Though Barcelona’s oldest Christmas market, Fira de Santa Llúcia (en.firadesantallucia.cat), might not have the traditional food and drink of other European markets, it makes up for it with handmade and artisanal products such as jewellery, toys, leather goods and ornaments. The city will also play host to the Buff Epic Run (buffepicrun.com) on December 20, an 8-kilometre fancy-dress fun run and obstacle race. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, consider staying at the newly opened Mas Salagros — Eco Resort & Ancient Bath hotel (massalagros.com), a Bio Hotel that offers a close-to-nature experience while only being 20 minutes outside of Barcelona. Barcelona Exclusive Private Tours (barcelonaexclusiveprivate-tours.com) also offers a full-day tour of the city’s most famous sites, including Gaudí’s La Sagrada Família, Passeig de Gràcia and the Montserrat mountain.
• The Barcelona Montserrat tour package is from €105 (Dh425) per person, for four to eight people, including taxes. Direct return flights on Emirates (emirates.com) from Dubai are from Dh3,755 including taxes
Flydubai (flydubai.com) recently opened a direct route to Asmara, making it even easier to access Eritrea’s capital city and explore its historical sites, including the Cathedral of Asmara, Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin Mosque and Asmara Theatre and Opera House. The Sembel archaeological site is easily accessible and offers a look into ancient Eritrea. The well-preserved area, featuring artefacts from as far back as 80 BC, can be accessed by bus, taxi or car. For a break from sightseeing, grab a coffee and pastry at Sweet Asmara Caffe (sweetasmaracafe.com) on Harnet Avenue, next door to the tourist office. Asmara Palace Hotel (hotelasmarapalace.com) is one of the city’s swankiest hotels, with six restaurants, a fitness centre, pool, spa and tennis courts. Explore Eritrea (explore-eritrea.com) offers personalised tours, including a look at Eritrea’s architecture on a visit to Asmara, Keren and Massawa.
• The Architectural Tour to Eritrea starts from Dh3,950 per person, including taxes, travel permits, accommodation, and breakfast. Return flights on Flydubai are from Dh1,950 including taxes
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Classical-music lovers should check out the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (mpo.com.my) in Kuala Lumpur. The calendar includes the Star Wars and Beyond concert, on December 17 and December 18, featuring music from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and John Williams’s Star Wars score. Tickets start from 150 Malaysian ringgit (Dh130) per person. Visitors can also get their culture fix by exploring the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (iamm.org.my), located downtown next to the Lake Gardens. Its photography exhibition — Portrayal of Pakistan by Awais Yaqub, which offers a look at how modern Pakistan has been shaped — will run until January 31. Emirates Holidays (emiratesholidays.com) offers a six-day, chauffeur-driven tour of Malaysia, which takes in the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the ruins of St Paul’s Church in Malacca, the Penang Butterfly Farm, and views from the Cameron Highlands.
• The Malaysia Discovery itinerary starts from Dh4,930 per person, including return flights from Dubai on Emirates, accommodation, breakfast and taxes
Each winter, thousands of monarch butterflies migrate to central Mexico from north-eastern America and eastern Canada, making this the best time to visit the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve World Heritage site. The reserve spans Michoacán and the State of Mexico. Sierra Chincua in Angangueo and El Rosario in Ocampo — the only two reserves open to the public in Michoacán — are about 100km from Mexico City, and accessible by car or bus with some uphill hiking. Tours can be booked through Mexperience (mexperience.com). If you prefer to have a guide, Journey Mexico (journeymexico.com) offers customisable tours, including a 12-day journey through the Yucatán Peninsula. Stay at the refurbished Hotel Esencia (hotelesencia.com), a boutique property located between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Prices start from $620 (Dh2,277) per night, including taxes.
• The Highlights of the Yucatán Peninsula package starts from Dh20,300 per person, based on a two-person occupancy, including taxes. Return flights on Emirates from Dubai to Cancún, via New York, start from Dh5,765 including taxes
If you aren’t keen on a long-haul flight, explore the island nation of Bahrain. An hour-long direct flight from the UAE on Emirates, Etihad and Flydubai, Bahrain is an ideal weekend getaway destination. Visit one of the many historical sites, including Arad Fort and Riffa Fort, located 35 minutes apart by car. The Bahrain National Museum is also a must, and displays artefacts dating back to the Dilmun period, circa 2600 BC. Book into the much newer Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay (fourseasons.com) in Manama. The hotel, located on its own island within the bay, features 273 rooms, a gym, several pools and a spa, plus offers water sports such as stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and pedalboating. Dining options include a steakhouse and Asian restaurant, both by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. Prices start from 204 Bahraini dinars (Dh1,988) per night, including breakfast and taxes. A two-night stay at the Sheraton Bahrain Hotel plus flights can be booked through Etihad (etihad.com).
• Etihad’s holiday package to Bahrain is priced from Dh2,425 per person, for two nights, including direct return flights from Abu Dhabi and taxes
The fifth Hyderabad Literary Festival (hydlitfest.org) will take place from January 7-10, drawing hundreds of writers, artists and scholars from India and abroad. This year’s programme will include literary sessions featuring topics such as environment conservation, along with storytelling, music shows and several guest speakers at the cultural event. Take advantage of the dry season and book one of Detours India’s (detoursindia.com) many day tours. The Kakatiya Detour itinerary visits the ancient town of Warangal, and explores the Warangal Fort and the Thousand Pillar Temple. If you’re travelling with kids, head over to the Nehru Zoological Park (hydzoo.com) for a day with the animals or book in for one of the park’s safaris. The ride will offer an up close and personal view of the park’s tigers, lions and bison.
• The Kakatiya Detour package starts from 19,000 Indian rupees (Dh1,075) per person, including lunch, transportation and taxes. Direct return flights on Etihad and Emirates, from Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively, start from Dh1,679 including taxes
Montréal en Lumière (montrealenlumiere.com), one of the largest winter festivals in the world, is from February 18-27. The 17th edition of the festival will feature chefs from five continents and showcase music, circus arts, theatre and dance performances by local and global creatives. Agatha Christie fans will want to check out the Pointe-à-Callière Museum exhibition, running until April 10, which focuses on the crime novelist’s unusual life (pacmusee.qc.ca). Though many residents will agree wintertime in Montreal is magical, for those who are less keen on exploring the city in the cold, Fitz and Follwell Co (fitzandfollwell.co), formerly Cycle Tours Montreal, offers a day tour of Montreal’s underground city. The tunnel is home to the world’s longest underground tunnel network — spanning 33km — and features everything from public art to an ice-skating rink.
• Montreal’s Underground City Hike is priced at 75 Canadian dollars (Dh210) per adult, including taxes, refreshments and metro tickets. Return flights on Etihad (etihad.com) from Abu Dhabi, via Toronto, start from Dh4,995 including taxes
Park City, Utah
For the skiing purist, Park City is an ideal destination. An hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, the city’s resort offers plenty of powder, as opposed to the difficult-to-navigate granular snow, typically found on the slopes of east coast America. The 2015/16 ski season also marks the merger between Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Village at Park City, making it the largest ski resort in the US. February marks prime ski conditions, the snowfall is in full force and the crowds from the Sundance Film Festival have died down. Park City will also play host to two winter-sport competitions this month: the Visa US Freeskiing Grand Prix (February 1-7) and the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup (February 3-6). Foodies should check out Gourmand Tours (gourmandtours.com), a three-hour tour of some of Park City’s top-rated restaurants. Visitors will sample some of the best dishes in town, learn about the culinary history of each eatery and visit popular spots such as the Park City Museum. Tours run on February 4, 11 and 25.
