Stay at one of these foodie hubs and you can have your Christmas cake and eat it, with fine dining, drinking and shopping right on the doorstep.
Berlin is a classic Christmas shopping destination with its festive markets and endless opportunities to quaff glühwein, but there’s plenty of contemporary Christmas cheer to be unearthed, too. The Bikinihaus Berlin and the Zoo Palast cinema, two high-rise buildings designed in 1957 by architects Paul Schwebes and Hans Schoszberger, were reborn a couple of years ago as one of its hippest places to shop and stay.
Sleep: The smaller of the two buildings, the Kleines Hochhaus, is home to an outpost of über-cool German hotel brand, 25hours. Its urban jungle theme results in an edgy interior that brings the outside in with exposed concrete offset by walls of ivy cascading from re-purposed pallets. On one side of the building rooms have views of the monkey and ape enclosures of Berlin Zoo and, on the other, the Breitscheidplatz and wider cityscape. The vintage Mini parked in the entrance sets a playful tone that continues in well conceived rooms strung with hammocks beside floor- to-ceiling windows. Guests in L-category rooms also get natty local Schindelhauer bikes to pedal about on.
Eat: Set on the 10th floor of the hotel, the aptly named Monkey Bar promises killer cocktails and killer views. The hotel’s NENI Berlin restaurant is an equally hot table thanks to the delicious eastern Med dishes it serves under the guidance of chef Haya Molcho (neni.at).
The third floor lobby’s Woodfire Bakeryhas become a local hangout, serving regulars coffee and pastries in the morning and sandwiches through the day. For finer dining, there are two Michelin-starred restaurants within walking distance – Les Solistes by Pierre Gagnaire and 5-Cinco by Paco Perez.
Shop: Hip German publisher Gestalten Verlag has a kiosk in the hotel’s lobby, while Bikini Berlin’s curated shops include Kusmi Tea (kusmitea.com), concept store Super Space and an ever-changing roster of pop-up shops like Fundamental Berlin and design aficionados’ favourite, Normann Copenhagen.
A retail dash around the city’s preeminent department store KaDeWe, on the nearby Tauentzienstrasse (a continuation of Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s answer to the Champs Élysées), is also a must. First opened in 1907, its entire sixth floor is given over to a swanky gourmet market.
Get there: Return flights from a range of UK airports to Berlin’s Schöenefeld airport cost from around £50 return (ryanair.com). Doubles at 25hours hotel Bikini Berlin start at €150, room only (25hours-hotels.com).
In fast-changing Shoreditch, Boundary is virtually prehistoric. Which is a compliment. Opened in 2009, the fact that this hotel – part of the Prescott & Conran empire – is still buzzing means it got its recipe for classy but unpretentious food, wine and bedrooms right from the off.
A former Victorian printworks, its neat but graceful red-brick surroundings are latticed with large windows and topped by a bold glass, steel and copper extension. And the Shoreditch location means it not only provides a welcome antidote to the central London festive scrum but is also Narnia to visiting foodies.
Sleep: The 17 bedrooms and suites have each been inspired by a particular designer or design movement; take your pick from Mies van der Rohe, Charles and Ray Eames and Eileen Gray. Most share a restful, simple colour palette but the Tang suite is an exception with its intricate Chinese wallpaper and tassled green silk lampshades.
Bathrooms come stocked with a supply of Aesop smellies and expect a mid-afternoon delivery fresh from the downstairs bakery.
Eat: In the basement is a small bar serving classic cocktails, and the main Boundary Restaurant, an elegant, boudoir-ish, space where theatrical lighting bounces off red velvet chairs, the glass walls of its kitchen and polished cutlery. The menu has a strong French influence, with dishes such as roast and confit duck with cherry sauce and salardaise potatoes, and a good-value menu du jour.
In summer the Boundary Rooftop is a great spot to rise above the streets and sip cocktails as the sun sets over a slightly hushed, 360-degree view of London. It’s by no means out-of-bounds in winter, though, with its heaters, blankets and covered pergola; shelter under a string of fairy lights with a sharing plate of octopus and chorizo skewers, or fish and meat dishes cooked on a robata grill. Or just head up after dinner and sit by the outdoor fireplace with a digestif.
The real hub of the hotel, however, is Albion, an all-day café, shop and bakery. For overnight guests, this is where breakfast is served, with a nostril-tickling array of swirls – cinnamon, pistachio and white chocolate, and marmite versions.
