Best overseas breaks at Christmas and new year: readers travel tips

Our tipsters go cold turkey on the traditional British Christmas in search of ice hotels, a lantern festival, exotic wildlife and traditional markets, from Brittany to the Japanese alps

Winning tip: east African wildlife trip

Last year we spent 25 December in Giraffe Manor, in a suburb of Nairobi, where giraffes poked their heads through the windows looking for breakfast. We then travelled to Ethiopia to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas on 7 January in the Bale mountains, hoping for a sighting of the endangered Ethiopian wolf. We drove and trekked across the Sanetti plateau, but the wolves remained elusive, so we drove up Ethiopias second-highest peak, the 4,377-metre Tullo Deemtu, for views of worlds largest expanse of Afro-alpine moorland and crystal-clear tarns. On the way back to Bale Mountain Lodge, we spotted a lone wolf basking in the sun on the roadside. Santa had been after all.

A tree house in the Japanese alps


Three hours from Tokyo by car there is a stunning chain of mountains on the south eastern side of Lake Shirakaba-ko called Yatsugatake. There, amid a forest, is a restaurant called Canadian Farm, where owner Haseyan has crafted a rustic, charming and cosy tree house. We stayed in this chocolate box setting at Christmas and relished the local traditions of the Japanese equivalent of Valentines Day on Christmas Eve, where locals go for walks with their partner. There was also the surprise delivery of our Christmas Day feast, a KFC chicken bucket! Christmas Day isnt an official national holiday so travel is a breeze, but everyone celebrates anyway, in a jovial way. The tree house in Hara, Suwa District, Nagano, costs about 130 a night in December.

Giant lanterns in the Philippines

Photograph: Alamy

For Christmas magic and wonder, you cant beat the Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando in the Philippines (an hours drive north-west of Manila). The festival sees beautiful and elaborate multicoloured lanterns lighting up the evenings of the holiday season. The tradition began with villages crafting paper lanterns but has evolved into something even more spectacular, with thousands of electric lights adorning the competitors efforts. Spectators travel here from all over the country: light is a symbol of hope and faith, and the warm festive atmosphere and obvious delight of the crowd are all part of the show. A competition day is held on 16 December, and the lanterns are exhibited every evening through to New Years Eve.

Torontos big bash

Photograph: Alamy

New York would like to claim a monopoly on New Year celebrations but its neighbours over the border certainly give them a run for their money. Every year Toronto puts on a free outdoor party in Nathan Phillips Square, with live music and performances, ice skating and a huge firework display at midnight. As 31 December this year marks the end of Canadas 150th birthday celebrations, the city authorities have promised this bash will be a big one. Public transport will be free from 7pm-3am, too.

Strasbourg Christmas market

Photograph: Alamy

A lifelong Scrooge, I jumped at the chance of getting away from British festivities with a stay in Strasbourg, where I ended up falling in love with the notion of a traditional Christmas, especially because it snowed. The Christmas market, Christkindelsmrik, goes back to 1570 and takes over the cobbled streets round the cathedral. Stalls are festooned with evergreen branches. I really enjoyed bratwurst and gluhwein in the evenings, consumed outside in the cold, around tables shared with smiling strangers. At midnight mass we belted out familiar carols in four different languages. Christmas dinner in our one-room flat was confit de canard from a can. Our live tree, six inches high, was from the market. Next day, a local bar was open and we feasted on pork and sauerkraut.
Janet Holland

Bright lights of Brittany

Photograph: Alamy

Ferry to Saint-Malo, a quiet drive to Rennes and a booking at a city centre logis, where we were offered breakfast in our room. We walked the quiet streets illuminated by lights like droplets of ice on every branch of the footpath trees. The botanic garden was open and we had it to ourselves. There were tickets at the theatre for the ballet Gat Parisienne, which we enjoyed with an enthusiastic audience, then lobster for dinner at a reasonable price. No double charge or unwilling staff: the evening was a delight. Boxing Day is just another working day in France: we drove through light frost to Carnac, finding just one other couple at the ancient stones.
John Pelling

Glhwein and ski jumping, Austria

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