head of the Mahayana Tibetan Buddhist sect, now resides in exile.

A favourite all-year-round destination, facilities for foreign visitors have increased radically in recent years so we are comfortable. But we are here to experience something spiritual, which yet does not conflict with our personal religious views. The Vipassana centre in nearby Dharamcot hosts us through a ten-day silent retreat where ten hours daily are spent in guided introspective meditation. The inner journey deep within our consciousness must surely be the extreme other-end-of-the-scale from sense-gratification!

A European city set in the country

Maybe all of that sounds a little extravagant. Good old Europe is so much more familiar and accessible! But where to go? Picture this:

The cobbled streets are lined with shops, cafes and chic places for wining and dining. This is a modern city with all of Italy's finest, yet comparatively small and peaceful. A walk on the lake-side promenade reveals the splendid surrounding mountains, which offer the nature-lover several hiking opportunities to discover species of flora and fauna from before the ice-ages. Along the lake, north and south, the smaller villages provide something of the authentic Italian flavour.

Lecco, on the south-eastern branch of the famous Lago di Como in the state of Lombardy, and setting of Alessandro Manzoni's world-famous literature 'I Promessi Sposi', provides solutions for all tastes. Furthermore, its location allows for day-trips to the larger fashionable city of Milan, Romeo and Juliet's Verona, the romantic water-city of Venice, and Switzerland! Oops, it is now harder to choose where and how to spend Christmas!

The island of Calypso in the Mediterranean

More realistically, most of us might simply escape to Gozo! But don't we all love our Gozo get-aways? We all know the picture: the cozy, rustic farmhouse with burning fire-place, in the warm company of a lover or laughter between good friends while sharing bigilla and bottles of wine. The pool outside shimmers in the moonlight while the daylight brings the fresh, green views of Mediterranean countryside.

Welcome dreams and welcome home! A very happy Christmas to one and all!

Woodford Folk Festival, Australia:
Andaman and Nicobar
Dharamsala, HP, India:
Lecco, Italy:
Publication: The Sunday Circle
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