I'LL NEED A POST-CHRISTMAS DETOX
A visit to a spa is a good way to kick-start the process. There are thalassotherapy spas, where heated seawater is used for the treatments; Ayurvedic spas, where the ancient healing system re-balances mind and body; thermal springs, where natural minerals are used in treatments; and destination spas, where the aim is to combine relaxation, nutrition and a bit of exercise in luxurious surroundings. Erna Low Body and Soul Holidays (020-7594 0290; www.bodyandsoulholidays. com) offers spa breaks all over the world, ranging from Champneys, in the UK, to the Park Kenmare, in County Kerry, the Mayr Health Spa, in Austria, or Ananda, in the Himalayas.
Don't overlook the original spa town, Spa, in Belgium, whose thermal centre at the top of the Colline d'Annette et Lubin (00 32 87 77 25 60; www.thermesdespa.com), above the town's main square, has been completely renovated in the last couple of years. The centre opens 9am-8pm daily, until 10pm Friday and Saturday. Admission is €17 (£12), which allows access to the indoor and outdoor mineral swimming pools, sauna, steam and relaxation rooms for a period of three hours. Treatments start at €25 (£18) for a carbonated bath; massages are available from €33 (£24). Double rooms with breakfast at the Radisson SAS Palace Hotel (00 32 87 279 700; www.palace.spa.radissonsas.com), which is connected to the centre by funicular railway, start at €141.60 (£101) for bookings made online at least seven days in advance.
Perhaps what you really need is not a new diet, more exercise and a few treatments; instead, how about time to think? Pluscarden Abbey (no phone; fax 01343 890258; www.pluscardenabbey.org), six miles from Elgin in north-east Scotland, welcomes anyone who wants to go on retreat. It is the only medieval monastery in Britain that is still used for its original purpose. Accommodation is simple, but the facilities are modern; meals are eaten in the refectory with the monks. There is no charge but guests are expected to do their share of the domestic chores; donations are welcome.
For a combination of meditation and exercise, Clare Island Yoga Retreat Centre, at Ballytoughey (00 35 3982 5412; www.yogaholidays.net), on Clare Island, four miles from Westport, on the west coast of Ireland, has a six-day retreat starting on 27 December costing £420 for accommodation, meals and tuition. Other dates are available later in the year.
WHERE CAN I SEE IN THE NEW YEAR?
The world's biggest New Year celebrations are held in Edinburgh. The Hogmanay festivities begin on 29 December, with a torchlight procession from Parliament Square at 6.30pm, and end on 1 January with a variety of events including the One O'Clock Run down the Royal Mile from the Castle, and Dogmanay, in which teams of huskies race in Holyrood Park. Although events such as the George Street carnival on 30 December are free, others require tickets; these include the Royal Bank Street Party, Ceilidh in the Gardens, and Concert in the Gardens, where the acts will include the singer-songwriter KT Tunstall. Tickets are available from the Hogmanay Box Office on Castlehill (0131 473 2056; www.hubtickets.co.uk).
The annual Imperial Ball in Vienna is a much more refined affair, with choruses of "Auld Lang Syne" replaced by the more elegant melodies of the "Blue Danube Waltz". It is held in the state apartments of the Hofburg Palace, the former winter residence of the Emperor. The event includes a welcome from the "Imperial Guards", cocktails, a four-course banquet and dancing and, after the New Year has been rung in by the Pummerin bell of St Stephen's Cathedral, there is a gala show. Tickets start at €380 (£271), or €125 (£89) if you don't have dinner, and they are available from the Hofburg Congress Centre (00 43 1 587 366623; www.hofburg.com). You can fly to Vienna from Heathrow and Manchester on Austrian Airlines (0870 124 2625; www.aua.com); from Heathrow on British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com); and from Stansted on a joint operation run by Fly Niki ( www.flyniki.com) and Air Berlin ( www.airberlin.com).
ANYWHERE A BIT CALMER?
Europe's business cities are quieter than usual in the first few days of January. Frankfurt, financial centre of the European Union, has far more to offer than just high-rise banks and corporate headquarters. The city was devastated during the Second World War but the most important monuments of the old city have been rebuilt. These include the Romer, or Town Hall, and many of the other buildings around the Romerplatz, which was once the medieval market place. On the east end of the square is the Cathedral where, from the mid-14th century, the Holy Roman Emperors were elected and, later, crowned.
A couple of blocks from the square, on the Grosser Hirschgraben, is the birthplace and childhood home of Goethe (00 49 69 138800; www.goethehaus-frankfurt.de), which has been restored to being approximately as it was when Germany's greatest writer lived here. The museum contains a few items that belonged to the Goethe family, as well as some of his original manuscripts. The museum opens 10am-6pm daily (to 5.30pm on Sunday), admission is €5 (£3.60).
You can fly out on 2 January, returning 5 January, with BA from Heathrow for £89 return; from Birmingham for £170; or from Manchester for £149. Similarly attractive fares are available to Zurich - another financial centre that is also a beautiful city yet often overlooked by visitors to Switzerland. Return flights from Luton to Zurich with the Swiss low-cost airline Helvetic (020-7026 3464; www.helvetic.com) are available at £186 return. Besides a handsome old town, the largest Swiss city has artistic and architectural treasures. These include Stadelhofen station - designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava - and Jean Tinguely's sculpture, Heureka, one of a series of allegorical depictions of industrial and consumer life, which is in the Zürichhorn park by the lake.
