Christmas & New Year Escapes in India & Sri Lanka
By Cosmo Brockway
The Christmas holiday season is nearly upon us and here at Ampersand we are dreaming of the most exotic experiences to be had. India and Sri Lanka are rich in wonderful destinations for the ultimate alternative Yuletide. Both countries have charming seasonal traditions, Mumbai’s Christian community’s houses are decorated in giant stars and neighbours of all faiths join in the celebrations. In Sri Lanka, the Christmas season begins on December 1st with firecrackers lit at dawn! Enter into the spirit of the island, wishing locals Merry Christmas in the local language, Singhalese, by saying 'Suba Naththalak Wewa'. Here we have hand-picked our top ten locations to suit all tastes…
1). Leela Palace, New Delhi
A glamorous palazzo in the heart of New Delhi’s diplomatic district, Leela Palace is at the heart of the city’s buzzing social scene. A towering Christmas tree sets the tone in the elegant lobby, along with a children’s grotto and carol singers from a local school. The hotel’s chic French-themed restaurant, Le Cirque, offers a very romantic Christmas Eve dinner in its panelled dining room while the strikingly contemporary Qube lays out the most indulgent seasonal buffet we have seen in a long time.
2). Sujan Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur
Jingle your bells in Jaipur at this rose-hued royal palace turned boutique hotel. A Christmas here is reminiscent of a house party of a cosmopolitan and rather chic Maharaja. Cocktails and presents in the library precede a magnificent six-course Christmas Eve dinner. Indulge in the pavilion spa before plunging into the city’s fabulous shopping scene in search of trinkets to take home.
3). The Serai, Jaisalmer
Another member of the Sujan stable, The Serai is a luxurious camp in Rajasthan’s Thar Desert. Log fires, coloured lanterns and feasting under a vast canopy of stars makes for festive memories to long treasure. The Christmas cake is made from a 400-year old Jaisalmer recipe and guests can enjoy a hot Christmas porridge before a morning safari through the golden dunes.
4). Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
Perched high above the desert city of Jodhpur, Taj Umaid Bhawan is a palace in every sense. Christmas and New Year is done in typically sumptuous style. The exquisitely decorated tree dominates the palatial atrium and traditional carols waft through the scented air. Take Christmas lunch on the terrace overlooking the gardens and feast while being watched by peacocks strutting on the lawns. The afternoon can be spent setting off in the Maharaja’s own vintage car on a tour through the ‘blue city’ accompanied by a palace butler, resplendent in white gloves and turban. The New Year’s Eve celebrations and dinner here is straight out of a Merchant Ivory film and will set your Instagram alight!
5). Rajakkad Estate, Dindigul
Take over a plantation complete with 18th century Keralan manor house at Rajakkad Estate, high in the foothills of the Western Ghats. The 45 acre property, teeming with flora and fauna, is owned by the Fry family and has a fascinating history. Seven delightful bedrooms, courtyards and a bursting library, not to mention the sublime food, make for a perfect seasonal house-party location. Nothing is too much trouble here, we guarantee a perfect plum pudding being produced, and the utterly unique atmosphere will enchant adults and young people alike.
6). Barefoot at Havelock Island, The Andaman Islands
Barefoot luxury awaits at this renowned eco resort on the relatively undiscovered Andaman Islands. A short walk from pristine white sand on Havelock Island (called ‘the best beach in Asia’), Barefoot offers a true getaway from the hustle and bustle of the western Christmas scene. Take a flight from Kolkata or Chennai and experience spectacular diving, jungle treks, boat trips and palm-fringed sunsets. December is the perfect time to visit with balmy temperatures guaranteed.
7). Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling
We are gaga for Glenburn at Ampersand – an idyllic tea plantation high in the Himalayan foothills above Darjeeling. This family-run boutique guesthouse has style in spades, the Birgitte Singh (of Anokhi fame) designed rooms exude eclectic elegance with signature block-printed textiles throughout. Christmas here is a true celebration with a lavish sit-down dinner (complimentary wine) on Christmas Eve and a barbeque down by the river on the 25th. Homemade Christmas cake, mince pies and thoughtful gifts will delight all the family. New Year’s Eve festivities include a bonfire, fireworks with champagne and cultural performances. Memories will be made to treasure here.
8). Moonstone Expeditions, Knuckles Mountains, Sri Lanka
Embark on an active Christmas by trekking through Sri Lanka’s Knuckles Mountains, one of the country’s last wildernesses. For ease, baggage is carried between campsites, allowing you to trek 12-16 km per day with just a day pack. We love the spectacular mountain scenery, secluded temples overlooking rice paddies, tea plantations, traditional villages, and fields of cinnamon, rubber, cashew nuts and bananas.
9). Kahanda Kanda, Near Galle, Sri Lanka
Does waking up in a four-poster bed before a swim in a 22-metre infinity pool overlooking verdant tea gardens (and sea view) sound like the perfect Christmas morning? Then head for the delicious Kahanda Kandy hotel, just a short tuk-tuk ride from the historic city of Galle. A series of luxurious pavilion villas nestled in gardens, the award-winning Kahanda Kandy is suitably indulgent for a seasonal getaway – be warned it will be very very hard to leave!
10). 20 Middle Street, Galle, Sri Lanka
Be immersed in the gorgeous colonial vibe of coastal city of Galle by staying at this eighteenth-century Dutch Merchant’s townhouse. From the internal courtyard garden with Jurassic ginger flowers and air filled with the sweet aroma of frangipani trees, every corner here is a piece of heaven. Rattan and bamboo furniture mingle with calico linens and joyful ceramics in the light-filled rooms. The villa sleeps six and is a grown-up retreat, not so suitable for children but perfect for an adult family break. Visit lofty old churches (Midnight Mass here is a transporting experience), Buddhist temples and the renowned nearby fort or plump for a bicycle tour. We love the glass-bottomed boat trips and gift shopping forays at lifestyle stores, Barefoot and Minimango. Festive tipples are a must at next-door Amangalla’s sophisticated terrace bar.
>> Read more: How to say Merry Christmas in 26 different languages
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