The best boutique hotels for Christmas
Europe has been sprinkling winter charm over its towns and villages with Christmas markets as far back as the 13th century – so no wonder it has mastered the art. For those thinking ahead to gifts, glog and gingerbread, hotel writer, Sarah Jappy, rounds up five festive favourites and the boutique boltholes to bed down in once the shopping stops
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
Ho ho hotel: 71 Nyhavn Hotel
Rewind several centuries at 71 Nyhavn Hotel, whose handsome warehouses date back to a time when this canalside ’hood was a salacious den of sailors and soldiers. A rather more civilised crowd flocks here these days, drawn to a sophisticated array of waterfront restaurants and bars. 71 Nyhavn Hotel is another calling card: renovated with sensitivity and style, it stars the very best of Danish design, plus camera-worthy views of the waves. There’s also an excellent restaurant, SEA by Kiin Kiin, serving irreproachably tasty Thai food. Good news, dog-lovers: Fido can come, too.
‘Tis the season: Bed down at 71 Nyhavn and you’ll have one of the city’s best Christmas markets bang on your doorstep – in the old harbour, stalls are set up all along the waterfront. The market usually opens in early to mid-November, winding up just before Christmas Day.
2. Krakow, Poland
Ho ho hotel: Hotel Indigo
One word: sauna. Hotel Indigo’s steamy hideaway will banish any Krakow-induced goosebumps quicker than you can say ‘Na zdrowie’. Suit up for the hotel’s ravishing restaurant, Filipa 18, which pays tribute to the cash-strapped artists who once sat in the hotel’s building, drinking tea and honey here after painting sessions in nearby Kleparski Square. The chef shares the local creative streak, rustling up artful dishes such as sea trout with pearl barley, while the room interiors come courtesy of Krakow-based design studio SAO, each one riffing on a different Polish cultural heavyweight.
‘Tis the season: Get festive in the Old Town at Krakow’s huge central square, Rynek Glowny (the largest in Europe) which hosts Poland’s biggest winter market from late November until late December and, sometimes, early January.
3. Reykjavik, Iceland
Ho ho hotel: Sandhotel
Pâtissiers should turn their hands to hotels more often – the flour-power A-team behind Icelandic bakery Sandholt rustled up this buzzed-about bolthole. The ingredients in Sandhotel’s recipe for success include: a prime city-centre location, bold works by local artists, plush furnishings, gem-bright accents and friendly staff. Oh, and copious cinnamon buns. Sandbar & Bistro on the ground floor is ripe for leisurely breakfasts, or, if you want to up the cashmere content of your wardrobe, grab something warm and woollen from Iceland’s oldest tailors, just next door. Further afield, chilly thrills come in the form of ice-tunnel treks, horse-back rides in glacial landscapes and excursions to Viking settlements. You’ll be ready for a bubble bath back at Sandhotel after all that.
‘Tis the season: Reykjavik’s annual Christmas market in Heiðmörk woods, on the outskirts of the city, is open every weekend from 25 November to 17 December.
4. Helsinki, Finland
Ho ho hotel: Hotel Lillia Roberts
Enjoy an art deco romance at Hotel Lillia Roberts, which adds a dash of 1930’s glamour to Helsinki’s dapper Design District. On cold days, there’s no better place to be than cosied up by the lobby’s crackling fireplace, newspaper and coffee in hand. If the occasion/temperature calls for something stronger than caffeine, there’s the Lilla e. bar, decorated with splashes of orange and striped furnishings. Kick back, relax and order a couple of Caramel Apple cocktails, featuring cognac, cider, sugar and ‘fireplace scent’. The focal point of each room is its blissfully comfy bed, topped with snug throws and plump cushions, egging you on to have a cuddly night in – after you’ve feasted at the hotel’s Krog Roba restaurant first, which bills itself as ‘your Helsinki living room’.
‘Tis the season: As the self-professed ‘Christmas city’, Helsinki likes to go large when it comes to Yuletide. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Helsinki Christmas Market opens in the heart of town; did someone say ‘glögi’?
5. Gothenburg, Sweden
Ho ho hotel: Elite Plaza Hotel
Pretend you’re a 19th-century Swedish aristocrat at Elite Plaza Hotel, which occupies a palatial building that dates back to 1889 (and has the stucco ceilings and mosaic floors to prove it). You’ll find this historic hideaway at leafy, tree-lined Västra Hamngatan, in the city centre, within walking distance of Gothenburg’s highlights. Cultured neighbours include an opera house, cathedral and church. Inside the hotel, understated hues enlivened with vivid pops of colour decorate the 127 refined rooms; Swea Wine & Dine, the Plaza Bar, and the hotel’s English-style pub, The Bishop’s Arms, are your additional cues to stay put.
‘Tis the season: Less market, more festive empire, Gothenburg’s Liseberg Market (open November and December) counts a Rabbit Land, ice ballet, Medieval Village and an industrious resident Santa among its charms.