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Travel & Holidays in later life


5-star luxury festive break at Grand Hotel, Eastbourne"Christmas is coming!" Many a housewife has thought that Christmas would be just perfect, if it wasn't for the cooking. A long list of seaside and country hotels have the answer: a three- or four-day festive package that includes all the traditional Christmas fare and house-party atmosphere. 

Every year, hundreds of hotels throughout Britain and Ireland actively promote Christmas and New Year packages, aimed at all possible sectors of the market. If you can't face another hectic Christmas at home, treat yourself and spouse to a special break.

Most of these festive-season packages are taken by so-called 'empty-nesters' - the over-50s whose children have grown up and scattered. Helping you work up an appetite for all the feasting, caterers can suggest a range of sport activities, from golf or indoor bowls to brisk walks or a dip in a heated indoor pool.

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When to book: The sooner you finalise a UK or continental reservation, the better. Think seriously about it from September onwards. You cannot expect to find any last-minute discount offers.

While festive season prices are at their peak, the following few weeks in January are at their lowest. 

Consider a shopping, sightseeing  and entertainment  weekend in London or other major city, and enjoy the Sales. Christmas decorations should remain in place until Twelfth Night - January 6.

Getting there: Most UK hotel programmes enable you to dodge wintry driving conditions by choosing either a rail-inclusive or Express Coach package.

Travelsphere escorted holidays


Professional entertainments are organised by most of Britain's hotel groups - three to five days, packed with lavish menus, celebrations and local trips; or longer breaks, if preferred.

Programmes can include candlelit dinners, carols, visit from Santa Claus, sightseeing excursions, and possibly tickets to a Boxing Day pantomime. 

Any time from September onwards, ask your travel agent for brochures published by the major hotel groups. Your first choice may be fully booked, but group reservation offices can often suggest another location with a vacancy.

For couples or singles who want a quieter house-partyTake a brisk cliffside walk at Ilfracombe atmosphere, smaller hotels can offer a traditional break without all the razzmatazz. Likewise, many seaside guesthouses are glad to quote for Christmas breaks in a homely setting.

All the major holiday-centre groups open for Christmas and New Year. In some deals you can choose self-catering but with access to the entertainment programmes. 

If you still prefer a traditional home-based family Christmas, why not get away during the last remaining days of December? In that period, many business hotels continue to offer attractive deals to keep their rooms occupied and encourage bar business. 

It's just the way to relax after your own Christmas, when it's Mum's turn to be pampered. If you want 4-star or 5-star luxury, all the big-time resort hotels have something to offer.

In Scotland you can depend on a Ceilidh to welcome the New Year, in proper Hogmanay style with bagpipes and Scottish dancing. You can sleep off the effects before going home.

Many festive season breaks include one or two local coach excursions in the programme. Major coach-tour companies like WA Shearings and Leger Holidays will again be operating Christmas and New Year holidays based on their own or contracted hotels throughout Britain.

These packages include transport to your holiday resort, full board and festivities, and one or two morning sightseeing drives. Local coach operators can offer similar deals, linked to well-chosen accommodation. 

From the viewpoint of the holiday industry, the only snag with Christmas is that it comes only once a year. The solution is to offer 4-day pre-Christmas deals - often called 'Turkey and Tinsel'. 

Each day features seasonal meals, decorations and entertainment, starting with Christmas Eve, working through to Boxing Day and ending next night with a New Year's Eve party. They operate every week through November and well into December.

Sausage vendor in central European market Another way of stretching the season is to promote traditional Christmas fairs. In recent years they have mushroomed all over Britain with craft stalls, decorations, toys and foodstuffs, mostly in early December. Typical is a Christmas Festival at Warwick Castle in two November-December weekends, complete with Victorian-style entertainers, a jester and craft stalls.

All this mirrors the highly popular continental Christmas markets which have been operating for centuries in Belgium, Germany and central and eastern Europe. Many pre-Christmas city breaks are wrapped around these destinations which give a different flavour to the season. 

The Czech Republic is home of the Christmas tree, and of Good King Wenceslas himself. Tour operators offer festive breaks at hotels close to Wenceslas Square in the centre of Prague, where the Good King's statue surveys the crowds.

Several coach operators feature 5-day touring holidays that include the Christmas markets in cities like Brussels, Cologne and Salzburg. En route there may be sightseeing stops in old-time cities like Bruges and Ghent.

The trend of the past decade is for Christmas and New Year holidays to bridge two weekends to make a full 10-day winter break. The same trend is even more deeply established throughout western Europe. 

God King Wenceslas silhouetted against the winter sky in Prague Hence, for most sectors of travel business, that period is high season. Alpine ski centres and Mediterranean resorts will all be bubbling with programmes of gala dinners, dances and entertainments, fully booked at peak season prices. 

You can work up your appetite for traditional Christmas feasting by skiing on Alpine slopes, by taking a brisk walk around a cruise-liner promenade deck, by swimming in a Mediterranean hotel pool, or by exploring the highlights of a Continental capital.

"CDs to add to your collection - click on the links below"

The Sinatra Christmas Album - wallow in nostalgia, with Frank Sinatra singing all the Christmas favourites.

Edinburgh Hogmanay Party Mix - Keltik Elektrik - If you can't make Edinburgh for Hogmanay, this CD will get you into the mood of a Scottish New Year.

Letters from Father Christmas  - by J.R.R. Tolkien - a delightful reprint of the illustrated letters which Tolkien wrote to his children on behalf of Santa Claus 

The Cat That Could Open the Fridge: A Curmudgeon's Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters  - edited by Simon Hoggart - What to avoid writing when telling all your friends and relatives about how you spent the year.

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