Off the beaten track, where to go for some winter sun



As Europe and America become lost to cold and rain, we don’t blame you for wanting to fly away from it all in search of hot weather, beautiful beaches, smiling people and a whole lot of exoticism. The burning question is: Where to go?

There are the big hitters, of course- Thailand, Dubai, Bora Bora- but there are also the lesser known winter sun destinations, like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Langkawi, that make for a great escape this time of year. Let’s dig into the list, shall we?


Best for: A city break just beyond Europe

Marrakesh is stacked with beautiful hotels, but La Mamounia, set in a 17-acre garden within walking distance of the medina, has our heart. The atmosphere is that of an Oriental palace, and the spa, fusing the traditional with the modern, is one of the best this side of the world.

The islands of Thailand

The Rosewood Phuket Emerald Bay

Best for: Castaway fantasies

The islands of Thailand need no introduction. They are world-famous for their sugary white beaches, postcard-pretty palm trees and tranquil seas in the most beautiful shades of turquoise. In December, things only get better when the tropical country is in the drier of its two monsoon seasons, and its islands afford clear blue skies. The most luxurious of the lot is Koh Samui, cocooned by the Gulf of Thailand, and stacked with high-end hotels and super-spas. The island makes for an idyllic retreat to take a breather this time of year.

Where to stay

For a taste of laid-back island life, the Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui comes with our highest recommendation. It’s set on the northwest coast of the island, and there is no location more dreamy or peaceful. For the ultimate spa holiday, there is no beating the Six Senses Samui, with its pampering spa and wellness experiences that range from Yoga to Reiki and Pilates classes.


Best for: Culture

Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, on the Atlantic Coast, has it all: ancient ruins, stunning beaches, world-class snorkelling, and scuba diving, and colonial cities with histories just waiting to be discovered. It’s perhaps the most intriguing part of Latin America and a great place to visit this time of year for plenty of hot weather and sun.

Where to stay 

For varied travel experiences this Christmas, we recommend the Rosewood Mayakoba. The hotel sits right on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, with a sprawling lagoon-side setting. It’s also ideally located for access to Mérida- the capital of Yucatán- and Mayan sites like Chichen Itza and Uxmal, while the beaches of Tulum and Playa del Carmen lie just a short ride away.


Best luxury hotels in Bali - Viceroy Bali

Best for: A versatile getaway under the sun 

The Indonesian island of Bali, just eight degrees south of the equator, is hot year-round. December is a great time to visit when the island shines its brightest around Christmas and New Year, with parties that range from full-moon raves in hidden coves to the action of Seminyak. Bali is also that perfect mix of a spiritual sanctuary and a paradise for adventure seekers, with its rich cultural heritage and landscapes that have it all- rocky cliffs, aquamarine oceans, volcanic mountains and the greenest paddy fields.

Where to stay 

To enjoy the best of Bali from a retreat that sits in the heart of it all, but also provides a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle when you need it, the Legian Bali checks all the right boxes. The hotel sits right on Seminyak Beach, with a beautiful horizon pool overlooking the ocean. If that’s not classic Bali, we don’t know what is.

Bora Bora and French Polynesia

Best for: Everything bright and light

In both geography and spirit, the French Polynesia islands in the South Pacific ocean are out of this world, and about as far away from a drizzly winter as you can get. The best-known of the islands is Bora Bora where mountain peaks border blue lagoons, and overwater bungalows provide an unmatched setting to enjoy the picture-perfect blueness of the lagoon.

Where to stay 

A hotel that gets what you want from a castaway fantasy at Christmas is the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort. It has some of the largest overwater bungalows in the world, and its legendary lagoon, backdropped by Mount Otemanu, is just the kind of place where time seems to stand still.

Cape Town 

Best for: A getaway to a coastal metropolis

South Africa may seem like a far-fetched place to go on holiday in December, but its refusal to drop below the 20°C mark, while Europe and America are freezing, makes it a much-coveted winter sun destination. Throw in its beauty- think Table Mountain and all the sights that sit along Cape Peninsula- and you’ve got a winning hand. Cape Town also has culture, history, and a fantastic food scene, concentrated around the waterfront marina.

Where to stay 

For a special treat, check yourself into the One&Only Cape Town resort. Sitting a mere 300 m from the popular V&A Waterfront, the hotel puts you right in the middle of the bustling metropolis, with many rooms offering spectacular views of Table Mountain.


Best for: Postcard-pretty beaches minus the crowds

With its temples, palaces, rich history, and deserted beaches, Cambodia is a fascinating Far East country to visit this time of year. The weather tends to be glorious, and the places to eat and drink have a happy buzz to them as the locals embrace the holiday season.

Cambodia is also the perfect place to embark on a spiritual adventure. Think mornings that start with watching the sun rise over the jungle temples of Angkor, and afternoons spent basking in the authentic traditions of the villages of the kingdom, and you’ll get the picture. 