Beyond the hotel, Shoreditch isn’t exactly short on eating spots. Whether you fancy a classic ceviche with sea bass, lime, tiger’s milk and coriander at Andina, mallard with celeriac and quince at Lyle’sor a bacon naan roll at Dishoom you won’t have to walk for more than a minute to reach them. Double that to the Rochelle Canteen for the likes of roast partridge with red cabbage and hedgerow jelly.
Shop: The shelves of Albion’s deli groan with stocking filler-friendly treats in pretty packaging (Jealous Sweets, Fine Cheese Co. biscuits, Mighty Fine Honeycomb among them). But outside is one of the most efficient Christmas shopping opportunities in London; Redchurch Street is lined, awning-to-awning, with independent stores. Spend a morning tracking down fig candles at Le Labo, enamel omelette pans and rotary apple peelers at Labour and Wait, chic tableware at Modern Society and the London outpost of Mast Brothers (see New York), where you can take a factory tour, sup a hot chocolate (or an on-tap chocolate beer) or simply shop.
Get there: Double rooms at Boundary start at £162, room-only (boundary.london).
Jetting in to JFK to check out the Rockerfeller Center’s Christmas tree and hit a festive Fifth Ave? Think again. The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights in Brooklyn are becoming a kitsch cult classic – the Italian community’s rooftop Rudolphs and twinkling lights bright enough to short-circuit Manhattan. At the other end of Brooklyn, in genial, gentrified Williamsburg, there’s chic neighbourhood shopping on offer, and a hotel with the best foodie credentials this side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Sleep: The giant neon sign on the corner entrance of the Wythe is the only flashy thing about this cool hotel, now part of Brooklyn restaurateur Andrew Tarlow’s classy portfolio. A former red-brick cooperage it’s now a 70-room hotel, the cavernous industrial space, arched windows, exposed brickwork and cast-iron columns helping it retain an urban edge. Under one roof you’ve got a rooftop bar and terrace, cinema, restaurant and pop-up concept store. Rooms have original timber ceilings, huge windows – many with floor-to-ceiling views of Manhattan – and heated concrete floors. Custom-made beds have been crafted from the reclaimed ceiling pine. In the bathrooms are vintage mirrors, Turkish towels and eco-friendly Goldies toiletries.
Eat: Andrew Tarlow is Brooklyn’s culinary king. A restaurateur by trade (he’s the man behind Diner, Marlow and Sons and Roman’s, as well as Marlow and Daughters butchers and grocery, where you can also pick up artisan sourdough and sprouted rye bread from Tarlow’s She Wolf Bakery), the Wythe is his first foray as a hotelier.
Unsurprisingly the Wythe has a decent restaurant, Reynard, at its heart. With its urban bistro vibe, marble-topped bar and wood-fired oven and grill this dishes up a daily market menu to plenty of locals as well as guests. Fill up on wood-fired squash with honey crisp, apples, dates, nuts and seeds, or a grass-fed steak, then head up to the hotel’s The Ides bar for refined cocktails and – if you skipped dinner – small plates and upmarket bar-menu favourites.
Shop: The hotel hosts pop-up shops in the lobby – agnès b is currently in situ and past collaborators include Marlow Goods, the accessories line set up by Tarlow’s wife Kate Huling which takes his ‘whole animal’ ethos one step further: the leather and wool comes from the livestock served in his restaurants. They’ve recently opened a boutique in the East Village if you need an excuse to nip over to Manhattan.
Back in Brooklyn, head to Williamsburg’s Whisk a cracking local kitchenware store, Mast Brothers’ flagship store for bundles of artisan chocolate and Puerh Brooklyn for delicate teaware. True Tarlow fans can also buy his long-awaited cookbook Dinner at the Long Table at independent bookshop Spoonbill and Sugartown.
Get there: Return flights from Gatwick to JFK cost from £298 (norwegian.com). Double rooms at the Wythe Hotel start from $300, room-only (wythehotel.com).
In Barcelona it’s perfectly acceptable to sip a flute of cava at any time of day as a little pick-me-up – so where better for a spot of stress-free Christmas shopping? Festive lights twinkle along the Ramblas, carols drift from the cathedral and the city’s 42 fresh produce markets swell with dried fruit and nuts, handmade chocolates, wheels of pungent manchego and as much of the country’s famed jamón iberico de bellota as you can cram into your suitcase.
Sleep: Check into hip Casa Bonay, a renovated mansion where traditional hydraulic floor tiles are mixed with Gaudí’s iconic paving stones, adding a hint of edginess to its ground floor lounges, coffee bars and restaurant. Stylish, pared-back bedrooms redefine luxury with hand-woven blankets from Els Teixidors, maxi-bars stocked with premium gin, vodka and single malt, and room service in the shape of a tiffin tin to be eaten in bed.