• Gourmand Tours are for US$57 (Dh210) including taxes. Return flights on Emirates (emirates.com) from Dubai, via New York, are from Dh7,815 including taxes
Getting from the UAE to Panama has never been easier, now that Emirates has launched what is currently the world’s longest direct flight. Those looking to take the 17-hour-and-35-minute trip this month will want to join in the carnival celebrations, taking place from February 6 to February 9. Avenida Balboa, a large, four-lane road that runs along the waterfront of Panama City, will be the site of amusement-park-style rides, food booths, live music, games and souvenir stalls. The actual parade begins after sunset. The Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival (boquetejazzandbluesfestival.com) is from February 25-28 in Chiriqí. The festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary, will feature international blues acts along with Panamanian and Latin American artists. Amazing Panama (amazingpanamatours.com), offers a number of itineraries, including the Panama Diving tour, on which visitors will explore sites — on and off land — in Panama City and Bocas del Toro.
• The Panama Diving Tour is priced from US$3,600 (Dh13,220) per person, including accommodation, equipment and taxes. Direct return flights on Emirates from Dubai starts from Dh7,845 including taxes
Winter marks the busiest season in Miami, and March is no different. Film enthusiasts should head to the Miami International Film festival from March 4-13. The festival will screen films from a number of genres by filmmakers from the US and abroad. The Miami Open (miamiopen.com) is from March 21 to April 3. Previous years have seen Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray grace the courts of Crandon Park. Those looking for a more festive vibe should check out Carnaval on the Mile (March 5-6) and Calle Ocho Festival (March 13), two of the most popular cultural and arts festivals. Visitors can also book into the newly opened Faena Hotel Miami Beach (faena.com) in the new arts and cultural hub Faena District. All rooms have been designed by director/producer Baz Luhrmann. Pao, Faena’s restaurant, is also now open and is the result of the hotel’s collaboration with Top Chef winner Paul Qui.
• Rooms at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach start from US$846 (Dh3,107) per night, including taxes. Return flights on Etihad from Abu Dhabi, via New York, start from Dh8,110 including taxes
If you’re headed to Florence towards the end of the month, you’ll find the weather more amiable for exploring the city by foot. Consider taking a day tour with Tours in Tuscany (toursintuscany.com). The six-hour Medici Villas tour explores country villas that were once reserved for the Medicis for hunting, relaxing and leisure, including Villa di Careggi, Villa di Castello and Villa di Poggio a Caiano. The three-day Pitti Taste (pittimmagine.com) food festival is from March 12-14. The event includes everything from food to kitchen design, and draws thousands of foodies from around the world each year. Celebrate the Florentine New Year — also known as the Feast of the Annunciation — on March 25, which includes a lively parade that starts at the Palazzo Vecchio. The parade concludes at the Piazza SS Annunziata, where visitors will find a festival of food and music (visitflorence.com).
• The Medici Villas in Florence package starts from €120 (Dh485) by the hour for a group of two, including a private driver and taxes. Return flights on Etihad from Abu Dhabi, via Rome, start from Dh3,875 including taxes
Though there are some areas that are still under high alert due to after-effects of this year’s earthquake, Kathmandu and its surrounding areas are welcoming back visitors. March is the start of the dry season and the Nepalese capital is an easy flight from the UAE, coming in at just under four hours. March 8 marks the Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri. Visitors will find a carnival-like atmosphere at the Pashupatinath temple on the banks of the Bagmati River, with musicians playing sitars and drums, dancers in vibrant colours, and street vendors hawking a variety of wares. Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.ae) offers customisable tours, including a 14-day trip through Nepal and Bhutan, from March 12-25, which takes in historical sites including the Tashichho Dzong Fortress, Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of the Divine Madman), the Tiger’s Nest, Durbar Square and Patan Museum.
• The Signature Bhutan & Nepal tour starts from Dh34,200 per person, including food, accommodation and taxes. Return direct flights on Flydubai (flydubai.com) start from Dh1,328 including taxes