Four Seasons feature: Why You Need to Visit Europe This Holiday Season

Get into the festive spirit with a seasonal escape to some of Europe’s most enchanting cities, where traditional Christmas markets line the streets and the smell of mulled wine wafts through the air. Enjoy wintery walks and carriage rides along snow-dusted lanes before cosying up to hot chocolate and other sweet treats in a charming café. Here are six places to explore at this most wonderful time of year.

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Just back from… Alila Ubud, Bali

Welcome to the jungle!

We splashed out on a four-night stay here to mark the mid point of our honeymoon, a two-week trip to Singapore and Bali that combined dumpling hunting, temple roaming, surf spotting and monkey dodging (most of the monkeys were dodged at this very hotel in fact).

This remote retreat sits just outside Ubud, Bali’s cultural hub, where the streets are lined with artists’ studios, galleries, craft shops, cafes, and of course temples (the island is home to around 10,000 of them). It hovers at the edge of a steep valley, and backs onto lush rice paddies where local farmers tend to crops. The setting is spectacular. For the first day we pretty much walked around open mouthed and eared, stopping to point at monkeys and geckos and listen to a soundtrack of squawks and croaks and chirps blasting out from every direction.

Alila_Ubud
Shooting some pool: Alila Ubud’s stunning infinity pool has won countless awards.

It’s centred around a knock-your-socks-off infinity pool which provided the backdrop for around 90% of the photos we took during our stay. This cool pool is as striking in the morning (when it’s enveloped in jungle mist) as it is at dusk (when it’s lit by twinkly lanterns). We got into the habit of rocking up around 4pm every day to take advantage of the free poolside afternoon tea, a sweet spread of Indonesian desserts including pisang goreng (banana fritters) and biji salak (sticky rice cakes). At 5pm sharp, a troop of monkeys would clamber down from the trees to pick at the leftovers.

Bath cropped Alila Ubud bedroom

Our Deluxe Room came with a garden at the front, an alfresco bathtub at the back and some naff-but-necessary-for-newlyweds towel art on the bed (classic heart-shaped swans). The simple interiors feature a bit of wood panelling behind the bed, stone tile floors and sand-coloured walls. The focus is very much on jungle views, which you can gaze at through floor-to-ceiling windows, and back-to-nature bathing. The outdoor bathrooms are stunning; ours had a huge egg-shaped tub carved out of stone and a giant rainshower with cute little ceramic pots full of citrus-scented bodywash and shampoo.

Breakfast is served at the thatched-roofed Plantation Restaurant overlooking the pool. The menu changes daily and is split into sections; you’re encouraged to over order and choose something from each category. A typical breakfast for two included tropical fruit, bircher muesli, pastries, scrambled eggs, nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) strong coffee and Jamu juice, a warm herby tonic made with turmeric.

Alila Ubud Monkey
Monkeys clamber down from the trees to gather round the pool every afternoon.

There’s a free shuttle to ferry guests to/from Ubud (about 15 minutes away) that runs around four times a day and we found it easy to arrange trips to central Bali’s hotspots that included a pick up from the resort. We visited tons of temples, toured a coffee plantation, headed up to Mount Batur, bought trinkets at Ubud’s craft market, traversed the Tegalalang rice terraces, and squeezed in a quick trip to see a local healer (who poked our toes with a chopstick and told me to eat more sunshine). But perhaps the best thing about this place is its off-the-radar location in the thick of the jungle where we could spend leisurely afternoons monkeying around from the pool to the bar to the spa and back again.

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