Are you thinking of taking one more short break before the end of the year? Would you like to get away from it all before the holiday madness truly kicks in? Or maybe you would like to get into the Christmas spirit a bit early and find some unique gifts while you're at it...either way, we've found some of the best places to go whether you want a quiet rural break or Europe's best Christmas markets.
Running from 1st December to 6th January, There are two main markets in Prague, at Old Town Square and nearby Wenceslas Square. There's also two smaller markets at Republic Square and Havel's Market. All are open every day, including Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year's Day. There are many, many chalets selling everything from wooden toys, dolls, Christmas ornaments and candles to crystal, jewellery, embroidery, ceramics and scarves and hats. While you walk around you can also savour traditional pastries, barbecued sausages, hot wines and cold Czech beers. If you get tired of shopping you can catch the choirs, carollers and traditional dance groups in the evenings at Old Town Square. There's lots for kids to do as well, of course, including a nativity petting zoo, workshops and puppet shows.
Attractive Penzion is a friendly B&B with cosy double rooms overlooking the river, just a few metres from Charles Bridge. Their rooms each include a TV and free internet, while the free breakfast is served in your room so you can start the day at your own pace.
The enormous Vienna Christmas market starts opening in mid-November and by the end of the month there's 13 markets open across the city. The largest is Wiener Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz. It's open from 10am to 9.30pm Sunday to Thursday and until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Along with all the open-air shopping, you can find daily workshops, an enchanted Rathauspark and free carolling performances from 30th November to 24th December.
Elsewhere in Vienna you can find traditional craftwork in the charming back streets of Weihnachtzmarkt am Spittelberg market, open 2pm to 9.30pm from 15th November to 23rd December. Handmade gifts, carollers and gospel choirs can be found at Schönbrunn Castle, 10am to 9pm from 24th November to 26th December. And if you really want something unique and local, head to the Adventmarkt in front of Karlskirche. This market is for gifts handmade by local artisans and there will be daily demonstrations of leatherwork, forging and glassblowing. It runs daily from 12pm to 8pm, 23rd November to 23rd December.
Bag & Map Apartment Guesthouse offers a variety of clean, bright, modern rooms with kitchenettes and ensuite bathrooms, all within 20 minutes' walk of several of the Christmas markets and Vienna's main shopping street, Mariahilferstrasse.
Running since 1570, this is the largest and oldest Christmas market in France. Here you'll find 12 individual markets with more than 300 chalets (market stalls); the various areas feature Alsatian food, crafts and specialities, wines and even a whole children's market. There's cultural, artistic and religious talks and concerts including a traditional performance of Handel's Messiah. As you're enjoying the Christmas lights spread all over the city centre, make sure to check out the gingerbread bakery at Le Petite France and the ice skating rink at Place du Château. This Christmas market is open from 24th November to 31st December.
Hotel Restaurant Pax is conveniently located in the city centre near Strasbourg Train Station and offers a range of rooms suitable for couples, families and those visiting on their own. This hotel features free Internet, Wi-Fi throughout the building, daily housekeeping, friendly staff and spacious rooms.
Loch Ness is the second-largest loch in Scotland by surface area, at almost 37km long. It's also the second-deepest, at a murky, Nessie-concealing 230m depth. Along with superb hiking along the Great Glen Way, there's plenty to explore around this peat-darkened lake in the Scottish Highlands. Inverness and Fort William sit at either end of the loch if you fancy a jaunt into the city, while the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition is in the charming village of Drumnadrochit beside the lake.
Aslaich is a charming, family-run B&B in Drumnadrochit, just a few minutes' stroll from Loch Ness, making it ideal for those looking to take long walks; there's even a dry room where you can air out your hiking boots. Breakfast is included and each room features satellite TV, tea and coffee-making facilities, hairdryers and individual heating so you can warm up as much as you like after a day out on the hills. Can't find a B&B in Loch Ness? Check out nearby Inverness!
The Dingle Peninsula is legendary for its striking beauty and offers excellent hiking, Blue Flag beaches, charming villages, great golfing and prehistoric and medieval ruins. The western part of the peninsula is also a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking region) if you fancy learning some new words over a couple of friendly pints.
Lurrage House is a three-star family-run guesthouse featuring absolutely stunning views of the Kerry mountains; it's only about 10 minutes' walk from the beach so you can get the best of both worlds. It's located about half-an-hour's drive from Tralee. And with a sun lounge, garden and pool table, it's ideal whether you want to go up the mountains or just spend a couple of relaxing days away from it all. Wi-Fi is also available if you just can't resist checking in with the outside world.
Fancy going somewhere a little warmer this season? San Sebastian in the Basque area of Spain is pretty mild this time of year, with an average high of 13°. Though San Sebastian is one of Spain's most cosmopolitan cities, you can still find rural settings by heading to the edge of town to the the village of Igeldo; it's on a mountain overlooking both the city and the gorgeous Bay of La Concha.
Agroturismo Maddiola is one of our newest B&Bs and it's already garnering plenty of high praise from guests, particularly because of their friendly staff and their relaxing onsite spa, located in Igeldo. All of their rooms are ensuite and an optional breakfast is also available.