Want to stuff the turkey? It's never too late to escape

Jeremy Atiyah reviews great last-minute getaways, from Istanbul to, er, Corby
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The Independent Online
Have you had enough of Christmas? Those who loathe the festive season and all its works - the relations, the overcooked turkey, and the British damp - are fleeing this weekend. But should you suddenly decide you can't face it, there is still time to get away. A surprising range of possibilities is available for the coming week, on condition (a) that you are not fussy where you go or (b) that you are willing to spend a lot of money.

For those who do like Christmas but want to avoid the work, the solution could be a stay in a posh hotel in this country. Exclusive Hotels - a chain of British country house hotels - are hosting Christmas and New Year packages which should be available right up to Christmas Eve.

How about an action-packed four-night break at The Manor House (tel 01249 782 206) in Castle Combe, starting with afternoon tea on Christmas Eve and running through to a champagne breakfast on the 28th? It costs pounds 725 per person, but that is full-board and includes not only visits from Father Christmas, but also hunting, racing, golf and pantomines. Similar packages will be available at Lainston House in Winchester (01962 863 588) and South Lodge in West Sussex (01403 891 711).

If your problem is fear of loneliness and idleness, you could give Solo's (0181-951 2800) a call. They still have places for "adventurous over-50s" in Corby to spend three nights at the Stakis Hotel, including a four-by-four driving exercise on Christmas Day folowed by endurance go-kart racing.

Leaving the country also remains an option. Thomas Cook says customers walking into its shops on 22 or 23 December will be able to get something straight away, probably to the areas of highest capacity such as the Canaries or Balearics (tel 0990 181818).

For the cheapest possible escape to the continent, you can hop on to a ferry at Ramsgate for Ostend - a day-trip on Holyman Sally Ferries (0990 595522) costs pounds 7.50 any day over the holiday period except for Christmas Day (when there are no sailings). You won't escape Christmas in Belgium but you might be able to fit in some ice-skating in the town's main plaza which is used as an open-air rink. Another tempting little Belgian escape would be to Bruges with Inntravel (01653 628862) on 30 December, where pounds 232 per person will get you two nights in a 14th-century canal-side hotel including a slap up New Year's Eve dinner (and travel by Eurostar).

Many European city breaks in the days immediately after Christmas are still bookable. David Deane, product manager of Ingham's (0181-780 7700), says although flights back from Spain in the first days of 1998 are booked solid, from Italy and anywhere in eastern or northern Europe, including Paris, there is still availability.

How about Istanbul for the new year? Savile's Turkish Collection (0171- 625 3001) have availability at the Bosphorous Pasha Hotel (with private landing stage), departing on 30 December. Two nights in a deluxe double room with views will cost pounds 599 each.

If that doesn't sound exotic enough, how about these African Christmas breaks still available through Union-Castle Travel (0171-229 1411)? Departing on the 23 and 24 of December are luxury one-week trips to Botswana and Zimbabwe respectively. These all-inclusive water and land safaris in the wide open spaces of southern Africa cost pounds 2,999 per person. But you could book tomorrow and be there by Christmas.

The United States is probably off-limits and you may have left it too late to go skiing, at least in your resort of choice, though Crystal have a handful of departures on 27 December for Austria and Italy (resorts allocated on arrival). Thomas Cook, however, is confident that last- minute ski breaks will be available right through the Christmas period.