The coolest part of town is Zurich West, a former industrial area which has turned into the city's trendiest district. This evolution has been greatly helped by the development of the Löwenbräu building at 270 Limmatstrasse, a former brewery which now houses three museums including the Kunsthalle (00 41 44 272 15 15; www.kunsthalle zurich.ch) and the Migros Museum (00 41 1 277 20 50; www.migrosmuseum.ch), both of which have collections of contemporary paintings, sculpture and installations. They open noon-6pm Tuesday-Friday, until 8pm Thursday, 11am-5pm at weekends. There are also several commercial art galleries and a bookshop in the complex.
I NEED TO ESCAPE TO AN ISLAND
The Landmark Trust (01628 825925; www.landmark trust.org.uk), which rescues and restores historic buildings and lets them out as holiday accommodation, has 23 properties on Lundy Island, which is situated out in the Bristol Channel and accessible during the winter by a helicopter that flies on Monday and Friday to and from Hartland Point. Properties available include the old Radio Room, which sleeps one person, and Government House which can accommodate five. There is no availability over New Year weekend itself, but several of the properties are available for rent from 20 January.
Off Devon's south coast, is Burgh Island and its luxurious Art Deco hotel (01548 810514; www.burghisland.com). Accessible by walking across the sand at low tide and by sea tractor when the tide comes in, the hotel has 23 rooms, all individually decorated and most with sea views. Rates start at £290 for dinner, bed and breakfast for two. Black tie and evening dress are required for dinner each night, and every Wednesday and Saturday night, a 1930s-style band comes over from the mainland to provide music for the dinner-dance.
BEST LONG-HAUL DESTINATIONS?
Flights to the other side of the world get booked up around Christmas and New Year with people going home or visiting family and friends in places such as Australia and New Zealand for the festive season. But January is a buyer's market, with prices dropping dramatically and far more choice on offer.
Try to book now through Air New Zealand (0800 028 4149; www.airnewzealand.co.uk) for a three-week trip to Auckland, leaving in mid-December and returning in early January, and you will be* * quoted a fare of £1,636; book the whole thing a month later, and the fare will go down to £1,030.
Dramatic reductions of this kind apply to destinations in South America, south-east Asia and southern Africa, and in all these parts of the world it will be warm and sunny because the seasons are the opposite of those in Europe. Available from Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; www.trailfinders.com) is a week at the Berjaya Beach and Spa Resort in Langkawi, Malaysia, which costs £678 for trips after 9 January. For the same price the company is offering five nights' bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Cape Town, including flights via Doha.
I WANT TO BUY SOME HAPPINESS
Seven hours' flying time from the UK is Dubai, which will host its annual Shopping Festival from 4 January until 4 February ( www.mydsf.com). This involves 2,500 retail outlets, many in more than 40 shopping malls. Each will offer huge discounts, and products include everything from designer clothes to Arab carpets and gold jewellery. Tourist excursions, including camel-riding and four-wheel-drive safaris into the desert, will also be available at discounts. Kuoni (01306 747731; www.kuoni.co.uk) can offer a four-night package in January, including flights, transfers, and bed and breakfast at the three-star Golden Sands hotelfrom £711 each, based on two sharing. See pages 14 and 15 for advice on how to spend 48 hours in Dubai.
WHERE CAN I FIND A HOME FROM HOME?
In Britain, dozens of companies offer self-catering accommodation for rent, including Toad Hall Cottages (08700 777345; www.toadhallcottages.com), which has properties in Cornwall, Devon and the Exmoor area. But its sister company, Toad Hall Caribbean (01548 852407; www.toadhallcaribbean.com), might be more appealing. This offers apartments and villas throughout the West Indies and the Caribbean. Bequia, for example, is a lovely, unspoilt destination in St Vincent and the Grenadines; apartments here which will sleep two people start at £375 a week. The company can help you to arrange flights to Barbados as well as inter-island connections; expect to pay just under £400 for a return flight to Barbados in January from London or Manchester.
Florida is also a good winter destination, with many villas available for rent. Online agencies such as Owners Direct ( www.ownersdirect.co.uk) have extensive listings; when you find something that catches your eye, click on the link to get in touch directly with the owner. Flights to Orlando with Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007; www.virgin-atlantic.com) from Manchester and Gatwick are available in mid-January for £303.
ANY IDEAS FOR CULTURE VULTURES?
Salzburg - and most of Austria - will hold a year-long party to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of the country's most famous citizen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, on 27 January, 1756. The festivities will get underway on 20 January, when the annual Mozart Week Festival begins with a performance of Mozart's little-known opera La Finta Giardiniera. The festival is extended to a fortnight this year, and ends on 5 February. Tickets from www.mozarteum.at. There will be other events, musical and otherwise, during the year, including an exhibition, Viva! Mozart, which opens on 27 January at the newly restored Neue Residenz Palace, at 1 Mozartplatz (00 43 662 620 808 777; www.vivamozart.at). Exhibits will include the original score of his first composition. The exhibition will be open 9am-6pm daily, until 8pm on Thursday, and admission will cost €8 (£5.70). You can fly to Salzburg from Stansted on Ryanair (0906 270 5656; www.ryanair.com), from Manchester on SkyEurope (020-7365 0365; www.skyeurope.com), and from Southampton on FlyBE (0871 700 0123; www.flybe.com).
I'D LIKE TO DO SOMETHING USEFUL
A working holiday can be relaxing, even if it involves physical effort. The National Trust (0870 429 2429; .nationaltrust. org.uk) gets a lot of its maintenance work done by volunteers, who sign up to help with general conservation and estate work, archaeological digs and the organising of events. These holidays are anything from two days to a week - and can be a good way of getting out into the fresh air, meeting new people and achieving something useful. Hostel accommodation and meals are provided, and prices start at £32 for short breaks, about £60 for a week. There are opportunities for working holidays all over the country. In January there are vacancies for people to help with woodland work in the Peak District, scrub clearance on the Cliveden estate, in Berkshire, and footpath maintenance at Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire.