Winter sun, Christmas fun - jet off for some adventure this December and January
Why go? Elaborate nativity scenes jostle for space along the narrow streets of Naples from December – for locals, these displays are more significant than Christmas trees. On Via San Gregorio Armeno, the shop windows are crammed with unusual figurines: you might find a farmer’s wife cooking next to the Three Wise Men; new for this year is a caricature of the late Apple boss Steve Jobs. The National Archaeological Museum has the largest display.
Where to stay: A converted 1914 villa, Hotel Miramare overlooks the Bay of Naples; doubles from €119.
Getting there: easyJet flies to Naples from several UK airports from £51 return.
Why go? Bustling Funchal, with its cobbled squares, ornate facades and elaborate churches, is unmistakably Portuguese. But the delightfully warm winters give this Atlantic outpost a distinct advantage over the more northerly motherland. Despite average temperatures over 18°C, the locals embrace the festive spirit with 3D illuminations, giant walk-through baubles and waterfalls of fairy lights, making now an excellent time to visit.
Where to stay: The non-profit association Madeira Rural has a range of rooms in country houses and quintas from €40.
Getting there: TAP Portugal has flights from Heathrow and Gatwick to Funchal (3hr 50mins) from £150 return.
Why go? In mid-December, the usually quiet city of Konya in Anatolia transforms into a pulsating hub of fervour, its ancient streets filled with elegant, spiralling dancers is splayed white skirts. The Whirling Dervish Festival (10-17 Dec), in honour of the mystic philosopher Mevlâna, has been mesmerising visitors for more than 700 years and provides an excellent excuse for visiting the awe-inspiring architecture of central Turkey.
Where to stay: Pasapark Hotel offers contemporary rooms a stone’s throw from the Mevlâna Museum; doubles from €135.
Getting there: Turkish Airlines flies from Heathrow to Konya via Istanbul, from £249 return.
Why go? Steaming geysers, thermal waters, thundering waterfalls: the list of unusual natural sights is as long as your pockets are deep. Iceland’s capital Reykjavík is an ideal base from which to take day trips in search of whales, bathe in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon or ride snowmobiles across a glacier – great winter fun. If you’re lucky, the northern lights may provide a spectacular night display.
Where to stay: Once the Czechoslovakian Embassy building, Anna’s Guesthouse is a quirky B&B; doubles from £90.
Getting there: Icelandair flies from Heathrow, Manchester and Glasgow to Reykjavík from £240 rtn.