Eat: Casa Bonay makes other foodie hotels seem dull by comparison. Start your day with an alkalizing, antioxidant juice and a mango chia seed breakfast bowl from Mother’s in-house juice bar, with a cold-pressed coffee lovingly crafted by Satan’s Coffee Corner.
Think light, bright, Asian-influenced dishes for lunch at another in-house dining option, Elephant, Crocodile, Monkey, which transforms into an innovative bistro by night, serving sharing plates of wondrous dishes like fried oysters with fennel salad and black garlic alïoli, year-old, dry-aged beef tartare with mulato chilli and egg yolk, and slow-baked tomatoes with almonds, chickpeas and shiso leaf. Take vermut (vermouth) on the wood-decked roof terrace before dinner, and afterwards hit one of the jewel-coloured velvet sofas in the hotel’s bar, Libertine, where grown-up cocktails are mixed with aplomb by a team of savvy mixologists.
If you do want to head outside, make the most of crisp but sunny winter days with lazy paella lunches al fresco. Kaiku has a lovely terrace on Barceloneta beach, or there’s Barraca’s sun-splashed first-floor dining room with views of the Med. At night, convivial Can Cisa Bar Brutal is the place to work your way through local natural wines paired with superlative tapas, or slip into tiny Bar Zim for wines by the glass with farmhouse cheeses and organic charcuterie (Carrer de la Dagueria, 20).
Shop: The hotel’s Blackie Books outlet stocks small production art, food and design titles while baTabasTa’s in-hotel store sells button-down shirts with giant tropical fruit prints; ideal for the food lover who has everything.
Get there: Return flights from a range of UK airports to Barcelona cost from around £70 (easyJet.com). Double rooms at Casa Bonay start from £180, room-only (casabonay.com).
Just under an hour from Cape Town, the 200-hectare Babylonstoren estate, near the self-styled gourmet capital of South Africa, Franschhoek, puts a sophisticated spin on rustic luxury. Surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and orchards, at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountain, it’s one of the Western Cape’s oldest farms and is a decadent base for a festive getaway.
Sleep: Owner Karen Roos was a former editor of Elle Decoration South Africa and it shows. The estate’s hotel includes 13 cottages built in the vernacular Cape Dutch style, plus nine more modern farmhouse suites – each decked out in fresh, white hues – a two-bedroom koornhuis and a five-bedroom manor house dating back to 1777. Extending to a prickly pear maze and chamomile lawn, the estate’s eight-acre organic garden is at its best in the run-up to Christmas, a captivating mosaic of over 300 plants, each with edible or medicinal properties. Join a garden tour, take a dip in the pool, wander the farm’s gravel paths, sample some of the winery’s vintages or enjoy a massage in the spa.
Eat: Every morning Babylonstoren’s chefs head to the gardens to pick produce to serve in their signature Babel Restaurant. A former cowshed, the restaurant has been given a glamorous update with soaring ceilings, glass walls and outside tables shaded by plane trees. Choose from colourful salads like broad bean tips and flowers with a Thai green curry vinaigrette or mains like risotto made using the farm’s home-grown carnaroli rice.
The field-to-fork philosophy also extends to the estate’s charming Greenhouse restaurant, open through the day for tea, coffee, pastries and breads from its wood-fired oven as well as more substantial dishes (all served in dinky wooden crates and preserving jars).
If you want to rustle something up in your cottage, guests are welcome to pick vegetables from the garden or cook up a traditional South African braai using steaks and sausages supplied by the hotel.
Besides Franschhoek’s notable gastronomic attractions, it’s worth venturing into Cape Town, 45-minutes’ drive away, to eat in the edgy industrial surroundings of Luke Dale-Roberts’ The Test Kitchen. The British-born chef has been creating a stir with his fresh take on indigenous South African flavours (think chargrilled springbok loin with ember-roasted red cabbage, almond cream, red cabbage emulsion and pine oil). For something more casual, the buzzy, no-reservations Chefs Warehouse & Canteen serves tapas-style set menus with flavours plucked from all over the globe.
Shop: The estate’s 18th-century stables are now home to The Farm Shop, stocking plenty of foodie-friendly gifts, from the bespoke bull-motif plates used in Babel and Diana Ferreira’s distinctive pebble plates, to wine, olive oil, honeybush and rooibos tea grown on the estate. The heady fragrances of the gardens have also been capitalised on, with a range of soaps, candles and bath oils.