It’s that time of year again when the UAE National Day break looms on the horizon, promising a way to make break from the stresses of everyday living. Rather than you do the heavy lifting, Gulf News tabloid! has put together a cracking guide to last-minute getaways — fit for every personality — that will have you packing in no time.
Jaipur and Ranthambore, India
For luxury living and wildlife safaris
Live like royalty in Rajasthan with a stay in a bona fide palace in Jaipur. While we highly recommend a visit to the majestic Hawa Mahal and a stroll through the colourful Tripolia Bazaar, it is the 300-year-old City Palace that has caught our attention.
Home to Jaipur’s royal family, the sprawling abode is available to rent out on Airbnb from November 23. The Gudliya Suite at the City Palace will become accessible to outside guests, courtesy Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh, who is offering a stay at his home to raise funds in support of women’s empowerment initiatives in the Indian state.
For those wondering, the suite boasts its own lounge, a kitchen and a swimming pool. Guests will be looked after by a private butler and guide, while authentic Rajasthani meals may be enjoyed on a terrace offering a view of the surrounding Aravalli hills.
The suite doesn’t come cheap though, priced at $8,000 per night. And if a chance at the royal life has really tickled your fancy, then conclude the break with a visit to Ranthambore National Park, home to more than 85 tigers. If you have seen pictures of the majestic creatures roaming in the wild in India, chances are those images have been taken at Ranthambore.
Opt for either a jeep and canter safari and explore the natural habitat of this endangered species. If you want the true luxury jungle experience, then tented properties such as the Oberoi Vanyavilas resort and Aman-I-Khas hotel are your best bet.
For seeing the Amalfi Coast on the cheap
Before all you naysayers jump in, we actually do have valid reasons for visiting the Amalfi Coast in December and they are pretty solid. For one, a stay for a week isn’t going to cost you a small fortune. And more importantly, you will have much more than mere elbow space on the public buses while touring the coast. Although, word of caution, the winter months do drive away many villagers, but over the years, more and more places are remaining open for guests.
With flydubai launching direct flights to Naples, southern Italy has never been more accessible. For first-timers, we suggest to skip Naples and make straight for Sorrento as your base. Usually during winter, the Amalfi Coast ferries come to a standstill, but Sorrento being a major hub, remains open for business, offering nightlife and accessibility to the island of Capri or Salerno. The city also is perfectly placed to visit the historical sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
However, do pack for the sporadic wet weather and chilly climes.
For the magical Christmas markets
‘Tis the most wonderful time of the year in Sweden when the Christmas markets come alive under a thousand twinkling lights. Our absolute favourite city for the season is Gothenburg, bursting with festive cheer, singing Christmas trees, and at the very centre of it, the enchanted land of Liseberg.
The largest amusement park in Scandinavia turns into a giant Christmas market, inviting visitors to go gift hunting through hundreds of stalls or humming to carols while skating riding the winter carousels. Nothing, of course, beats the smell of roasted chestnuts in the air as you sip away at hot cocoa along the way.
This year, Liseberg is open November 28-30 and December 1 and 4-8, making it perfect for the UAE National Day getaway. And if you want to join the Singing Christmas Tree choir, catch them at the square Kungsportsplatsen from November 29 to December 22.
Armenia and Georgia
For the adventurous road trippers
Those who want to do away with the planning can opt for packaged tours such as the one being offered by Holiday Factory, which combines a visit to the two countries, with stays in Tbilisi, Georgia and Yerevan, Armenia. Cleartrip also has similar offers on standby.
For Dh2,999, explore the urban landscape of Tbilisi, strolling through the alleyways of old town and soaking away your troubles in a Sulphur bath. Later, discover Yerevan’s magnificent architecture, arty streets, historic museums and delicious food.
However, if you want a real sense of adventure, rent a car and drive through the two countries, camping out on the banks of Armenia’s Lake Sevan, or spending the night in one of the most ridiculous places we have ever stayed at — a boat-shaped hotel in Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh — complete with its own collection of classic cars, a football stadium and a private zoo! Legend has it that a Russian billionaire decided to build something memorable for his village. Needless to say, he succeeded.
When in Georgia, do take a drive towards the Black Sea coast, passing many vineyards along the way, as you reach the glitzy town of Batumi and its very Dubai-esque corniche that lights up the city in all its glory.
New York, US
For the urban dwellers
Winter in New York comes with its own little pleasures. Spend crisp December mornings strolling down the sprawling Central Park, followed by a guilty indulgence in the bustling district of Hell’s Kitchen. Let the city dictate your evenings in Midtown where hours can be spent perched on the Red Steps, whilst people watching at Times Square or waiting patiently for the TKTS booth on 47th between 7th and Broadway to open up its window and serve up last-minute ticket deals on the hottest musicals on the strip or go ice skating at the Rockefeller Plaza.
Staying around 5th avenue, in the shadow of the Empire State Building, is always a great bet, but if you really want a taste of indulgence then check-in to the hottest new suite in town, the Manhattan Sky Suite at the Park Hyatt New York.
The ultra-luxury suite is located on the 59th floor of the iconic One57 luxury residential tower with the highest Central Park-facing suite on the city’s luxury hotel market. The expansive 4,200 square-foot three-bedroom suite features 11-foot ceilings with floor-to-ceiling windows, a full kitchen, and its crown jewel: The Grand Salon, a light-filled living and dining space where guests are surrounded by unrivalled 360-degree views of Manhattan’s iconic skyline and beyond.
For the eat, pray, love solo traveller
Julia Roberts may have popularised the phrase for the millennials, but Bali’s humble pleasures have long since struck the right balance between beauty and mindfulness. If the madness of Kuta’s bustling beaches, art markets and late-night parties are more your thing, then Seminyak and Legian are your best bet. But if you really want to discover the essence of the Balinese culture, then head inland to Ubud, where you can wake up to the vistas of majestic paddy fields, explore the sacred monkey forest or simply stroll through the beautiful temples that have withstood the test of time.
Prague, Czech Republic
For the lovers of history
Earning its name as the ‘City of a Hundred Spires’, Prague is a paradise of lovers of architecture. With its baroque designs and gothic masterpieces, the medieval history of the capital city can see you wander for hours across its old town square the hundred surrounding alleyways.
At the very centre of the city stands the pedestrian-friendly Charles Bridge, lined with statues of Catholic saints. Stay at the Charles Bridge Palace, located in the heart of the historic city, and minutes from the Old Town. It is also the perfect place to visit the Museum of Medieval Torture and discover gruesome torture devices — bound to give you nightmares.
Ella, Sri Lanka
For the nature lover
Sure, we give credit to the tourist-friendly cities of Colombo, Kandy and Bentota. But if you truly want to explore the natural landscape of Sri Lanka, then head to Ella, a small town nestled in the hill-country of Sri Lanka, where the land is rich with tea plantations, dramatic waterfalls and stunning temples.
Explore the dense countryside via the many hiking trails, including routes to Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock, which offer beautiful views of the lush countryside. Stay at the Ella Jungle Resort — nestled on the banks of the Kirindi Oya River and surrounded by wild jungle, where you can find your jungle feet. Choose from an Eco Jungle Chalet, Cottage or Cabin — each offering spacious, breezy rooms with balconies — and wake up to the sound of the nearby mountain stream.