Where to stay 

For a prime spot to enjoy all that Cambodia has to offer, the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor can’t be beat. It sits halfway between downtown Siem Reap and the Angkor Archaeological Park, and it might just be the most Instagrammable hotel this side of town.



Best for: Some of the finest beach hotels in the world

Mauritius has a distinct advantage over its Indian Ocean neighbors like Seychelles and the Maldives: it’s small enough that anyone can take it on independently. It’s the kind of place where one day you can be hiking up a rainforested hill, and the next you can be taking a boat out to swim with dolphins.

Did we mention the cultural diversity? There is much more to Mauritius than lounging on its coral white sands, from beautiful Hindu shrines to beachside chapels where various religious groups mix in harmony.

Where to stay 

Mauritius is home to some of the most beautiful beach hotels in the world, but the intimate Constance Prince Maurice, with its floating seafood restaurant, might just be our favorite. The hotel is as calm and discreet as they come this side of the Indian Ocean, and the infinity pool is one of the loveliest on the island.


Best for: Untouched beauty and a fantastic food scene

Vietnam is one of those Far East countries that has it all: a colonial and quirky Ho Chi Minh City that rarely sleeps, one of the best food scenes in the world, a rich history and a coast lined with amazing beaches, just waiting to be discovered. On the busy streets of the capital, discover centuries-old architecture and the rich Southeast Asian culture. For beauty untouched by the curses of traffic and pollution, the graceful and historical Hoi An is the place to be.

Where to stay 

If you’re heading to Hoi An, the Four Seasons Resort the Nam Hai, with villas sprinkled along a brochure-perfect beach, blends the cultural heritage of Nam Hai with luxurious flair. It’s a portal to ultimate seaside splendor, and the best wellness experiences this side of Vietnam.


Best for: Outdoor christmas and New Year’s Eve parties

If you don’t mind the long journey to get there, Sydney is an excellent destination for December sun. It’s the first month of summer, and that means the city’s outdoor cinemas, festive markets, and rooftop bars are back in business.

As Europe and America become lost to wind and rain, Sydney is just starting to warm up, and temperatures, cooled by harbor breezes, hover around the 24°C mark. If you stick around until January, you’ll also catch the Sydney Festival- a three-week celebration with more than 100 events organized across theatre, dance, music, and art.

Where to stay 

Like what you’re reading? Go for gold with the Langham Hotel, Sydney. With its breathtaking views of Sydney Harbou and exclusive experiences like Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood and a lavish underground spa, it’s the most elegant address in town.


Sri Lanka 

Best for: Gorgeous, golden beaches and untouched tranquility

India’s neighbour, the paradise island of Sri Lanka, is a place that’s filled with excitement all year round. It’s a perfect cocktail of British and Portuguese colonial heritage, and with its beautiful beaches, rice paddies and verdant tea plantations scattered everywhere, it’s the idyllic place to shun the holiday crowds for untouched tranquility.

In December, the island is also between its two monsoon seasons, and cities on the southwest coast- like Gall – are generally clear of rain and bask in temperatures that hover around the 30°C mark.

Where to stay 

For a chic outpost from which to explore Sri Lanka, the Amangalla resort, set in the ramparts of Galle Fort, is something special. It’s the perfect introduction to Sri Lanka’s heritage, and the Ayurvedic massages at hotel’s seductive spa are among the best in the world.  


Best for: Forested delight and seriously tasty food

When it comes to paradise islands in the Far East, Langkawi is Malaysia’s answer for a sea-lapped and sun-drenched destination. The best time to visit is between December and April when the dry season holds court. Our advice? Only consider this destination if you don’t mind putting on a few pounds over the holiday season. On this side of the world, dishes like rendang, satay, and fresh fish get seriously tasty, and you don’t want to miss out on them.

Where to stay 

Set in a tropical rainforest with views of the Andaman Sea from every angle, The Datai Langkawi is everything you want in a trip to the Far East island. The hotel is the stuff of fairy-tales, and cocktails to views of the ocean are sublime. Take our word for it and thank us later.


Best for: Glitz and glamour

Dubai is always glitzy, but in December, the city shines its brightest when the weather cools to the more bearable 25ºC mark, and record-breaking Christmas trees start making their appearance all over town, often groaning under the weight of countless Swarovski crystals. Throw in the warm sands of Jumeirah Beach in the mix, and the city’s trendy eateries and massive shopping temples, and you’ve got yourself a Christmas holiday to remember.

Where to stay 

Dubai is also not short on swanky hotels, but you can’t go wrong with big names like the Burj Al Arab and the Raffles Dubai. They come with a guarantee of sophisticated Arab luxury, excellent service and one of a kind experiences like pool oases you can happily bronze by all day.

About Nimah Koussa

The best part about being a travel writer is bringing cities and destinations to life: their stories, secret addresses, luxurious gems and unique holiday moments. And I have been one for a little more than 10 years. From the best bars and restaurants in different cities of the world to hotels where you can check-in to get away from it all, this Magazine is all about making every trip just a bit more meaningful.

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